Does Sex Boost Testosterone Levels?


by Monica Mollica

Testosterone is popularly known as the “sex hormone”, with “sex” referring to both its masculinizing effects that gives rise to sex differences between men and women, as well as sex (the activity). In terms of the latter, testosterone is well known for its libido boosting effect, in both men [1-4] and women [5-9] regardless of age. Testosterone increases sex drive even in older women, and has thus been designated as the “infallible aphrodisiac” as early as 1940.[10] But does it work the other way around also… Does sexual activity increase testosterone levels? Let’s see what research shows…

Effect of sexual stimuli / activity on testosterone levels in men

Is was suggested already 1970 that sexual activity can increase testosterone levels.[11] After that, early studies demonstrated increased testosterone levels during sexual intercourse [12, 13] or exposure to erotic movies [14-16], with the magnitude of the response being positively correlated with the subjective evaluation of sexual arousal.[14] In one small study, 9 healthy young men were presented on two different days with either a sexually arousing or a sexually neutral film.[15] Compared with the neutral film, testosterone levels were increased within the first 10 min of sexual arousal, from 640 ng/dL to 727 ng/dL.

On the contrary, other studies did not show that sexual activity induced a rise in testosterone levels.[17-19] However, a more recent study pointed out that the mixed results in previous studies regarding changes in testosterone levels during actual sexual intercourse or masturbation may be due to the small number of subjects studied, unnatural lab-based settings, and invasive blood collection techniques.[20] This study investigated salivary testosterone levels in men watching versus participating in sexual activity at a large U.S. sex club.[20] The present study entailed minimally invasive sample collection (measuring testosterone in saliva), a naturalistic setting, and a larger number of subjects than previous studies.[20] Subjects averaged 40 years of age and participated between 11:00 pm and 2:10 am. Consistent with expectations, results revealed that testosterone levels increased 36% among men during a visit to the sex club, with the magnitude of testosterone elevation being significantly greater among participants (72%) compared with observers (11%). Contrary to expectation, the elevations in testosterone levels were unrelated to age.[20] This study confirms that participation in sexual activity results in a greater testosterone boost than does observing of sexual stimuli/activity.

Brain neuroimaging during sexual stimuli shows that sexually stimulated activation of temporal areas is associated with testosterone levels (the temporal area of the brain is involved in processing sensory input).[21] This may reflect a positive feedback effect, as testosterone is released by sexual stimulation and can lead to further activation of these areas.[21]

And for those men who wonder, ejaculation frequency is not related to increased risk of prostate cancer.[22] To the contrary, more frequent ejaculations is associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer.[23]

Effect of sexual stimuli / activity on testosterone levels in women

Fewer studies have investigated the effect of sexual stimuli/activity on testosterone levels in women, but the ones who have, show that it does impact women similarly to me. In women, sexual gratification and frequency of intercourse is positively related to testosterone levels [24], and sexual activity in women increases testosterone levels.[25]

Fulfilling desire – does having more sex partners make a difference?

Across human societies, males have greater interest in uncommitted sex (more unrestricted socio-sexuality) than do females. A recent study found a negative feedback between men’s testosterone levels, socio-sexual psychology, and sexual partner number.[26] Specifically, a man’s number of sexual partners is negatively related his testosterone level, i.e. the more sexual partners, the lower the testosterone level.[26] This suggests that testosterone drives “sexual hunting” in men, but is inhibited when the desires are fulfilled. Thus, testosterone promotes sexual intercourse success, which in turn down-regulates testosterone production. Thus, running around too much may backfire.

Summary & Comments

Studies clearly show that higher baseline testosterone levels increase sexual interest, sexual arousal, and sexual enjoyment in both men and women. While early studies are contradictory regarding whether sexual activity increases testosterone levels, more recent studies that were conducted in a more natural setting in real life show that both sexual stimuli and sexual activity does increase testosterone levels in both men and women.

Even though the increase in testosterone level is unlikely to translate into noticeable fat loss and/or muscle growth (which are effects commonly associated with testosterone), sexual activity does have multiple beneficial effects. Sexual activity, quality of sexual life, and interest in sex is positively associated with health in middle age and later life.[27]

A study with a 10-year follow-up found that mortality risk is reduced by half among men who have frequent orgasms (defined in this study as two or more per week) than among men who had orgasms less than once a month. Even when controlling for other factors (such as age, social class, and smoking status), a strong and statistically significant inverse relationship was found between orgasm frequency and risk of death, i.e. the higher orgasm frequency the lower the risk of death. The authors of this study concluded that sexual activity seems to have a protective effect on men’s health.[28] A similar results was found in an earlier study which reported higher mortality among men who had ceased having sexual intercourse at earlier ages.[29]

Another study followed a racially diverse population for 25 years to determine what factors were important in determining lifespan.[30] Regarding sexuality, for men, frequency of intercourse was a significant predictor of longevity. While frequency of intercourse was not predictive of longevity for women, women who reported past enjoyment of intercourse had greater longevity. This suggests a positive association between sexual intercourse and pleasure and longevity.[30]

In addition, studies suggest that mental health, personal happiness, satisfaction, self-esteem, cognitive functioning and reasoning ability are positively related to the frequency of sexual activity, and reduced sexual activity is associated with depression and stress.[31, 32] In line with this, sexual activity is considered to be a barometer for health, quality of life, well-being and happiness.[33] So make sure you get plenty of it, but hey guys – don’t run around too much!