Sexual desire and testosterone are widely assumed to be directly and positively linked to each other despite the lack of supporting empirical evidence. The literature that does exist is mixed, which may result from a conflation of solitary and dyadic desire, and the exclusion of contextual variables, like stress, known to be relevant. Here, we use the Steroid/Peptide Theory of Social Bonds as a framework for examining how testosterone, solitary and partnered desire, and stress are linked over time. To do so, we collected saliva samples (for testosterone and cortisol) and measured desire as well as other variables via questionnaires over nine monthly sessions in 78 women and 79 men. Linear mixed models showed that testosterone negatively predicted partnered desire in women but not men. Stress moderated associations between testosterone and solitary desire in both women and men, but differently: At lower levels of stress, higher average testosterone corresponded to higher average solitary desire for men, but lower solitary desire on average for women. Similarly, for partnered desire, higher perceived stress predicted lower desire for women, but higher desire for men. We conclude by discussing the ways that these results both counter presumptions about testosterone and desire but fit with the existing literature and theory, and highlight the empirical importance of stress and gender norms.
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On the final session survey, one item of the dyadic desire subscale (i.e., “When you have sexual thoughts, how strong is your desire to engage in sexual behavior with a partner?”) was missing two response options (4 and 6 on the 1–8 scale) due to a survey error. Responses were calculated as participants entered them (i.e., 1 = 1, 2 = 2, 3 = 3, 5 = 5, 7 = 7, 8 = 8), but we note that participants did not have the option to input 4 or 6.
In the interest of full reporting, we note that these measures included the Investment Model Scale (Rusbult, Martz, & Agnew, 1998), Quality Marriage Index (Norton, 1983), UCLA Multidimensional Condom Attitudes Scale (Helweg-Larsen & Collins, 1994), Index of Sexual Satisfaction (Hudson, Harrison, & Crosscup, 1981), Experiences in Close Relationships Scale (Brennan, Clark, & Shaver, 1998), General Well-Being Schedule (Dupuy, 1973), Klein Sexuality Grid (Klein, Sepekoff, & Wolf, 1985), Multidimensional Scale of Perceived Social Support (Zimet, Dahlem, Zimet, & Farley, 1988), Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (Watson, Clark, & Tellegen, 1988), Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (Rosenberg, 1965), Sex-Role Traditionalism Scale (Peplau, Hill, & Rubin, 1993), and UCLA Loneliness Scale (Russell, Peplau, & Ferguson, 1978).
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These analyses used previously collected data from the Implication of Partnership Around the College Transition (ImPACT) in collaboration with Dr. Terri Conley and Dr. Divya Patel. Salivary assays were conducted at the Core Assay Facility, University of Michigan. Jessica C. Raisanen, M.S.P.H. is now affiliated with the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics in Baltimore, MD. Sari van Anders is now the Canada 150 Research Chair in Social Neuroendocrinology, Sexuality, and Gender/Sex, and Professor of Psychology, Gender Studies, and Neuroscience, at Queen’s University, Kingston, ON, Canada.
This study was funded by faculty discretionary funds.
Conflicts of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
Research Involving Human Participants
All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.
Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.
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Raisanen, J.C., Chadwick, S.B., Michalak, N. et al. Average Associations Between Sexual Desire, Testosterone, and Stress in Women and Men Over Time. Arch Sex Behav 47, 1613–1631 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-018-1231-6
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