Can Erotica Boost Low Testosterone?
Erotica might be able to boost low testosterone in men who suffer from low-T. Here's the science behind that possibility and some tips on how to best use erotica.
By Dennis Thompson Jr.
Medically Reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
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Studies suggest that men struggling with low testosterone might want to consider using erotic materials to boost libido and help elevate hormone levels.
For years, research has shown that men's testosterone levels increase when they're presented with visual erotic stimuli. However, since previous studies involved men with normal testosterone levels, some doctors think the same effect might not be applicable for men with low testosterone.
"You're talking about the chicken and the egg," said urologist Koushik Shaw, MD, of the Austin Urology Institute in Texas, where he treats men with low testosterone. "Would erotic materials increase production of testosterone, or does testosterone fuel a man's response to those materials? My gut opinion as a doctor is it wouldn't affect low-T. The guys who come to me want help because they have no interest in sex or interest in their wives, so why would they have interest in sexually explicit material?"
Testosterone and Erotica
A long string of studies have found that sexual behavior increases testosterone, but sexual arousal without behavior — including review of adult material — also can increase testosterone levels. When researchers from the University of Michigan reviewed numerous studies as part of a report they published in Archives of Sexual Behavior on sexual thoughts and their link to testosterone, they found evidence that men’s testosterone increased when they watched erotic movies, even when the men didn't masturbate or engage in any other sexual activity.
This could be happening because of the complex interplay between psychological and biological factors linked to human arousal, said Dagmar O'Connor, PhD, a New York-based sex therapist. "All the brain research now shows that, yes, psychology affects biochemistry and hormones," O'Connor said. "It's circular. It's what we're born with."
Another study found that the effect is not limited to erotic materials. Men who visited a swingers' club but only watched experienced an 11 percent increase in their testosterone, the 2011 study found. However, that increase paled when compared with men who actually participated in sex; they experienced a testosterone increase of 72 percent.
Visual stimuli may be the key. When the researchers behind the review articles in Archives of Sexual Behavior attempted to further refine the connection between sexual thoughts and testosterone levels, the results were disappointing. They asked men to fantasize about sexual situations and write down their thoughts, however, the men experienced no major increase in testosterone levels.
There have been only a handful of reliable scientific studies that have looked into whether erotica can help men with low testosterone, said Rebecca Sokol, MD, a professor of medicine and obstetrics and gynecology in the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California and vice president of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine.
Dr. Sokol noted studies done in the 1970s by legendary physiologist Julian Davidson, PhD, who recorded penile response in sleeping men with low-T after they had been shown erotic material. "Clearly, the men with low testosterone showed some response," she said.
Using Erotica in a Relationship
Men with low testosterone who want to try using erotica to boost their hormone levels need to first and foremost inform their partner of their plans, said Kate McNulty, LCSW, a sex therapist based in Portland, Oregon. "To try to do this privately without any discussion, and then maybe get discovered doing it, can be upsetting and could feel like betrayal," she said.
You also should ask your partner whether he or she would want to participate in viewing the erotica, McNulty said. "In some cases, the guy might be able to concentrate better if he has privacy," she said. "For other couples, the partner will be more trusting if they say let's do something we can enjoy together, and it can be fun and playful." If your partner wants to participate, make sure the erotica is something you can both enjoy. "It won't help if it turns her off," O'Connor added.
If your partner doesn't want to participate, make sure that your partner understands the type of erotica you will be checking out. "Some partners are going to feel like they need that level of influence, and other people are going to be 'whatever, if you find something that turns you on, go for it,' " McNulty said.
Video: BOOST FAQ #4: Effect of Erotic movies & Arousal on Testosterone | Dr.Education (For 18+ only)
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