Hormone therapy is a medication containing either a singular hormone or a combination of hormones that are used to treat people experiencing a hormone deficiency. It is typically given to those experiencing symptoms of menopause as it helps to treat vaginal dryness, discomfort during sex, mood swings, night sweats, and hot flashes, all of which can lead to reduced sexual desire.
Hormone therapy is commonly used to treat low libido, which is a common symptom of menopause and hypogonadism.
For people with menopause, hormone therapy helps treat low libido and other common symptoms of menopause that contribute to low sexual desire, including vaginal dryness, discomfort during sex, mood swings, night sweats, and hot flashes.
Various hormones are used in hormone therapy, including estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. There are multiple methods for administering hormone therapy, including tablets, injections, implants, patches, gels, vaginal rings, creams, and suppositories.
Small risks are associated with hormone therapies, but often the benefits outweigh the risks.
It is also used as a treatment for people experiencing low libido due to hypogonadism.
Low libido explained
A low libido, or low sexual desire, is a decreased interest in sexual desire and sexual activities. This is common for people of all ages, genders, and sexual orientations to experience, as many factors can contribute to a decrease in desire, including:
- Mental health issues. Stress, depression, anxiety, trauma, low self-esteem, poor body image, and shame and guilt surrounding sex.
- Relationship problems. Lack of trust or communication with a partner, or partner experiencing pain during sex.
- Hormones. Low levels of hormones, hormonal medications such as the pill, or hormone changes from pregnancy, menopause, and aging.
- Illness. Vaginal or pelvic infections, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes, thyroid dysfunctions, and arthritis.
- Medication. Antidepressants and chemotherapy.
- Substance abuse. Abuse of drugs and alcohol.
It is normal for people's sexual desire to rise and fall throughout their lifetimes, and often medical help is not needed. However, if a drop in desire lasts for over six months and causes significant personal distress, it could potentially be a desire disorder. There are two types of desire disorders, male hypoactive sexual desire disorder, and female sexual interest/arousal disorder.
As desire disorders can stem from various causes, treatment is tailored to the individual to address the underlying factors. Typically, treatment involves a blend of psychotherapy, communication strategies, mindfulness techniques, and biological interventions such as altering medication. Some people may also be treated with hormone therapy.
What is hormone therapy?
Hormone therapy is a form of medication that contains a singular hormone or a combination of hormones to treat a hormone deficiency. It is most commonly used for women experiencing the side effects of menopause, but it can also be used to treat other hormone deficiencies in all genders, such as hypogonadism.
Hormone therapy used to treat symptoms of menopause usually consists of a combination of estrogen and progestogen. However, people who have had their wombs removed may be treated solely with estrogen. Testosterone is often used when used to treat hypogonadism in people with penises. Hormone therapy can be taken through tablets, injections, implants, patches, gels, and vaginal rings, creams, and suppositories. Vaginal therapies contain lowers doses of estrogen and pose a lower risk of cancer and heart disease than other hormone therapies.
Does hormone therapy help with low libido?
For people with vaginas, hormone therapy can help increase sexual desire. When used to treat menopause, hormone therapy replaces estrogen that is naturally lost during menopause. This helps to restore libido while also treating other common symptoms of menopause, including vaginal dryness, discomfort during sex, mood swings, night sweats, and hot flashes, all of which can lead to reduced sexual desire.
For people with penises, testosterone therapy has been found to improve sexual functioning for those who experience low libido and erectile dysfunction due to hypogonadism.
Most hormone therapies available today are used specifically for the treatment of the side effects of menopause. However, two new studies have seen some success using the protein kisspeptin to treat desire disorders in both men and women. Although these studies were small, they do show promise of increasing sexual desire and could provide a new form of treatment for male hypoactive sexual desire disorder and female sexual interest/arousal disorder in the future.
Risks of hormone therapy
As with any medication, there are some risks associated with hormone therapies. In many cases, these risks are small and depend on many factors, including age, type of medication taken, the amount of time taking the medication, and other illnesses. Often the benefits of taking hormone therapy outweigh the risks. Please speak to your healthcare professional about any concerns you may have with taking hormone therapy.
Risks for women
Studies have found that known risks for women taking hormone therapy include:
- Breast cancer. Increased risk of breast cancer for long-term use of combined estrogen and progestogen therapy.
- Blood clots and stroke. Increased risk of blot clots and stroke for women using estrogen alone and combined estrogen and progestogen.
- Heart disease. Increased risk of heart disease and stroke for women who started using estrogen alone and combined estrogen and progestogen after the age of 60.
- Dementia. Increased risk of dementia for women over 65 using estrogen alone and combined estrogen and progestogen.
Risks for men
Studies have found that known risks for men taking hormone therapy include:
- Acne. Many men may see an increase in acne, or other skin issues.
- Sleep apnea. Some studies show that testosterone therapy can worsen sleep apnea.
- Prostate cancer. Increased risk for the stimulation of existing prostate cancer cells, as well as benign prostatic hyperplasia.
- Breast tissue growth. Increase in breast size, or swelling of the breasts.
- Heart disease. Increased risk of heart disease for long-term use.
- Rise in red blood cells. Increased red blood cells increases the risk of blood clots.
Benefits of hormone therapy
The main benefits associated with using hormone therapy for menopause include the reduction of hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, and pain and discomfort during sex. It can also cause an increase in sexual desire and arousal, an increase in vaginal lubrication, and an increase in the elasticity of the vagina. Hormone therapy also decreases the risk of developing osteoporosis.
The main benefits associated with using testosterone therapy for hypogonadism include improved sexual functioning, plus an increase in energy and mood.
- Current Opinion in Urology. Testosterone therapy improves erectile function and libido in hypogonadal men.
- JAMA Network Open. Effects of kisspeptin administration in women with hypoactive sexual desire disorder.
- JAMA Network Open. Effects of kisspeptin on sexual brain processing and penile tumescence in men with hypoactive sexual desire disorder: A randomized clinical trial.