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Sexual Thoughts: Links to Testosterone and Cortisol in Men

Abstract

Sexual stimuli increase testosterone (T) or cortisol (C) in males of a variety of species, including humans, and just thinking about sex increases T in women. We investigated whether sexual thoughts change T or C in men and whether hormone measures (baseline, post-activity, and changes) correlate with psychological sexual arousal. We used the Imagined Social Situation Exercise to assess how hormones respond to and correlate with sexual thoughts and arousal relative to three control conditions: neutral, stressful, and positive. A total of 99 men provided a baseline saliva sample, imagined and wrote about a sexual or control situation, and provided a second saliva sample 15 min later. Results indicated that, for participants in the sexual condition, higher baseline and post-activity C corresponded to larger increases in self- reported sexual and autonomic arousal. Although sexual thoughts increased sexual arousal, they did not change T or C compared to control conditions. Our results suggest that sexual thoughts are not sufficient to change T or C in men, but C may facilitate sexual arousal by directing energy towards a sexual situation.

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Acknowledgments

We thank N. Caverly, N. Desai, J. Eisman, S. Greenberg, L. Hipp, S. Massuch, S. Ngo, R. O’Hara, K. Ruelle, and J. Stein for help with data collection and Dr. A. Lu for conducting cortisol assays and providing helpful advice on salivary assay methods. This work was supported by the National Science Foundation through a Graduate Research Fellowship to Katherine L. Goldey (grant no. DGE0718128).

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Correspondence to Sari M. van Anders.

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Goldey, K.L., van Anders, S.M. Sexual Thoughts: Links to Testosterone and Cortisol in Men. Arch Sex Behav 41, 1461–1470 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-011-9858-6

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Keywords

  • Cortisol
  • Men
  • Sexual arousal
  • Sexual thoughts
  • Testosterone