What are anabolic steroids?
Anabolic steroids are mostly synthetically produced variations of the male sex hormone testosterone. People have been taking them since the 1930s to improve athletic performance, for muscle growth promotion, and the enhancement of appearance. They can be prescribed by doctors to treat hormonal issues and can be used for people with diseases that can cause muscle loss, such as cancer and AIDS. However, today they are commonly known by people for being taken by athletes and bodybuilders.
In female athletes, anabolic steroid use is not unheard of. On the contrary, some of the reasons for women to partake in the taking of illegal substances such as anabolic steroids are the achievement of a fit, lean body as well as the increasing of muscle volume and strength. In one study other reasons for the abuse of steroids mention the person having a troubled background, mental health problems and previous sexual trauma. The most common and apparent reason for women to take them, however, is to achieve better athletic performance.
Negative side effects of anabolic steroid use in women
Another issue with females taking high doses of testosterone in the form of steroids is the variety of negative side effects that can come with the abuse of hormones. For some females, who take them excessively, it can cause masculinisation. This means that their body is going through changes that make them appear more manly. With the decrease in body fat, breast size also goes down. Their skin can become coarse, and the voice can deepen. Another side effect is the excessive growth of body hair and hair loss on the scalp. If the use of steroids is continuous, some of these effects become irreversible.
Effects on reproductive health
Another side effect of high-dose steroid use on reproductive and sexual organs is a decrease in estrogen production, the female sex hormone, which leads to ovulation and menstrual disorders and in some cases to infertility. Such effects, however, are also common among intensely physically active women and competitive athletes who don’t abuse anabolic steroids. Another possible irreversible side effect of anabolic steroid use is something called clitoris hypertrophy, which is an abnormally enlarged clitoris.
Effects on Libido
Effects of anabolic steroid use in women can go in different directions. Most women experience an increased libido after usage and consider this as a positive factor depending on whether they have a partner or not. In a study, some women saw their higher sex drive as a negative effect when having an increased libido but not being in a relationship. Having experienced genital changes, such as an enlarged clitoris, also led to issues for some women regarding their sex life.
Abusing prescription medicine or black-market medication comes with a multitude of issues. Besides the already mentioned side effects, long-term use can also lead to kidney and liver problems as well as high blood pressure and an increased risk for heart attacks. Anabolic steroids have an addictive effect and can become a damaging habit.
If you are concerned about your steroid use or know someone who might be struggling, consider consulting a qualified health care professional. You can book an appointment here.
Sara Felber is a Student of psychology from Graz, Austria interested in a variety of issues concerning sex, relationships and LGBTQ+ topics. She is currently researching guidelines on the sexuality of psychiatric inpatients and is interning at the Willingness Sex Clinic.
Havnes, I. A., Jørstad, M. L., Innerdal, I., & Bjørnebekk, A. (2020). Anabolic-androgenic steroid use among women – a qualitative study on experiences of masculinizing, gonadal and sexual effects. International Journal of Drug Policy, 102876. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.drugpo.2020.102876
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021, April 12). What are the side effects of anabolic steroid misuse? National Institute on Drug Abuse. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/steroids-other-appearance-performance-enhancing-drugs-apeds/what-are-side-effects-anabolic-steroid-misuse.
Performance enhancing anabolic steroid abuse in women. ACOG. (2011, April). https://www.acog.org/clinical/clinical-guidance/committee-opinion/articles/2011/04/performance-enhancing-anabolic-steroid-abuse-in-women.
Nieschlag, E., & Vorona, E. (2015). Mechanisms in endocrinology: Medical consequences of doping with anabolic androgenic steroids: Effects on reproductive functions. European Journal of Endocrinology, 173(2). https://doi.org/10.1530/eje-15-0080