Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology

, Volume 5, Issue 1, pp 13–30 | Cite as

Do Psychosocial Factors Moderate the Relation between Testosterone and Female Sexual Desire? The Role of Interoception, Alexithymia, Defense Mechanisms, and Relationship Status

  • Rui Miguel CostaEmail author
  • Gonçalo Oliveira
  • José Pestana
  • David Costa
  • Rui F. Oliveira



Low sexual desire is a common complaint among women in the reproductive years. There is controversy regarding the relationship between testosterone (T) and female desire, but there is also lack of research on moderators. Lack of awareness of effects of T on emotions and bodily sensations might interfere with the subjective experience of desire. Moreover, T appears to be more important for searching and competing for partners than for long-term pair bonding. Therefore, we examined if interoception, alexithymia, maladaptive psychological defenses, and relationship status, moderated the relationship between salivary T and female desire.


One hundred sixty eight Portuguese women of reproductive age completed the desire dimension of the Female Sexual Function Index, the Toronto Alexithymia Scale (TAS-20), and the Defense Style Questionnaire (DSQ-40). Interoception was determined by a heartbeat detection task. Participants reported if they had a regular sexual partner. Luminescence immunoassays were used to determine salivary T.


Three multiple regressions models revealed that, among unpartnered women, higher desire was predicted by the combinations of 1) higher T and lesser alexithymia, 2) higher T and less use of maladaptive defenses, 3) higher T and greater interoception. For partnered women, neither T nor the interactions of T with indices of emotional and bodily awareness predicted desire.


These findings provide preliminary evidence that T is more important for the desire of unpartnered women, and that lack of conscious awareness of emotions and bodily sensations interferes with the effects of T on the subjective experience of desire.


Testosterone Sexual desire Interoception Alexithymia Defense mechanisms Relationship status 



This work was supported by Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia (grant numbers FRH/BPD/76130/2011 and UID/PSI/04810/2013); and Fundação BIAL (grant number 103/12).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Ethical Standards

The authors declare that all procedures contributing to this work comply with the laws of the country in which it was performed. The study was approved by the relevant institutional Ethics committee and complies with the principles of the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments. All participants provided informed consent before their inclusion in the study.

The authors state that they do not have financial relationships with the organizations that sponsored the research. The authors also state that they have full control of all primary data and that they agree to allow the journal to review their data if requested.

Conflict of Interest

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.William James Center for ResearchISPA – Instituto UniversitárioLisbonPortugal
  2. 2.Instituto de Medicina MolecularFaculdade de Medicina da Universidade de LisboaLisbonPortugal
  3. 3.ISPA – Instituto UniversitárioLisbonPortugal
  4. 4.Champalimaud Neuroscience ProgramChampalimaud Center for the UnknownLisbonPortugal
  5. 5.Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência (IGC)Integrative Behavioural Biology LabOeirasPortugal

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