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STDWatch
Dr. Andrea Pinto Lopez

Jan 10, 20237 min read

Female Sex Hormones: Types, Roles, and Effect on Arousal

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The female reproductive system is a complex group of organs that work together to maintain many aspects of women’s health. Female sex hormones are responsible for sending chemical signals between different tissues in the female body that make it possible for the reproductive system to function properly.

Female hormone levels need to stay within specific ranges in order to prevent hormonal imbalances. There are different ways to test your hormone levels, including at-home testing. Keep reading to learn more about female sex hormone types and their roles in the human body.

Types of female sex hormones

Most female sex hormones are produced in the ovaries. According to the Endocrine Society, the list of female hormones that play a role in the reproductive system include:

  • Estrogen hormones

  • Progesterone

  • Androgens

  • Human chorionic gonadotropin (HcG)

  • Luteinizing hormone (LH)

  • Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH)

  • Prolactin

  • Anti-MĂĽllerian hormone (AMH)

  • Relaxin

Out of all of these hormones, estrogen, progesterone are considered to be the main female sex hormones. Testosterone is typically thought of as a male hormone; however, a small amount of testosterone is also needed for the female reproductive tract to function correctly.

Estrogen

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, estrogens are a group of hormones that are mostly made by the ovaries, although the adrenal glands also produce small quantities of estrogens. When a woman is pregnant, her placenta also starts to produce some estrogens.

Estrogen is involved in the development of secondary sex characteristics during puberty, such as breast, hips, and body hair growth.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, there are three main types of estrogen in the human body, including:

  • Estrone (E1): this is the main type of estrogen that your body produces after going through menopause.

  • Estradiol (E2): this is the main form of estrogen that’s present in women who are of reproductive age. This is also the most active and potent form of estrogen.

  • Estriol (E3): this is the main type of estrogen produced during pregnancy.

Estrogen also has some non-reproductive functions, such as:

  • Regulating cholesterol and blood sugar levels

  • Improving bone and muscle mass

  • Boosting collagen production and skin moisture

  • Improving bone and muscle mass and strength 

  • Strengthening brain function

Progesterone

Progesterone is released by the corpus luteum in the ovary during the menstrual cycle and early pregnancy. When a pregnancy progresses to the second trimester, the placenta takes over the production of progesterone.

During early pregnancy, progesterone stimulates the growth of blood vessels into the endometrium, providing more nutrition for the embryo and thickening the endometrium. According to the Society for Endocrinology, progesterone also stimulates the growth of the mother’s breast tissue, prevents lactation before childbirth, and strengthens the pelvic wall muscles.

Functions of female sex hormones

Female sex hormones and menstruation

Different female hormones and their functions are closely involved in the regulation of the female menstrual cycle, including estrogen, FSH, and LH. These hormones maintain a delicate balance throughout your cycle. Female hormones are vital to ensure that a single follicle becomes mature enough for ovulation.

Approximately around the middle point of your cycle, a surge in your LH levels triggers ovulation. Ovulation happens spontaneously around 36-40 hours after the LH surge occurs. This typically falls around day 14 of your cycle, but it can vary significantly from woman to woman. The remnants of the follicle become a structure called the corpus luteum, which secretes progesterone. Then, progesterone levels start to increase to prepare your body for a possible pregnancy. According to the MSD Manuals, progesterone and estrogen caushe lining of your uterus to become thicker.

But once the egg is expelled from your body without being fertilized, progesterone and estrogen levels decrease. This causes the endometrium to shed, which leads to menstruation and the start of a new menstrual cycle.

Female sex hormones and pregnancy

If an egg is fertilized, the corpus luteum won’t degenerate. Instead, it will continue to produce progesterone in order to maintain the early pregnancy. This process continues throughout the first trimester of pregnancy. Around week 12 of pregnancy, the placenta has matured enough to take over progesterone production.

Progesterone and estrogen levels remain elevated during pregnancy. They help maintain a healthy pregnancy, but they also help develop female sex traits in the fetus.

According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, human chorionic gonadotropin hormone (hCG) is exclusively produced during pregnancy. Meanwhile, human placental lactogen (hPL) or human chorionic somatomammotropin provide nutrition to the growing fetus, and stimulate breast milk production.

Female sex hormones’ effect on arousal

Hormones and libido are closely linked in both men and women. Estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone all play roles when it comes to female arousal.

Estrogen promotes vaginal lubrication and boosts sexual desire. High levels of progesterone can actually lower your sex drive. Meanwhile, low levels of testosterone in women may be linked to low libido.

Female hormones during perimenopause and menopause

Once a woman enters perimenopause, and later, menopause, her female hormone levels will decrease significantly. According to The North American Menopause Society, this hormonal imbalance can lead to symptoms, such as:

  • Hot flashes

  • Night sweats

  • Palpitations

  • Headaches

  • Insomnia

  • Fatigue

  • Bone density loss

  • Irregular bleeding during perimenopause

  • Vaginal dryness and atrophy

  • Low libido

  • Weight gain

  • Increased risk of heart disease

Certain types of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) are available to counteract some of the uncomfortable symptoms of menopause. HRT can contain estrogen and progesterone, or estrogen alone.

You can use at-home testing to measure your female hormone levels. Some of the best providers available online include:

Sources

Reproductive Hormones - endocrine.org

Estrogen's Effects on the Female Body - hopkinsmedicine.org

Estrogen - my.clevelandclinic.org

Hormones During Pregnancy - urmc.rochester.edu

Changes in Hormone Levels - menopause.org


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