Can Your Partner's Testosterone Treatment Affect You?

Of course your partner's low testosterone isn't contagious. But did you know that if he uses a topical treatment to address the issue, you could be at risk for experiencing a range of side effects?

A Common Problem

Testosterone is a male hormone that controls growth and sexual functioning. It's common for the levels of this hormone to fall below the optimum range in men as they age, according to Robert Tan, MD, professor of family and community medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) Medical School. In fact, he says the problem of low testosterone occurs more often than expected.

A decline in testosterone occurs when the cells in the testes that are responsible for producing this hormone slow down over time and don't do their job as well as they used to, Tan explains. Besides aging, certain health problems, such as high blood pressure, obesity, asthma, and COPD can also contribute to low testosterone production.

The symptoms of low testosterone in men include waning sex drive, low energy, exhaustion, depression, and brittle bones.

Treatment Options

One of the easiest ways for a man to treat low testosterone is with a topical gel that replaces the missing hormone. It's usually applied once a day to the upper area of the body, such as the chest or shoulders. While this treatment is meant for the user alone, there's always the risk that the medication can be spread through physical contact and be absorbed into the skin of the patient's partner. So if your husband or boyfriend is applying testosterone gel to his skin, physical contact with your partner could transmit the gel to you.

"There have been several case studies [on this], and I've seen it myself," Tan says.

Symptoms in Females

When a woman absorbs the hormone due to the male's treatment, she's likely to experience an array of effects. "In the short term, excess testosterone in women can result in more energy, sharper minds, some weight loss, and increased libido," Tan says. "Over the long term, excess testosterone can cause hair growth over the face and other areas. It may also lead to thickening of the blood (polycythemia) and mood changes."

For Men: 5 Tips for Avoiding the Problem

Luckily, there are several easy ways men can avoid transmitting testosterone medication to their partners. Tan suggests that men try the following steps:

  1. Apply the testosterone gel in the morning, after you get out of bed.
  2. Wait several hours after applying the gel before having physical contact with your partner. This will allow the treatment to be fully absorbed.
  3. If you'll be in close contact with your partner sooner, wear a shirt to form a protective barrier.
  4. Always wash your hands following handling of the gel.
  5. Be especially careful with any clothing that has come in contact with the gel before it has dried.

Other Options

Testosterone transfer can be especially serious for pregnant women and children. If you're worried about the risk, ask your partner to consider skipping the gel and try other methods of testosterone treatment, such as testosterone injections, patches, implants, and nasal (inhalable) sublingual (under the tongue), and buccal (applied to the gum) formulas. With these treatments, the risk of transference is minimal.

Robert Tan, MD, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, reviewed this article.  


Robert Tan, MD, professor of family and community medicine, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) Medical School. Email interview, July 16, 2014.  

"Testosterone Topical." Medline Plus. Revised Feb. 15, 2014. Accessed online July 20, 2014.  

"Testosterone Buccal." Medline Plus. Page revised February 15, 2014.