Endocrinology of human female sexuality, mating, and reproductive behavior

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Abstract

Hormones orchestrate and coordinate human female sexual development, sexuality, and reproduction in relation to three types of phenotypic changes: life history transitions such as puberty and childbirth, responses to contextual factors such as caloric intake and stress, and cyclical patterns such as the ovulatory cycle. Here, we review the endocrinology underlying women's reproductive phenotypes, including sexual orientation and gender identity, mate preferences, competition for mates, sex drive, and maternal behavior. We highlight distinctive aspects of women's sexuality such as the possession of sexual ornaments, relatively cryptic fertile windows, extended sexual behavior across the ovulatory cycle, and a period of midlife reproductive senescence—and we focus on how hormonal mechanisms were shaped by selection to produce adaptive outcomes. We conclude with suggestions for future research to elucidate how hormonal mechanisms subserve women's reproductive phenotypes.

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