It’s something young men take for granted, and women often are reserved about; their sex drive. However, sex drive is an important indicator of health, and could even signal underlying endocrine problems.
Most people understand testosterone as the hormone that makes a man a man, and which has an important role to play in determining your libido, or lack thereof. What you may not realize is that it is not testosterone that directly influences our sex drive, but rather its metabolite, DHT (dihydrotestosterone).
How DHT Influences Sex Drive
While testosterone is primarily touted for its benefits for your libido (that applies to you too, ladies), it is actually DHT that does the grunt work. DHT is produced from testosterone following conversion by the enzyme 5-alpha-reductase. Unfortunately, sometimes there can be a reduction in DHT levels for a variety of reasons, such as increased conversion of testosterone to estrogen, or low testosterone production.
Not sure if you have low testosterone levels? Though symptoms may be as diverse as stars in the sky, here are some typical, telltale warning signs:
- Low energy levels
- Loss of interest in sex
- Inability to attain or maintain an erection
- Poor sleep quality
- Negative changes to body composition including loss of muscle mass and increased body fat
- Irritability, aggression, and depression
Working to actively improve your testosterone levels should be a no brainer, right? Well, not exactly, as a lot more may be going on beneath the surface than what meets the eye. There are other players involved in testosterone and sex drive, as well. One key player is dopamine, who is set to blow your mind.
Dopamine and Your Sex Drive
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter produced in the brain, with key roles in the reward and motivation pathways.1 Have you met recent success in life and feel on top of the world? You can thank dopamine for that feeling.
More often than not, however, dopamine also has a marked effect on testosterone levels, and hence also your desire for sex. Dopamine and testosterone share a bi-directional relationship, meaning that either could influence the other. When one goes down, typically so does the other. In fact, in studies it was found that using dopamine agonists improved symptoms of erectile dysfunction, which were previously not improved from use of testosterone alone. This clearly shows that things are more complicated than just sex hormones.
Among dopamine’s other benefits for your sex drive are:
- Upregulation of the androgen receptor,2 making free testosterone and DHT more efficient in their actions.
- Suppression of prolactin.3 Although largely an unknown hormone among most people, prolactin imbalance is a very common cause of sexual-reproductive disturbances in both men and women.
- Increased rate of testosterone synthesis via stimulating GnRH (gonadotropin releasing hormone) by the hypothalamus in the brain.4
Dopamine receptors, however, have the real risk of becoming desensitized, following which normal stimuli (such as seeing your partner naked) are unable to elicit enough motivational effect. One potential reason that is becoming more common in the modern age is overconsumption of pornographic material. Porn sets the reward pathways of the brain on fire, pushing its sensitivity lower and lower, so that typical stimuli that should lead to a desire for sex are not enough anymore. It is similar to the tolerance people develop from drug abuse. Basically, porn often supplies something that real life cannot (such as viewing hundreds of naked people in a few minutes), and priming your brain for this will eventually break its functionality in everyday life.
This is one of the most common causes of reduced sexual desire, or physiological erectile dysfunction. The only real way to remedy this is to wean off porn, either gradually or with professional help, and let your brain adjust back to normal.
Low Testosterone Might Not Be the Problem
In fact, it could be considered the rarer of the two major causes of erectile dysfunction, the other being reduced blood flow. Poor blood flow can affect anyone, but is definitely more pronounced in older men, and men with higher than average blood lipid levels and body fat. The reason? Simple: Plaque inside the blood vessel walls in the penis can restrict blood flow.
How can you tell if your problem is caused by chemistry or blood flow? If it is caused by reduced blood flow:
- You may experience chest pains, or be easily exerted by minimally taxing work/activity.
- You are in your forties or later.
- Your libido is normal, but your body is not as responsive as you are mentally.
If caused by low testosterone, low androgen levels, or low dopamine:
- You are not easily motivated to initiate sexual activity.
- When you do attempt sexual activity, you are not sufficiently stimulated to achieve a potent erection.
