Sexual Health Q&A

Can exposure to certain chemicals affect sexual health?

It’s possible.

In 2014, a study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism reported that higher exposure to products that contain phthalates lowered testosterone levels in a group of men, women, and children.

Phthalates are chemicals used to soften plastic products, like shower curtains, toys, wallpaper, and food packaging. They can also be found in personal care products like shampoos, soap, and nail polish. Some wood finishes, detergents, and insecticides contain phthalates, too.

In the study, the researchers assessed phthalate exposure by analyzing the urine samples of over 2,000 participants. They discovered a link between increased exposure and lower testosterone levels, especially in boys aged 6-12 and men and women aged 40-60.

This raises concerns, as young boys need sufficient testosterone as they develop into men. Testosterone is also involved with sexual function and libido in both men and women.

However, these results do not mean that exposure caused testosterone levels to drop. More research is needed to learn more about the connection.

Another chemical under investigation is bisphenol-A (BPA). This substance is found in some packaging materials, such as plastic bottles and metal cans. It can leach into foods and drinks contained in these packages.

In 2009, the journal Human Reproduction published a study involving two groups of men who worked in a BPA and epoxy resin factory in China. One group was exposed to high levels of BPA in the air; the other group had no BPA exposure.

The researchers found that the exposed workers were more likely to have sexual problems, such as low desire, erectile dysfunction, and ejaculation difficulties.

Again, more research is needed. In this study, the men were exposed to high amounts of BPA. It is unclear whether the amount of BPA a man encounters in everyday life would be enough to cause sexual problems.

Patients who are concerned about chemicals and sexual health are encouraged to talk to their doctor.