kissHormonology reader, Rick, asks: “Can you tell me what happens to a man’s testosterone level in the minutes, hours, days following sex?”

This is a great question because, unlike estrogen which is pumped out in a relatively stable, predictable pattern, testosterone is a hormone that spikes and drops in response to a whole slew of external factors–for both men and women.

Why should you care if your testosterone is going up or down at any given time? Well, typically a boost in T amplifies this hormone’s many effects, which include a lift in confidence, assertiveness, mood, competitiveness, ambition and libido. Since these are all fairly positive effects, you may want to keep in mind ways you can raise the level of this hormone in case you’d like to experience more of them.

Now back to Rick’s question: Not only is sexual activity one of the tried-and-true ways to raise your testosterone level in a jiffy, different types of sexual activity affect testosterone levels in both sexes in varying ways.

While what follows is by no means a comprehensive list (there has been a lot of research done on this topic–more than I can devote the time to in a single post), here’s a brief breakdown of some of the intriguing study findings that reveal what’s going on with your testosterone when it comes to sexual matters:

> Testosterone rises shortly before, during and after sex for men and women, according to research, including this 1992 study in Physiology & Behavior and 2007 study in Hormones and Behavior. Women also experience a rise in T during cuddling, the 2007 research shows. How long does testosterone stay elevated after sex? Study results vary and more research needs to be done, but for men the testosterone-lifting effect seems to peak about an hour after orgasm.

> No sex partner around? Not a problem: Testosterone also rises after masturbation in both men and women, according to research (such as this and this).

> Need inspiration? Watching pornographic films revs testosterone levels in men by an average of 35%, according to a 1984 study in Psychoneuroendocrinology and 1974 study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior.

Women and porn is a bit more complicated: One study found women experienced a rise in T after watching an erotic film and masturbating to orgasm. However, another study didn’t find a rise in T in women after they viewed an erotic film, suggesting that the orgasm in the previous study might have affected their findings.

But, that’s not the whole story: A 2009 study from Skidmore College found that women who view attractive actors in romantic scenes in regular non-porn movies get a surge of testosterone. Why? The researchers theorize that while watching the sappy romantic scenarios, you naturally blot out the female actress on screen and picture yourself with the hottie. When that happens, it tells your brain you’re zeroing in on a desirable partner, which then makes it respond by churning out more testosterone to make you bolder and more willing to compete with other women to land the cutie.

> When you’ve got no privacy or time, turn to your imagination: Women who are not taking hormone birth control can increase their testosterone level by simply thinking sexual thoughts, reveals a 2011 study in Hormones and Behavior. Sadly, men don’t have this ability, found the same research team in a 2012 study. That’s too bad since being able to raise your testosterone on command can come in handy, for instance, when you want to bolster confidence before a big job interview or raise your assertiveness before dealing with a car salesperson.

> When men get near an ovulating women, her scent triggers a rise in his testosterone, according to this 2009 study in Psychological Science. Researchers speculate that a woman’s body chemistry changes during ovulation, sending out subtle scent or pheromone cues in her sweat that indicate she’s fertile.

> If you’re a heterosexual male and you see or interact with an attractive female in the afternoon, your testosterone rises, research shows. And, heterosexual women who see an attractive male at any point in the day also experience a T surge, suggests the romantic comedy movie study from above.

> Men who visit sex clubs experience a 36% increase in testosterone, according to research from the University of Nevada. Those who participate in activities with others at the club show a greater rise in this hormone than those who simply watch.

> Enjoyed that recent S&M book/movie/obsession Fifty Shades of Grey? Researchers studied 58 adults into sadomasochism in a 2009 study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior and reported something surprising: Female submissives who were bound, received stimulation and followed orders experienced a rise in testosterone during S&M scenes while male submissives experienced no rise in T or had a slight drop in this hormone. Since a rise in testosterone usually indicates dominance, this hormonal effect in female “bottoms” was unexpected. So, the researchers theorize it may be the result of an increase in aggression or an uplift in mood these women experience during the S&M scene.

At some point, I’ll do a Part 2 for testosterone and sex since there are quite a few other studies I think you’ll find intriguing.

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[Photo: Bert Werk]