Understanding testosterone’s impact on dating over 40

Have you considered how much testosterone impacts our dating lives? And for that matter, our lives in general? Since both men and women have testosterone, I was interested in Public Radio International’s “This American Life” show called “Testosterone” last year. It was a fascinating listen.

A man who stopped producing testosterone due to a medical treatment described life without the hormone. Unlike his normal, testosterone-filled life, he saw everything as beautiful. His objectivity sharpened. His criticalness declined. His desire for anything — food, work, sex — reduced dramatically.

In another interview, Griffin Hansbury, who started life as a woman and now lives as a man, shared his experience of taking massive testosterone injections seven years ago. He explains how testosterone changed his views on nature vs. nurture.

Griffin said the most overwhelming feeling was increased libido and desire for sex. His mind flooded with aggressive pornographic images when seeing even mildly attractive women. Everyday things turned erotic. Erections came easily. He said he felt like a monster that he couldn’t control. His inner feminist dialog commonly fought with his macho instincts.

What if, as Griffin explains, men are hard pressed to control these actions? Griffin has the advantage of having lived life as a woman and knows how it feels to be on the receiving end. He has sensitivity to feeling disrespected and treated like a sexual object. Yet with all that insight, he still found he was challenged not to think obscene thoughts about women he encountered on the street or subway. So if he fought the thoughts, what chance does a man have who isn’t so aware?

This program helped explain why man some men do what they do. Women often denigrate men’s behavior — especially around unseemly sexual comments or approaches. “What a jerk.” “What a sleezeball.” “What a dirty old man.” How about: “This man clearly doesn’t understand what is socially appropriate.”

Smart men learn to not express their sexual thoughts aloud in inappropriate settings. Yet some cannot control the physical sensations they get from being around a woman who turns them on. They can only stay seated with a napkin on their lap for so long.

Midlife men have candidly shared they are afraid they will lose their libido. Some have already experienced it slipping. They have lived with continual sexual thoughts for so long, they’ve allowed it to define themselves and their masculinity. Without ongoing sexual images, they feel less virile. They seem to be so happy to have sexual thoughts and reactions, they can’t help themselves from sharing them with us!

Does this forgive men who express their sexual desires inappropriately? Does it suggest grace for those who press for sex too early. No. However, it does explain why some men behave the way they do. They aren’t socially savvy enough to realize how off-putting it is. Perhaps they’ve been schooled by porno flicks to believe that women like this. After all, the men in the videos always seem to get the hot babe, right?

So while I’m not saying to accept inappropriate sexual talk or behavior from anyone, those with mid to higher levels of testosterone seem to have sex on their mind more often than those with lower levels. And women with higher testosterone levels can behave similarly to men with high levels, too.

What’s your take on how testosterone can inadvertently run some behaviors? How do you manage it if you have a higher level, or if someone you’re dating has a higher level and is always expressing their sexual interest to you?


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17 responses to “Understanding testosterone’s impact on dating over 40”

  1. Karen Avatar

    Very interesting to hear the perspective of Griffin! I have heard similar things about the constant stream of sexual thoughts from many men. However, I was unaware that it abated with age (apparently it hasn’t with several guys I know).

    Another interesting fact: testosterone is also produced by women’s ovaries–although in far lower amounts than in men–and the levels of women’s testosterone are similarly strongly linked to their libido. In fact, studies have been done using testosterone patches on women with low libido.

  2. Mike Lowrey Avatar

    I think testosterone is more powerful than weapons grade plutonium.
    Testosterone makes guys think about sex every 4 seconds of the day.

    Well, its been about 5 seconds since I started writing this comment. Would anyone care to guess what I’m thinking bout right now?

    Yup, pretty much.

  3. Mark Avatar

    I believe it’s also a fact that after the age of 40 violent offenders are less likely to repeat violent behavior. That’s most likely testosterone related.

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having sexual thoughts about women. For me it’s never detailed or includes a fantasy scenario. It’s more like a “hey, she’s sexy” kind of thing where her body is the focus for a moment or two.