- May occur at any age; occurring with increasing frequency in younger men who abuse pornography.
- Other symptoms resembling adrenal fatigue frequently occur together; lack of motivation, depression, and lethargy.
- You do not experience “morning wood” as often as you did in years gone by.
How Do We Fix it?
At a minimum, you should visit your physician to get checked out, though you need to be wary the type of physician you consult. It is extremely common to never have the root issue addressed, as many general practitioners are not qualified to deal with neurochemical-endocrinological problems.
Aim for at least getting a hormone panel done, and ideally also your neurotransmitter levels checked. If testosterone replacement doesn’t suit your more natural approach (and I always suggest to try and fix it naturally first), you should be able to get some degree of help from trying these natural testosterone boosters or nitric oxide enhancers.
Tongkat Ali: One of the most popular, multi-purpose testosterone boosters on the market, capable of improving erection potency, suppressing testosterone-hogging SHBG and inhibiting cortisol; all of which can help positively influence your net testosterone levels.
Mucuna Pruriens: Contains high levels of L-Dopa,5 the direct precursor of dopamine. As we previously established, dopamine has a synergistic effect on testosterone and sex drive, since increasing dopamine levels often solves sexual dysfunction.
Nitric Oxide Boosters
Grape Seed Extract: Quite the double whammy, as it can help prevent testosterone from turning into estrogen,6 as well as stimulating eNOS, the enzyme responsible for making NO in blood vessels.7 Lab studies found as much as a massive 138% increase in nitric oxide levels following consumption.
- Citrulline: Found abundantly in watermelon, this is an amino acid that is converted into L-arginine, and then subsequently into nitric oxide. It is actually more efficient at raising NO levels than L-arginine itself. Citrulline is also amazing for muscle pump and building mass, as it has anabolic properties.
It’s More Complicated Than Just Testosterone
As you have just found out, the relationship between testosterone and sex drive is merely the surface of the matter. DHT and dopamine have much more direct roles in determining your urge to get it on. Likewise, your ability to perform physically involves blood flow and nitric oxide.
There is never a one-size-fits all remedy when dealing with these matters, so be sure to consult a specialist, eat lots of nitric oxide boosting foods, and try a safe testosterone booster if need be.
1. Luo, Sarah X., and Eric J. Huang. “Dopaminergic neurons and brain reward pathways: from neurogenesis to circuit assembly.” The American Journal of Pathology 186, no. 3 (2016): 478-488.
2. Kontos, C. K., I. N. Papadopoulos, E. G. Fragoulis, and A. Scorilas. “Quantitative expression analysis and prognostic significance of L-DOPA decarboxylase in colorectal adenocarcinoma.” British Journal of Cancer 102, no. 9 (2010): 1384-1390.
3. Ben-Jonathan, Nira, and Robert Hnasko. “Dopamine as a prolactin (PRL) inhibitor.” Endocrine reviews 22, no. 6 (2001): 724-763.
4. Li, Songyun, and Georges Pelletier. “Role of dopamine in the regulation of gonadotropin-releasing hormone in the male rat brain as studied by in situ hybridization.” Endocrinology 131, no. 1 (1992): 395-399.
5. Lampariello, Lucia Raffaella, Alessio Cortelazzo, Roberto Guerranti, Claudia Sticozzi, and Giuseppe Valacchi. “The magic velvet bean of Mucuna pruriens.” Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine 2, no. 4 (2012): 331-339.
6. Kijima, Ikuko, Sheryl Phung, Gene Hur, Sum-Ling Kwok, and Shiuan Chen. “Grape seed extract is an aromatase inhibitor and a suppressor of aromatase expression.” Cancer Research 66, no. 11 (2006): 5960-5967.
7. Feng, Zhe, Ri?Bao Wei, Quan Hong, Shao?Yuan Cui, and Xiang?Mei Chen. “Grape seed extract enhances eNOS expression and NO production through regulating calcium?mediated AKT phosphorylation in H2O2?treated endothelium.” Cell biology international 34, no. 10 (2010): 1055-1061.