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Exercise may combat low sex drive in women caused by antidepressants

Exercise may be able to counteract some of the negative side effects that antidepressants have on a woman’s libido.

The research, which was published on Dec. 10 in Depression and Anxiety, shows that moderately intense workouts may be able to help with one of the side effects that women who take antidepressants face: low sex drive.

"These findings have important implications for public health, as exercise as a treatment for sexual side effects is accessible, cheap and does not add to burden of care," study researcher Tierney Lorenz, an Indiana University post-doctoral research fellow, said in a press release.

WebMD reports that 43 percent of women have some sort of sexual issue, with low sex drive or hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD) being the most common problem.

Drugs or ways to treat women’s libido issues have always been in short supply. The Food and Drug Administration recently rejected a potential “pink Viagra” treatment called flibanserin, asking for more studies to prove its efficacy. The company behind the medication, Sprout Pharmaceuticals, is appealing the decision.

The researchers looked for a non-pharmaceutical option for helping women on antidepressants.

The new study focused on 52 women who used antidepressants and had sexual side effects. The subjects were instructed to have sex three times a week for three weeks but not exercise. Then, during the following three weeks, they were told to work out for 30 minutes right before they had sex three times a week or just work out three times a week for 30 minutes and have sex three times a week.

The subjects self-reported their sexual function, satisfaction and psychological health, as well as their sexual desires.

The researchers saw that regularly exercising improved orgasms in all women. Those that worked out 30 minutes before having sex has significantly higher levels of sexual desire and more improvements in their sexual functioning compared to the other groups.

The researchers explained that moderately intense exercise helps spark the sympathetic nervous system, which is in charge of blood flow to the genital area. Antidepressants, on the other hand, lower blood flow to the genital region.

"Considering the wide prevalence of antidepressant sexual side effects and the dearth of treatment options for those experiencing these distressing effects, this is an important step in treating sexual dysfunction among women who are taking antidepressants," Lorenz says.