What are hormones?
Hormones are chemical messengers that the endocrine glands produce and release into the bloodstream. Hormones help regulate many bodily processes, such as appetite, sleep, and growth.
Sex hormones are those that play an essential role in sexual development and reproduction. The main glands that produce sex hormones are the adrenal glands and the gonads, which include the ovaries in females and testes in males.
Sex hormones are also important for a range of bodily functions and a person’s general health. In both males and females, sex hormones are involved in:
puberty and sexual development
regulating bone and muscle growth
Types of female sex hormone
In females, the ovaries and adrenal glands are the main producers of sex hormones. Female sex hormones include estrogen, progesterone, and small quantities of testosterone.
We discuss each of these sex hormones below:
Estrogen is probably the most well-known sex hormone.
Although the majority of estrogen production occurs in the ovaries, the adrenal glands and fat cells produce small amounts of estrogen, too. Estrogen plays a crucial role in reproductive and sexual development, which begins when a person reaches puberty.
The ovaries, adrenal glands, and placenta produce the hormone progesterone. Progesterone levels increase during ovulation and spike during pregnancy.
Progesterone helps stabilize menstrual cycles and prepares the body for pregnancy. Having a low level of progesterone can lead to irregular periods, difficulty conceiving, and a higher risk of complications during pregnancy.
Although testosterone is the main sex hormone in males, it is also present in lower amounts in females.
In females, testosterone affects:
tissue and bone mass
red blood cell production
Who moved my hormones?
Hormonal changes don’t necessarily indicate that there’s a problem. Menstrual and menopausal changes, for example, are a normal part of development.
However, if a hormonal change leads to a drop in desire or sexual pleasure, and you feel dissatisfied with this, you may want to explore options such as changing your method of birth control or changing/altering your medications.
Here’s a look at factors that can affect hormone levels:
Hormone levels fluctuate throughout our cycles. A peak of sexual desire (libido) before and around ovulation, with a second, less intense peak during menstruation, is common. The lowest level of libido is often prior to menstruation, although there is much variation from this pattern.
Postmenopausal women, and many women using hormonal birth control methods, have less variation in sexual desire.
The Pill And Other Hormonal Birth Control Methods
Some hormonal birth control methods including the Pill, the patch (e.g., Ortho Evra), injectable contraceptives (e.g., Depo-Provera), and the vaginal ring (NuvaRing), suppress the usual cyclical nature of hormones and may affect desire and sexual functioning.
Some women have more desire, while other women experience less desire, orgasm less easily, and/or experience vaginal dryness. The specific effects of these methods vary greatly among individual women.
Estrogen and progesterone levels are higher during pregnancy, and blood flow to the genitals increases. These changes, along with other physical and psychological effects of pregnancy, can lead to increased desire.
On the flip side, however, fatigue, nausea, pain, fears, or issues with changing body size and self-image may squelch desire.
Breastfeeding can suppress ovulation for months after birth, as a result of the high levels of the hormone prolactin and reduced levels of estrogen.
Many women report a drop in sexual desire while nursing. Some have no libido at all and become non-orgasmic. This is normal; sexual desire usually returns when the baby is weaned or nursing much less.
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