    I definitely have noticed a drop off in more aggressive kinds of behavior since I’ve passed the age of 40. I still have a lot of desire for sex, but it’s not like it used to be. Now it’s more about knowing that I enjoy sex so I engage in it. I don’t feel driven to have sex.

  4. Richard Avatar

    I do not think women can underestimate the effects of testosterone on men. A Gentleman learns to control the urges. However, once the genie is out of the bottle, it is hard to put it back. That is one reason why introducing sex into a relationship can be so detrimental. Once you make it available to the guy, he will devote a lot of effort to getting more, and not to getting to know you.

    “How do you manage it if … someone you’re dating … is always expressing their sexual interest to you?”

    In a dating relationship, the sexual interest would be “inappropriate” when it goes beyond her comfort zone. In a marriage relationship, sexual advances should be welcomed by each other. Sex in a marriage is allowed and encouraged by society. It is the “unnatural” limitation in a dating context that creates the problem. Best to avoid the problem by not introducing sex into the relationship until you are close to a commitment. It is easier for me to keep it fully suppressed than to keep it partially suppressed.

    If a guy cannot control himself while dating you, what makes you think he can control himself with other women when he is married to you?

  5. Karen Avatar

    I have to chuckle at the question, “How do you manage it if..someone you’re dating…is always expressing their sexual interest to you?”

    Uh, usually I just smile and lead them on some more? Because getting a man’s “sexual interest” is usually one of the main reasons I’m dating!

    If the question is about a guy who keeps pushing and trying to go past your clearly-set boundaries: well the answer to that is also pretty obvious. Anyone who can’t understand or respect your boundaries is trouble, time to dump him!

    Personally, I don’t believe in dating exclusively and seriously for a long while without having sex. I’m 48 years old and not exactly inexperienced, and I think sex adds a great deal to a relationship. Also, it’s hard to imagine being serious about anyone without taking into account knowing their sexual style, compatibility etc.

  6. Mark Avatar

    I agree with you, Karen. I don’t see any reason to wait a long time. If you both have been enjoying each other’s company and you feel a spark, why not have some fun?

    My experience is that the woman typically lets me know she’s interested. I have never pushed for that initial sex.

    Honestly, if I date a woman more than a few times, we almost always have sex by the third or fourth date. She usually makes it happen. And like you say, Karen, why wait?

  7. Mitsy Avatar

    Some good posts. I can agree with some comments on each. When I was dating the last 2 guys (haven’t dated anyone steady in well over a year), I found that I didn’t get sex as much as I would have liked. However, they both had “issues” which likely made sex not as high a priority as it would have been in a “normal” relationship.

    The first guy was diabetic, overweight and had severe erectile dysfunction. This was the same guy who told me he was “too young” for Viagra. Yeah, whatever. The last guy who I did love a lot was also the boozer who wasn’t fit to sleep with half the time. I oftentimes hoped for some loving after a date (or even when I just went over to spend time w/him) and more times than not, he wound up being drunk and argumentative which did NOT make me want to sleep w/him. I regret the time I put into that relationship because his alcoholism/drama drug me down badly. Al-Anon helped me gain my life back.

    However, I hope my next guy (if there is one) will be somewhat “normal” about sex and relationships. There is give & take and what should be a 50-50 partnership oftentimes winds up as a 90-10 partnership. I’ve been on the short end too many times, so for now, I’m content with no one.

  8. Mark Avatar

    Viagra simply lets more blood flow into the penis. Men can have circulatory issues that limit bloodflow. It has nothing to do with a lack of masculinity.

    Also, viagra has nothing to do with augmenting desire. Taking it will not make a man amorous unless he’s ready to be in the mood for sex.

    So yeah, your former guy was attaching a stigma to it he didn’t need to attach.

  9. Karen Avatar

    Misty, yow those guys sound awful! Like my ex-husband who was both overweight and alcoholic. Keep looking–there are better men out there (I found one).

  10. Katie Avatar

    Richard: One of the most insightful posts I’ve read in ages. Thank you.

