Professor Dennerstein was awarded a Personal Chair at The University of Melbourne, Australia, in recognition of her international contribution to teaching and research in women's health. She established and directed the world's first academic centre for teaching and research in women's health (Key Centre for Women's Health in Society). She established postgraduate diploma and masters courses in women's health which were conducted at the University of Melbourne and internationally.
She later founded the Office for Gender and Health. She contributed to advances in teaching of women's mental and sexual health. She established a psychosexual counselling clinic at the Royal Melbourne hospital which provided clinical teaching in sexual dysfunction to medical students. She founded the first inpatient mother-baby psychiatric unit in an obstetrics hospital which enabled teaching of women's mental health to medical undergraduates and postgraduates.
She helped establish the Australian Society for Psychosomatic Obstetrics and Gynaecology and later became President of the International Society of Psychosomatic Obstetrics and Gynaecology. She is a Past President of the International Society for the Study of Women's Sexual Health.
These multidisciplinary medical societies supported teaching and research in women's mental and sexual health. Her contribution to women's health was recognised by the award of the Order of Australia in 1994. She has been a consultant to the Commonwealth Secretariat (London), the World Health Organisation, the Global Commission on Women's Health (WHO) and the International Bioethics Committee of UNESCO.
For over 30 years she has researched the relationship of ovarian steroids to women's mood and sexual functioning. Studies included effects of:
- changes in endogenous hormones with menstrual cycle and menopause;
- hysterectomy and bilateral oophorectomy;
- oral contraceptive pill;
- hormone therapy.
Her population based study of women through the menopausal transition years, The Melbourne Women's Midlife Health Project, is the longest prospective study of middle-aged women which incorporates biological, psychological and lifestyle measures. The study has been able to document the relative importance of hormonal to psychosocial factors in women's mood and sexual functioning, document the hormonal changes of the menopausal transition, and contributed to establishing definitions for reproductive aging.
Her research experience includes surveys, bioavailability studies, double blind randomized clinical trials, evaluation of therapies, the development and validation of questionnaires for assessing female sexual functioning and epidemiological studies. Publications include 24 books authored/edited and over 300 journal articles/chapters (over 249 in peer reviewed journals).
She has organised national and international scientific conferences. She is currently Review Editor of the Journal of Sexual Medicine.
In July 2005 she was awarded a Gold Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Sexuality Research by the World Association of Sexology.