As a result of concern over widespread phthalate exposure, pregnant women were studied to determine their phthalate level and its effect on reproductive health.
Exposure to phthalates, a known endocrine disrupting chemical, can negatively affect sex drive in premenopausal women.
Phthalates (sometimes called plasticizers) are chemicals that can be found in many products used in everyday life, from personal care products such as skin creams and perfume to plastic wrap and detergents. Exposure to phthalates not only can result from using products that contain the chemical but also can occur by breathing in dust in a room with fixtures or furnishings that contain phthalates. In 1999, phthalates were discontinued in US-made baby products, such as pacifiers and teethers. Phthalate exposure in Americans is measurable and is characterized by the CDC as "widespread." Amounts of phthalates measured in the urine of adult women have been found to be greater than that found in adult men.
Studies have shown that phthalates affect sexual function in men, and the authors of a study presented at ASRM 2014 looked at how exposure to these chemicals might also affect premenopausal women. The chemicals that most interested them were the metabolites of diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) because DEHP is known to be a "potent" endocrine disruptor. Pregnant women from 4 US cities were given a questionnaire as part of The Study for Future Families (SFF). A total of 360 women were asked about their sexual health prior to their pregnancy, and researchers measured the level of phthalates in their urine. The two dimensions that study authors focused on were vaginal dryness and lack of interest in sex.
What researchers found was that women who were in the highest quartile of exposure to one of the studied metabolites were also the most likely to experience a lack of sexual interest. The other metabolites were also associated with a lowered sex drive. While 37 women in the study did report vaginal dryness, this symptom was not found to correlate to their phthalate exposure.
The researchers concluded that because phthalate exposure is so widespread, a greater understanding of its effects on sexual function is of "utmost" importance.