Role of estrogens and estrogen-like compounds in female sexual function and dysfunction

Nanette Santoro, Roisin Worsley, Karen K. Miller, Sharon J. Parish, Susan R. Davis

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36 Citations (Scopus)


Introduction: Sex steroids are important in female sexual function and dysfunction. 

Aim: To review the role of estrogens in the physiology and pathophysiology of female sexual functioning and the evidence for efficacy of estrogen therapy for female sexual dysfunction to update the previously published International Society of Sexual Medicine Consensus on this topic. 

Methods: Panel members reviewed the published literature using online databases for studies pertaining to estrogen in female sexual function and dysfunction. Attention was specifically given to clinical trials that had reported on sexual function outcomes in women treated with estrogen. 

Main Outcome Measures: Quality of data published in the literature and recommendations were based on the GRADES system. 

Results: Observational studies that have considered relationship factors and physical or mental health have reported that these factors contribute more to sexual functioning than menopausal status or estrogen levels. Few clinical trials have investigated estrogen therapy with sexual function as a primary outcome. The available data do not support systemic estrogen therapy for the treatment of female sexual dysfunction. Topical vaginal estrogen therapy improves sexual function in postmenopausal women with vulvovaginal atrophy (VVA) and is considered first-line treatment of VVA. Oral ospemifene, a selective estrogen receptor modulator, is effective for the treatment of VVA and might have independent systemic effects on female sexual function. 

Conclusion: For sexual problems, the treatment of VVA remains the most pertinent indication for estrogen therapy. When systemic symptoms are absent, estrogen therapy ideally can be administered by a vaginal preparation alone. Systemic estrogen therapy with combined estrogen and progestin in non-hysterectomized women is indicated for women who require treatment for vasomotor and/or other systemic estrogen deficiency symptoms. The improvement in well-being achieved by relief of vasomotor and other symptoms might improve libido in some women and abrogate further intervention.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)305-316
Number of pages12
JournalThe Journal of Sexual Medicine
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2016


  • Estrogen
  • Female Sexual Dysfunction
  • Hormones

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