Exercise Improves Sexual Function for Women on Antidepressants

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Researchers show that in women experiencing sexual side effects of antidepressants, exercise improved sexual function.

Exercise

Photo: Flickr: twotoneams

Perhaps these women were biking their way to improved sexual function.

In December 2013, Dr. Tierney A. Lorenz of The Kinsey Institute at Indiana University, and Dr. Cindy M. Metson of The University of Texas at Austin, published the article “Exercise Improves Sexual Function in Women Taking Antidepressants: Results From A Randomized Crossover Trial” in the journal Depression and Anxiety.

Exercise has already been proven to enhance psychological and physical health of patients taking antidepressants. Could it also enhance sexual function, such as desire or orgasm function for this group?

Antidepressants, which are the most widely prescribed class of drug used to treat depression, have the potential to produce sexual side effects. Lorenz and Metson report that over 96% of women taking antidepressants reported such effects.

Researchers tested 52 women in two groups during a three week assessment. During this time, participants in the first group exercised using a 30 minute strength and cardio video three times a week and immediately engaged in sexual activity (defined as sex with a partner or masturbation)  afterwards. The second group performed the same exercise routine but did not engage in sexual activity until at least 6 hours after. At the end of the study, the two groups switched.

The researchers found that women who reported “clinically relevant sexual dysfunction” at the start of the study reported a significant improvement in sexual function as a result of the exercise intervention. Both sexual desire and orgasm function were elevated when these women engaged in regular exercise. The study successfully demonstrated that exercise could improve sexual function for women taking antidepressants. In fact, even the participants who did not report sexual dysfunction at the beginning of the study experienced improved orgasm function. Lorenz and Metson also explained that engaging in sexual activity immediately after exercise is more beneficial for treating sexual dysfunction due to antidepressants than exercise in general. They report:

On the whole, these findings support the prescription of exercise for sexual side effects of antidepressants. For women with diagnosable sexual dysfunction, a regimen of 30 min of vigorous exercise 3×/week was sufficient to produce clinically relevant improvements in sexual function, particularly sexual desire. For maximal benefit, exercise should be scheduled to occur immediately prior to sexual activity. However, some benefit may be seen with exercise in general.

The researchers demonstrate that exercise can be a possible treatment option for women who experience sexual dysfunction as a side effect of taking antidepressants. The good news is exercise is inexpensive and accessible for most people, and no prescription is needed! However, you may wish to consult with a trusted healthcare provider before starting a new exercise program, or if you have questions about sexual dysfunction related to antidepressant use.

Allison Yates

Allison received a B.A. from Indiana University in International Studies. She is the current Fund Development Coordinator for Middle Way House, a national model program serving survivors of domestic violence and a sexual assault crisis center in south central Indiana.
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