A male hormone patch might increase women’s libido, reported The Times on August 18th. The newspaper said, “The treatment claims to make women feel much more frisky, and gives lacklustre libidos a boost.”
The newspaper reports that the study compared use of skin patches containing testosterone with use of a placebo, and found that sexual urges were more common in women using the testosterone patches.
The study was based on a survey of women and was relatively well-conducted. It suggests that testosterone patches may help women suffering from reduced libido. However, some women who only received a placebo also reported benefits, underlining the difficulty in establishing cause and effect in this area.
The study was led by Sheryl Kingsberg and colleagues from hospitals and medical centres in Cleveland, Baltimore and Boston. It was funded by Procter & Gamble Pharmaceuticals, Inc. and was published in the peer-reviewed medical journal The Journal of Sexual Medicine .
This study was a survey of a ‘representative’ sample of 132 women who had had their ovaries removed and had been diagnosed with ‘hypoactive sexual desire disorder’, a condition that results in low sexual desire. All were participating in two larger controlled trials, which enrolled about 1,000 women. All were given testosterone patches or a placebo and the survey looked at whether the patches had a meaningful effect.
The larger study was carefully controlled. However, the 132 women involved in the smaller survey represented only 12% of the total and were therefore to some extent self-selecting individuals, though at the time of their interviews they still didn't know whether they had received testosterone or placebo in the randomised trial. They were then interviewed about their sex lives before and after using the patches.
Half the women who used the testosterone patches reported that they had experienced a “meaningful benefit” from the treatment. However, about a third of women who received the placebo also thought their libido had improved.
The researchers concluded that testosterone patches do provide clinically meaningful improvements in sexual behaviour and feelings in women who have had their ovaries removed and who suffer from hypoactive sexual desire disorder.
This survey aimed to assess whether women enrolled in trials comparing testosterone and placebo felt that treatment gave a meaningful improvement in sex drive and behaviour. This study seems reasonably reliable, if small. The results are supported by the overall findings of the randomised controlled trials, which found benefit with the testosterone patches. There are a few limitations to the study that should be borne in mind, and the authors acknowledge these: