Previous research has found lower serum levels of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) or its sulfated form, DHEA-S, in women diagnosed with Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (HSDD). Given that DHEA and DHEA-S have multiple direct actions on the brain as well as anti-glucocorticoid properties, it is possible that lower levels of DHEA directly impact women's sexual functioning. To date, the significance of the lower DHEA levels remains unclear. To our knowledge, there has been no empirical study of stress hormones as markers of HPA dysregulation in women with HSDD. To attend to this gap, the present study utilized several measures of HPA axis function - morning and evening cortisol and DHEA, the cortisol awakening response (CAR), diurnal cortisol slope, and cortisol:DHEA ratio - and examined their relationship with sexual functioning in N = 275 women with (n = 137) and without (n = 138) HSDD. Results demonstrated multiple hormonal markers of HPA dysregulation in women diagnosed with HSDD compared to control participants, specifically, lower AM cortisol and AM DHEA levels, a flatter diurnal cortisol slope, and a lower CAR. Overall, results of the present study indicate that persistently low sexual desire in women is associated with HPA axis dysregulation, with both cortisol and DHEA alterations potentially detrimental to sexual desire.
Keywords: Cortisol; Dehydroepiandrosterone; Hypoactive sexual desire disorder; Sexual desire; Sexual dysfunction.
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