Scent of a woman – and a man

Recently, while doing a TV interview about sex and my upcoming book, the interviewer, a lovely man, seemed stumped when I said both men and women had the same sex hormones. He made me repeat the sentence. “What do you mean?” he said. “I never heard of that. Don’t men have testosterone and women estrogen?” Of course, the answer is yes. But it’s yes to both men and women. We all have estrogen and testosterone and even the hormone made specifically after ovulation, progesterone. The difference between men and women is that we don’t make these great sex hormones in the same quantities, pulses or cycles. Men have a lot more testosterone and women a lot more estrogen and progesterone. But the beauty of it is that we need all three of these so-called sex hormones to be, shall we say, a real man and a real woman.

Yes, the dance of these sex hormones along with oxytocin and other less well-known hormones – their rise and fall and interaction – leads us to the highest of highs in our sexuality, romance, desire to mate and get close with another human, while their loss or imbalance throws us into the deepest troughs of depression and loss of libido. It’s as simple as that. Well, maybe not that simple but pretty close. When our estrogen, progesterone and testosterone levels are in perfect balance, and when we make pheromones – another type of hormones that attracts us to each other sexually – we’re able to continue our quest for an all-encompassing romantic relationship or just something as simple as the desire to have sex.

But there are other complicating factors I’d like to remind you of. Our culture is probably the most significant of complicating factors when it comes to our sexuality and how we interpret and express it in our everyday life. We live in a youth-obsessed culture and as a result, we gauge our sexuality and hormone balance by what our youth do or say on the pages of magazines or in the social and visual media. So we believe sex and youth are one and the same and a marriage made in heaven based on lots of sex when we are 20 is the only way a marriage will last into our 60s when the hormones are long gone, the kids have left home and we are looking at the stranger across the table and wishing we could desire him or her the way we did decades ago. Well, the truth is that things don’t work out that way, at least not most of the time.

When we get a bit older, when the kids come into play and stop us from paying attention to each other and take the focus away from the couple and move it onto their never-ending needs for at least the next two decades, with or without the help of hormones, we start a slow but definite decline in our sexual drive. Getting caught in the act by 5-year-olds, staying up all night with a vomiting 7-year-old and waiting for the teen to come home at curfew are not exactly ways to improve and increase our sex drive nor will they bring romance onto the front burner of our married lives. So what do we do? We fake it, lie to our friends and family about it and make believe everything is fine. It’s one way to hope things will work out and our marriages and sexuality will survive. That’s the course most of us take. We saw our parents do it, and we continue on their path.

Others, the lucky ones, put the kids and busy lives on the back burner at least once a week on date night and keep on having sex and chasing each other around the house and the block. Those are the ones who have kept the spouse’s scent not just in their nostrils but also in every cell of their bodies and doggedly won’t let go. Good for them.

The others, well, they slow down. We hope they develop a relationship that keeps them together beyond the kids and sex, because if they don’t I can assure you that one of the parties will make sure they uncouple by the time the youngest goes to college. But that is not all about hormones. It’s about life and culture and what I like to call our own personal truth. If you listen to yourself and have been working honestly at making the relationship work and stay romantic and woo each other and caress and hug and yes, have sex, you will probably keep the passion going, the intimacy will last and you will live to celebrate the 60th anniversary and go home and get back between the sheets even if it only is for a cuddle and sleep.

So keep in mind, it starts with the hormones when we are teens and stays with hormones for about four decades and then it’s also about commitment, love, intimacy and yes, holding each other close and tight while the vicissitudes of life attack you. But you keep each other’s scent and presence in your life and enjoy it indeed forever.

For more information, email Dr. Erika at

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