Exercise Helps Women With Antidepressant-Induced Sexual Side Effects

Exercising, especially right before sexual activity, seems to help women with sexual side effects caused by antidepressants, American scientists report.

Past research has shown that 96% of women taking antidepressants experience sexual problems, such as low desire and trouble with orgasm. While such issues can interfere with relationships and quality of life, they can also lead women to stop taking the medicine.

It’s possible that the connection between antidepressants and sexual function involves the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). Activity in the SNS helps women become aroused. But antidepressants can suppress this activity.

Fifty-two women with a mean age of 32 years participated in the study. All of the women were taking antidepressants. Thirty-eight women were diagnosed with a clinical sexual dysfunction.

The women were taught a 30-minute routine that included cardio exercise and strength training with resistance bands. After a three week practice period, the women were divided into two groups.

One group was instructed to do the exercise routine and then either have sex with a partner or masturbate within thirty minutes of finishing. The second group was asked to do the same exercise routine, but wait at least six hours before sexual activity.

Each group followed their assigned pattern three times a week for three weeks. At the end of this period, they switched to the other pattern.

At the end of the study, many women found that their levels of desire had improved. The women who had been diagnosed with sexual dysfunction had overall improvements, especially in desire. There was a “modest” benefit to exercising immediately before having sex.

For best results, the researchers recommended scheduling exercise right before sex. However, exercise in general can also help with sexual function, they said.

Scheduling regular sex appeared to help all the women with orgasms. This result may be unrelated to exercise.

“The findings from the present study suggest engaging in sex may be sufficient to reduce antidepressant-related orgasm problems,” the authors wrote.

“It may be that committing to regular sexual activity breaks a pattern of avoidance established earlier in the antidepressant regimen, when side effects were more severe,” they added.

The study was published online in November in the journal Depression and Anxiety.


Depression and Anxiety

Lorenz, Tierney Ahrold, PhD and Cindy May Meston PhD

“Exercise Improves Sexual Function in Women Taking Antidepressants: Results from a Randomized Crossover Trial”

(Full-text. First published online: November 1, 2013)