Article by Dr Steven Roles (March 2004)
What is testosterone?It is an androgenic (or male orientated) hormone produced mainly in the testicles. Its principle effect is its masculinising influence which is fundamentally concerned with the development of puberty, the associated secondary sexual characteristics (beard, voice change and so on), libido and aggression. In health it circulates at high concentration in the blood of males from puberty onwards.
So why is it important for women?Because, seemingly surprisingly in women, small amounts of this 'male' hormone are also vital to certain healthy functions in the female. In particular, and in a way far from fully understood, it has a strong effect on the sex drive, the aggressive tendencies and hair growth. Our main interest here is this stimulating effect on the libido.
What causes libido anyway?Quite a number of factors are involved. There is a big genetic or inborn factor, - some people are born with a tendency to be more sexually inclined than others. In part this is due, in turn, to genetic factors governing glandular growth and function and to the sensitivity of various tissues to the chemicals (hormones) the glands consequently produce. Another major factor, or group of factors, comes from the environment. When living conditions are good the sex drive, in general, tends to be enhanced.
Society plays another mixture of roles. Strict upbringing may suppress or divert the sex drive. Religions and legal restraints can affect it. So can all kinds of fears, doubts, anxieties, - and ignorance. In every individual a balance is eventually struck between this, the most powerful natural impulse of all, - reproduction, and the artificially imposed restraints that society uses to curb that influence. Testosterone is the main weapon on the side of the sex drive, in males obviously, but most definitely in women too.
If it's so good for the sex drive why don't women use it?They do. Thousands of them. Sadly though, even more thousands mis-use it. That's where the problem arises.
Explain!Right. With the immensely greater freedom regarding sex that exists nowadays compared with only twenty or thirty years ago, has come a growing dissatisfaction with sexual restraints. It used to be, wrongly, as it happens, 'understood' that males always had a huge, insatiable sex drive whereas women had very little. There is very little truth in that as far as nature is concerned. It was society that imposed most of the difference. In the appropriate circumstances there is very little difference in the male and female sex drive, - it's the circumstances that make the difference.
Be that as it may, it was the 'norm' for women to accept lower sexual status and to show lower displays of sexual interest. But, when freedom crept in and they found how nice it can feel, their dissatisfaction started to grow. Alongside of this men started seeking ways to improve their drive and, above all, their performance. First it was with the aid of erection rings, then Blakoe Energisers (still widely sold), then aphrodisiacs and now, most recently of all, erection drugs like Cialis and Viagra. Determined not to be left behind again, women have also sought help. The enormous sales of dildos and vibrators has been a sign of that. Women also discovered that Viagra and the others helped them to a better sex life, too.
The stage has now been reached where, in many couples, both take an arousal medication or an erection enhancer (Women have erectile tissue too, in the nipples, the clitoris and in the vaginal lips and walls). And the same goes for testosterone. If it works for men and for women, why should only men be allowed to have it.
That's right, - why not?Only because of the risk of misuse. There is no other reason. On the basis of trying to protect and safeguard from misuse no licenses have been issued for testosterone products for women. All that are produced are for 'men only.' There may be a sexist or political motive behind all this too.
So, what exactly are the risks?Used properly, very few. But it is essential to remember that the required dose for women is vastly less than for men. Furthermore, increasing the amount does not increase the desired response, - it only increases the risks.
For example, to use testosterone in pregnancy is an absolute contraindication. Any woman who is pregnant or likely to become so MUST NOT under any conditions use testosterone. Also, research suggests (as yet not fully confirmed) that certain arteries can become hardened by testosterone exposure. Then there are the secondary sexual characteristics. Even a modest overdose can make a woman's voice break like a boy's and become male-sounding. Hair growth on face, lips and chin starts very early. Other anatomical changes start a gradual process of masculinisation. Breasts diminish, chest shape deepens, muscles develop and aggressive habits often develop. All too often, recognising these symptoms and cutting the dose by no means ensures a return to the previous, 'female' state. The voice and the beard may be there for life.
Is there any solution to the problem?There are several, though none of them very desirable. There have been several commercial attempts to produce testosterone-like medications. These are usually cleverly marketed but contain nothing more than a few herbs of dubious value. Most are sheer con-trickery. Other con tricks include selling creams and gels that are alleged to contain testosterone or its analogues (like DHT, - dihydrotestosterone) but which, in reality, contain no active ingredients at all. Using the latest techniques like offering a sub-lingual spray can be used to bamboozle the purchaser into thinking it must be the real thing. One particularly unpleasant trick is a method by which men try to make their partners more sexy without telling them. Because the female dose is so small it is quite easy for a woman to absorb an effective amount simply by sleeping, naked, with a man who has applied it to himself. No test cases have yet been brought but, if discovered, this might well constitute an illegal act. Nevertheless, it is now being done on quite a wide scale.
The only sensible way for women to use testosterone is by using an extremely small dose, say as much as would cover the little finger nail, just once a week for six to eight weeks. It absorbs well if massaged gently but thoroughly into the skin over the top of the shoulders and upper arms. It is vital to be extremely vigilant in keeping watch for unwanted signs of overdose. If there is an appreciated increase in the sex drive, then that should be accepted as adequate. It must always be born in mind that increase of dose usually means less effect and more danger. In short,.. more is less!
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