No, it’s not the name of a hot new band. I titled this article “The Sexy Thyroid” because of the connection between the small butterfly-shaped gland nestled in the front of the neck which controls many basic bodily operations and our sexual appetites.
When your thyroid gland fails to supply just the right amounts of life-sustaining hormones, either providing too much or too little, bad things start to happen to the rest of your body, mind, and emotions. You may find that your sexy self is more difficult to arouse.
It is a fact that unbalanced thyroid hormones can cause several major sexual dysfunctions in men and women, including:
- A low sex drive or total lack of sexual desire, known as low libido
- An inability to become aroused
- Difficulty reaching orgasm, slow to orgasm, or an inability to reach orgasm
There are also some sexual symptoms related to the thyroid that are specific to each gender.
Men with thyroid conditions may also experience:
- Erectile dysfunction (difficulty getting or maintaining an erection)
- Premature ejaculation
- Delayed ejaculation (requiring a long period of intercourse – 30 to 40 minutes – in order to ejaculate
Women have their own thyroid-related sexual symptoms, which include:
- Vaginal dryness / inadequate natural lubrication
- Painful intercourse
Less vaginal lubrication makes sex uncomfortable, painful or unsatisfying, according to the American Sexual Health Association (ASHA). Unsatisfying sex isn’t much to perk up about.
Vaginal lubrication is key to female sexual pleasure. An arid vagina can resist penetration by a penis, causing friction or irritation.
A thyroid disorder may also occur with low testosterone production which is also a libido buster. And while testosterone is typically regarded as a male hormone, women’s bodies produce it, too. Testosterone also plays an important part in determining the sex drive for men and women.
What’s the connection between the small neck gland and sexual interest, energy, and performance? So glad you asked!
The thyroid uses iodine and tyrosine, one of the 20 standard amino acids, to manufacture thyroxine, commonly referred to as T4, the primary thyroid hormone produced. The bloodstream carries T4 to tissues throughout the body where a small portion of it is converted to triiodothyronine (T3), the most active thyroid hormone.
T4 is a storage hormone which transforms in the body, losing one molecule of iodine to become the active hormone T3. This physiological process is called T4-to-T3 conversion.
Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), produced by the anterior pituitary gland, regulates hormonal output from the thyroid.
A blood test can reveal a hyperthyroid gland which secretes too many hormones or the opposite condition, called hypothyroidism, where the body isn’t getting enough and the right combination of T3, T4, and TSH.
Bear in mind that other factors such as weight gain or loss, being tired or experiencing mood swings can also alter your sex life.
That said, if you suspect a thyroid imbalance is putting a cramp on your sexual style, book a medical appointment for a comprehensive thyroid evaluation: a clinical examination and blood test panel. A laboratory analysis will show your blood levels of TSH, free thyroxine (Free T4 or fT4), free triiodothyronine (Free T3 or fT3), and thyroid peroxidase (TPO) antibodies. This information helps diagnose (or rule out) the presence of a thyroid condition underlying your sexual problem.
One common therapy is to take daily oral doses of prescription T4: Levothyroxine, also known as L-thyroxine, is a manufactured form of the thyroid hormone thyroxine (T4). Levothyroxine, taken on on an empty stomach, can restore TSH and T4 to normal levels with significant results:
- Increased sexual drive
- Less pain during or after sex
Daily T4 doses to supplement an underperforming thyroid may help somewhat:
- Increase arousal
Within three months after beginning to take T4, sexual problems should go away and your former sexy self should be rarin’ to go.
There is a special exception for people diagnosed with Hashimoto’s as well as hypothyroidism. This combination of health conditions can cause more severe sexual dysfunction and an even lower sex drive, despite a “within normal limits” balance of TSH and T4 with medication.
The thyroid antibody, especially TPO levels, seems to cause this problem. Higher TPO levels are linked to more problems reported by patients. It seems that Hashimoto’s adds to or amplifies the effect of the underactive thyroid.
Science has identified the connection between fT4 and TSH levels and sexual disorders. Other hormones are triggered by low TSH production and might lead to sexual function problems such as:
- Hypothyroidism can cause hyperprolactinemia, elevated levels of the hormone prolactin. Symptoms are reduced sex drive, breast pain, painful intercourse, vaginal dryness, and changes in blood vessel and nerve sensitivity.
- Varying levels of SHBG (sex hormone binding globulin) which interfere with the estrogen-testosterone-progesterone balance.
If you have been diagnosed with a thyroid condition and are taking medication, talk to your healthcare provider about what you are experiencing. A change in medication dose or supplementing thyroid function with selenium might be helpful.
Another tip is to avoid drinking milk or taking calcium supplements within two hours of taking Levothyroxine. Studies suggest that calcium, present in dairy products, may interfere with the body’s ability to absorb fT4 from the prescription tablet. Consider taking fT4 before going to sleep rather than after waking up if you like cream in your coffee (another substance that inhibits fT4 absorption).
It may take some trial and error to restore a healthy balance to a disorderly thyroid but the gains far outweigh the inconvenience – both in and out of the bedroom.