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Hormonally yours

August 24th, 2005

Dr Petra

Virtually every sex feature in a magazine, newspaper or television programme is currently incomplete without a mention of hormones.

In the past month I’ve read articles stating ‘hormones’ can do amazing things when combined with sex. They will make you lose weight if you have sex for several minutes or more; when released after orgasm hormones guarantee a partner will fall in love with you; and if you have several orgasms a week the hormones resulting from that activity will definitely make you look ten years younger.

It’s interesting in most of these features you never hear the name of the hormone that can do these amazing things mentioned. Sometimes we might get lucky with a plug for testosterone or serotonin but usually it’s just presented as ‘hormones’ generally that have miraculous powers.

Now I’m not disputing hormones are amazing and have effects on the body. The thing I’m bothered about is that the people singing their praises in the media are rarely endocrinologists (scientists who specialise in the study of hormones). In the most recent ‘hormone’ features I’ve read, the ‘experts’ quoted have been spokespeople for a gym chain, a flirt coach, sex book author (with no science qualification) and a
self appointed ‘nutritionist’.

With respect these people may know something about sex or the body, but they’ve not studied biology to an advanced level. Nevertheless the seductive power of sex and science means that editors are now insisting sex articles must include the hormone angle.

Take the other day. I was asked by a journalist to endorse how hormones released post orgasm lead to immediate weight loss. I did as I always do and said ‘ask an endocrinologist’. The journalist had already done this, which I was cheered by – until they told me that the endocrinologist hadn’t known the answer to their question either.

Which is common – there are lots of things we do know about hormones, and lots of things we don’t know. Meaning when an endocrinologist says they don’t know yet, they really mean it.

Sadly that won’t put editors off. Even if a respected scientist whose life’s work has been the study of hormones states they don’t know the answer, journalists will be instructed to find someone who can. Which is what was happening in this case – they wanted me to say what the endocrinologist wouldn’t. When I said I couldn’t they stated their editor would need this quote because they’d seen hormones mentioned in other magazines. So if I couldn’t help, and the endocrinologist couldn’t help, they’d just have to find someone who would. Their editor would accept nothing less.

And of course there will always be people happy to oblige. Those with a lack of scientific knowledge, those who don’t know their boundaries, or perhaps have only read other poorly written self-help books misquoting biological information. Or those who want to sell themselves or a product. All will be happy to claim things that other scientists haven’t yet even discovered. Amazing!

So what to do? If you read anything about hormones in the press look to see who is being quoted – if it’s not an endocrinologist, biologist or someone with a proven track record in hormone research/practice, then take any information given with a pinch of salt.

Never believe the ‘quick fix’ arguments presented as hormonally driven (e.g. when you do x hormone y is released and then you lose weight, look younger, or get your man).

Remember hormones don’t work in isolation, there are many hormones within our bodies working together and against each other – you want to read about specific hormones, not just features citing the generic term ‘hormone’.

We’re not simply biochemical blobs – the outside world – our culture, society, lifestyle, relationships and history will all play a part. This means that simply because a hormone is or isn’t released, doesn’t mean your body will respond identically to another person.

Distrust Internet sites selling hormones or herbal hormones – particularly those claiming to cure your health problems or boost your drives or desires.

Ask questions of media coverage that seems to breach these suggestions, and demand better health coverage. If you are a journalist writing a sex story then you shouldn’t only focus on hormones or biology – you need to talk to people also working on social and behavioural work too. And if you do decide to go down the hormone road then speak to an endocrinologist first and if they tell you you’re on the wrong track, believe them. Not your editor, or that rent-a-quote ‘sexpert’ who always gives you what you want.

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