    I’m in my early 50s and have chosen to reserve sex for marriage. This presents a challenge in dating, as most guys (fueled by testosterone) are surprised by my perspective. What I have found most efficacious is to let them know up front, early on, that this is my choice and allow them to choose whether to pursue the friendship. It’s awkward, but less awkward than getting into a delicate situation requiring tact and finesse to get out of later. If we have met online and are emailing, it’s not uncommon for them to disappear quite immediately. That’s okay; better to know what they are looking for or hoping for, and weed out the ones who want a sexual relationship. Often I can tell by the nature of the initial questions, even if they are canned questions; they are all about affection and romance and dream dates. Mine start out with books, travel, and hobbies. Again, a testosterone-fueled difference…

    Viva la difference!

  11. Mark Avatar

    Katie, I respect your choice but I would never wait for marriage to have sex. I would like to know if we are sexually compatible. It’s an important part of a relationship and I wouldn’t want to be married only to find out that we didn’t work well together in bed.

    I would be one of those men who would drop you once I found out your strance. It’s not about my need for sex. It’s about my need to know if the woman and I can have decent sex together.

  12. Richard Avatar

    Katie, being over 40, and having a 20 year relationship end with sexual difference being a big part of the problem, I have to agree with Mark. I would not have a problem with respecting your position to a point. At some point prior to making a final commitment, I would want to know what I am getting into. I would say a little before the time of getting engaged would be the latest I would wait.

  13. Katie Avatar

    Thanks, M & R, for offering your male perspectives. It is incredibly helpful to us women. Inquiring as one who has had only one partner in life, but for 25 years, I have some questions I hope you won’t think are ridiculous. If you’d be so kind as to try answering them: Do sexual partners become less teachable as they age? I mean, don’t partners have to ‘learn’ each other no matter if they are in their 20s or 60s? How many truly incompatible sexual partners are there, if both are willing to become a student of their lover? I know that age-related factors change the dynamics, but if you leave that out of the equation, is the percentage of “NO WAY” bed-mates quite low, or a majority? And does that change with age?

  14. Dating Goddess Avatar


    Sometimes one of you doesn’t want to do what the other wants — you (or he) finds it distasteful or uncomfortable. And if what the other wants is a requirement (not a nice-to-have), that is a deal breaker.

    We discuss some of this in From Fear to Frolic: Get Naked Without Getting Embarrassed — you might want to download your copy with the link on the left. 🙂

  15. Richard Avatar

    Katie, your question presumes the other person wants to be taught – “if both are willing”. In my situation, the spouse has very traditional values, and let’s just say that plain vanilla suited her just fine. I tried to get her to expand her comfort zone, but she just did not care for it.

  16. Mark Avatar

    Katie, for me it’s more about the sex being enjoyable. I know I enjoy sex, but until I experience it with a woman I’m dating, I don’t know if she enjoys it. I wouldn’t want to be married to a woman who didn’t share my enthusiasm for sex.

    I do think people can learn, and just being with someone new is a learning process. I was married for 24 years and faithful that entire time. Since then I’ve dated the last few years and I’ve had three different sex partners now during those three years. I’ve learned from each of those women just by being with them.

    I will tell you this much: Nothing is more exciting to me than seeing the woman I’m with really enjoying sex with me. It makes sense in a way — the man is typically taking on a more active role and the woman is more passive, so we men like to see evidence that what we’re doing is working.

  17. Katie Avatar

    Thanks, guys. And thanks, DG, for writing a VERY thought-provoking post that gets us pondering these things. Just reading others’ comments gives insights that would not have occurred to me.

    Here’s a devil’s-advocate question: Wouldn’t you have a pretty good idea about the other person’s ability to enjoy sex, if you have simply been dating for some time and had honest and open conversations about it? Can’t you tell if they are going to be a stick-in-the-mud, or close-minded? Conversely, based on their obvious enjoyment of whatever level of physical intimacy you’ve had, short of intercourse, wouldn’t that be a fairly reliable indicator of their ‘passion quotient’? Don’t people give off clues?

    And, Mark, regarding your observation of “it excites me to see my partner excited” — I wonder if that is a universal phenomenon. I will have to ask my girlfriends or hope some other women might post here, but it seems that that would (or should) be a turn-on to any sexually healthy person.

    Thanks for your insights. Richard, sorry you had nothing but vanilla. Bummer.