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Drug Improves Women's Sexual Desire

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WebMD Health News

June 9, 2000 -- From her home in the San Antonio suburbs, 53-year-old Margaret Christilles reports that she and her husband are having sex three or four times a week. It's a big improvement, she tells WebMD. The last few years have been rough.

"It wasn't like overnight I noticed my sex drive wasn't great," she says. "It's one of those things that sort of comes on gradually, that I could take it or leave it." Her gynecologist suggested that diet and exercise might help. "I was a little disappointed," she says. "I wanted a little more help than that."

A blurb in the San Antonio newspaper caught her attention; it advertised a clinical study for women with decreased libido. she started taking bupropion hydrochloride -- better known by the trade names Wellbutrin or Zyban. After taking the drug, which is now prescribed for both smoking cessation and depression, Christilles gradually saw a change.

"Over maybe five or six weeks, I noticed it," she tells WebMD. "I felt a lot more excited about sex. I didn't sneak into bed anymore after my husband was asleep."

Researchers have pinned a name on this very common, and perhaps, very treatable, disorder: hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD). According to psychiatrist and sex therapist Harry Croft, MD, who is in private-practice in San Antonio, it affects one in every five American women. "It's not clear what the cause is," Croft tells WebMD. Low testosterone levels are sometimes, but not always, at fault, he adds.

Loss of desire happens even in the best of marriages, and often occurs after the first child is born, Croft says. "She's just not interested anymore -- even though he is. He doesn't know what's wrong with her. And she starts thinking, 'It's his fault. He's a big clod. He doesn't know women. He never compliments me anymore. He doesn't kiss me anymore.'' She becomes resentful. So does he. And a once-great relationship begins to sour.

At this year's American Psychiatric Association meeting, Croft shared the results of a small, preliminary trial of Wellbutrin, which showed very promising results.

The study involved 66 women ages 23 to 65 (the average age was 41, and most of the women were pre-menopausal). Women with low testosterone levels were excluded from the study. Also, none of the women was depressed. But all were experiencing difficulty becoming aroused or having orgasms.

For the first four weeks of the 12-week study, all were given inactive placebo pills. Fifteen then dropped out, and the remaining 51 women were given Wellbutrin for eight weeks. A response was seen as early as two weeks after the drug treatment began, Croft says. By the study's end, 29% of the women showed a response, reporting a more than twofold increase in interest in sex. Frequency of sexual arousal nearly doubled. And the women who were responding had more than twice the number of sexual fantasies.

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