Environmental exposure to di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate is associated with low interest in sexual activity in premenopausal women

Emily S. Barrett, Lauren E. Parlett, Christina Wang, Erma Z. Drobnis, J. Bruce Redmon, Shanna H. Swan

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13 Scopus citations


Phthalates, a ubiquitous class of environmental chemicals, may interfere with typical reproductive hormone production both in utero and in adulthood. Although they are best known as anti-androgens, increasingly, evidence suggests that phthalates, particularly di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), may also suppress estrogen production. Given that both androgens and estrogens are essential for sexual function, particularly sexual interest, it is plausible that adult exposure to phthalates alters sexual function. To this end, we used data from 360 women participating in a pregnancy cohort study (the Study for Future Families) to examine whether urinary phthalate metabolite concentrations were associated with two dimensions of self-reported sexual dysfunction in the months prior to conception: lack of sexual interest and vaginal dryness. Women in the highest quartile of urinary concentrations of mono-2-ethyl-5-hydroxyhexyl phthalate, a DEHP metabolite, had 2.58 (95% CI 1.33, 5.00) times the adjusted odds of reporting that they almost always or often lacked interest in sexual activity, and results were similar for mono-2-ethyl-5-oxohexyl phthalate (aOR: 2.56, 95% CI 1.32, 4.95), another DEHP metabolite. Self-reported vaginal dryness was not associated with any phthalate metabolite concentration. This study is novel in its focus on sexual function in relation to environmentally relevant (rather than occupational) exposure to phthalates in adult women and these preliminary findings merit replication in a large, prospective study. Better understanding how adult exposure to phthalates may affect reproductive health, including sexual function, is of public health interest given that virtually all Westerners are exposed to phthalates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)787-792
Number of pages6
JournalHormones and Behavior
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 1 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We wish to acknowledge the SFF study team and the families who participated in the study. In addition, we acknowledge A. Calafat, M. Silva, E. Samandar, J. Preau, and J. Reidy for measuring the concentrations of phthalate metabolites. Funding for SFF was provided by the following grants from the National Institutes of Health R01ES09916 , M01-RR00400 , M01RR0425 , and UL1TR000124 . Funding for the current analyses was provided by K12 ES019852-01 and supported by P30 ES001247 .

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 Elsevier Inc.


  • Endocrine disruptors
  • Environmental chemicals
  • Phthalates
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Sexual interest


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