Testosterone: the very word conjures up the hairy alpha male, female in one hand and club in the other, forging his way through the forest. Less well known: women make testosterone too, and it is central to a womanâs sexual wellbeing. When pondering hormones âfor herâ we think of oestrogen and progesterone but it is actually free testosterone that makes us scent our loverâs body and press our lips to his lips and strip him of his clothing NOW because itâs far too hot to remain robed.
What is âfreeâ testosterone and how do women produce it (in the absence of the obvious)?
Womenâs bodies make testosterone in the ovaries and the adrenal glands. We produce a lot less than men do, but enough, if things are running smoothly, for plenty of lustful encounters. Free testosterone is determined by the ratio between the bodyâs total testosterone level and the level of sex-hormone-binding globulin (SHBG) present. SHBGâs role is to regulate the sex hormones by binding up excess, while free testosteroneâs role is to inspire you, this instant, to propagate the human race.
Ideally, SHBG should leave enough free testosterone floating around for fun and games but dietary, hormonal and other factors can raise the bodyâs level of SHBG too high, causing it to tie up too much testosterone while dimming your desire to tie up your partner in the process. When your level of SHBG is nice and low, free testosterone levels can climb and the sensual pleasure you may be feeling thanks to the ministrations of that decadent neurotransmitter dopamine can be translated into bodice-ripping rapture by testosterone *.
Low free testosterone is associated with lack of desire, lack of sexual pleasure and an inability to orgasm. When a womanâs testosterone is very low she can forget what sex is about. There are ways of raising free testosterone levels, as long as a womanâs body is producing enough total testosterone in the first place. Women whose hormones have declined due to menopause or who have had their ovaries surgically removed, or women who have always had naturally very low levels of testosterone may find it hard to feel the raunchy effects of testosterone. In such cases, home-grown solutions might not be enough and it may be worth talking to an endocrinologist **.
For others, diet, exercise, taking certain supplements and avoiding or limiting libido-dampening foods can go a long way towards unleashing the lioness within. Following the dietary and supplement suggestions outlined in our St Valentineâs Day blog can help raise dopamine levels to pleasurable heights while keeping serotonin levels moderate â essential for sensuality. Eating healthy monounsaturated and saturated fats, such as olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil and the fats contained in protein foods from healthy, grass-fed, free-range and organically raised animals can help elevate total testosterone. So can keeping omega-6 fats to a healthy minimum, avoiding junk fats and building muscle through weight training.
Once you have strengthened your overall testosterone score, how do you keep SHBGâs hands off the testosterone you need to be free? By avoiding hormonal birth control (it raises SBHG) ***, minimising caffeine, sugary and starchy foods (SHBG binds more testosterone than it should in response to these) and eating protein at each meal (but minimising or avoiding soya-based foods, which contain potential endocrine disrupters). Zinc and magnesium supplements (e.g. Higher Natureâs True Food Magnesium and True Food Zinc) help keep SHBG low and free testosterone high. Itâs also a good idea to take a multivitamin/mineral supplement (e.g. Viridianâs High Five, which contains extra Vitamin B5 to support the adrenal glands) ****.
Not only does testosterone improve your sex life; it improves your energy levels and your ability to build muscle. The more muscle a woman has, the easier it is for her to lose weight (if she needs to) and look great. And thereâs no need to worry: a robust level of testosterone will not have you searching in the bathroom mirror for facial fur. Nor will you turn into an alpha male and grab your best friendâs hair. It will simply help you to feel sexier and more sensual: in sum, a more attractive version of you.
* See St Valentineâs Day blog for information on dopamine.
** See Jennifer Berman and Laura Berman, For Women Only: A Revolutionary Guide to Reclaiming Your Sex Life (London, 2001) and Marenna Lindberg, The Orgasmic Diet (London, 2007) for more information on testosterone, free testosterone and testosterone replacement therapy (TRT).
*** Please consult your doctor if you decide to switch to an alternative method of birth control.
**** All supplements available from The Hopsack or can be ordered through the shop. If you are taking any medication or have one or more health conditions, it is imperative that you consult your doctor before changing your diet or taking supplements.