Let me begin this by saying that when I was in nursing school, the endocrine system (hormones) bored me. Why? It was so confusing! They all sounded alike, and they all did stuff that other hormones did (at least it seemed like that to me). And I thought, why do I need to know this stuff???
Well, apparently because hormones pretty much run our body. But we are dealing with sexuality health in my blog, so I will focus on those hormones. I’ll keep it simple, more for me than you.
Hormones are basically chemicals that send messages through our body telling it what to do – things like making sure our body is growing, making sure our cells are metabolizing energy, regulating our moods, and even encouraging us to have sex (well, not ALL the time).
We have lots of hormones running around our body that are released from endocrine glands located all over our bodies. But when it comes to the sex hormones, we are primarily talking about the pituitary gland, the hypothalamus, and the gonads.
We have all heard of these terms. But what are they?
In a nutshell, the endocrine gland called the pituitary gland is a teeny tiny pea-sized speck in our brain. It’s the boss endocrine gland, known as the “master gland”. It tells all the other glands what to do and when. A pretty significant little speck, I’d say. Goes to show, bigger ISN’T always better!
The hypothalamus is in the brain as well, just above the pituitary. I suppose the close proximity to each other helps with communication, because we all know how important communication is in a relationship. This is no different. In fact, it’s essential. This guy takes care of things we don’t really think about – things that happen automatically, like our heart beating, our body temperature, our respiration, and how much we eat and drink. Oh, and it also regulates sex drive and produces some sex hormones. We really like this part of the brain.
Finally, there are the gonads. In men they are the testes and in women they are the ovaries. These guys are the primary producers of the hormones we will discuss. We kinda like these parts, too.
These three seemingly independent parts of the body work in tandem with each other, constantly communicating. If one hormone is a little low or a little high, an alert is sent out by the hypothalamus to the pituitary, which then sends a message to the gonad to adjust the hormonal input or output.
A classic comparison of how this works is similar to how the heating system in your home operates. You have a set point you prefer to keep your home comfortable. Let’s say it’s 73 degrees. (Okay – I hate to be cold…) When the thermostat senses that it is now 72 in the house, it kicks on until it reaches 73 again. However when it reaches 74, it shuts off. Fairly well regulated. Our body does the same thing with hormones. The hypothalamus and pituitary know what we need to function optimally, and when it senses a sex hormone is a little off, it sends messages to the correct gland to fix it.
There are many essential hormones required to maintain sexual health. However, we will focus on the three we hear the most about; testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone.
Whether a person is male, female, or intersex, they will have all three hormones in their system. They are all essential. However, depending on one’s gender, there are more of some than others.
Testosterone we consider a male hormone, and it is. But we all need it to build muscle and bone. In guys the testes produce it, in gals it’s the ovaries. Around puberty, guys produce a lot more of it and girls slow down their production, thanks to estrogen. Testosterone helps boys become men by increasing their bulk, growing pubic and facial hair, lowering their voice, and increasing the need for deodorant, among other changes. (These are called secondary sex characteristics.) It is also instrumental in sexual desire and sperm production, which takes place in the testes.
Estrogen is actually an umbrella term for different kinds of estrogen; estriol, estradiol, and estrone. But estrogen is the term typically used for simplicity. This hormone helps make little girls into women; hair growth, womanly figure, breast development, and reproductive organ growth and development. (These are also called secondary sex characteristics.) Estrogen also helps regulate the menstrual cycle and helps prepare the body for pregnancy. This, too, is largely produced in the ovaries, but males produce small amounts in the testes.
Progesterone is another (primarily female) hormone predominately produced in both gonads. This hormone helps us feel sexy, helps regulate the menstrual cycle, and helps prepare and maintain the uterus during pregnancy. You may have heard of progestin as well. I want to point out that this is actually a synthetic, or man-made, hormone similar to progesterone.
So, now you know. But to summarize……..
Hormones: Chemical messengers
Pituitary Gland: In the brain. Master gland – gives all the orders.
Hypothalamus: In the brain. Regulates things that happen automatically, but also produces sex hormones.
Gonads: The sex organs that produce hormones. Testes in males and ovaries in females. The testes produce sperm, and the ovaries produce eggs (ova).
Testosterone: Gives guys their sex characteristics, encourages sex drive, and helps produce sperm.
Estrogen: Gives gals their sex characteristics, helps regulate monthly cycle, and maintains the reproductive organs.
Progesterone: Prepares body for pregnancy, helps regulate monthly cycle.
All these things must work together for optimal sexual health.
Stay tuned for the next exciting discussion on sex! Not sure it can get more exciting than HORMONES.
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