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Drug Improves Women's Sexual Desire

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Overall, 39% of the women reported being satisfied with their levels of sexual desire by study's end.

Another finding was increase in "what we called, for lack of a better term, receptivity," Croft tells WebMD. "A number of the women ... while their [sex] drive level did not increase, said, 'But you know what, I didn't say no. And you know what else, when I did have sex, I enjoyed it more.'" While these results were not directly measured, Croft and colleagues have proposed a study looking specifically at this issue. "That may be as important as increased sexual drive," Croft says.

The theory is that Wellbutrin works indirectly on the brain's receptors for dopamine, the pleasure-reward chemical, he explains. He says that one of the big problems with many other new-generation antidepressants, especially the selective serotonin receptor inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Prozac, "is that, wonderful as they are, they may cause sexual dysfunction in the long run. In men, it's delay in reaching ejaculation or climax. It's been estimated that some of these drugs can delay orgasm or climax up to nine times."

"For a woman who may have problems reaching climax anyhow, a long delay may lead to nowhere."

In several studies, Wellbutrin has been shown to cause no sexual problems, Croft says. "In fact, one placebo-controlled trial last year showed that it causes no more sexual dysfunction than placebo, but that ... SSRIs caused sexual dysfunction in 40% or more patients. ... We noticed that [Wellbutrin] seemed to not only notcause sexual disorders, but it seemed to increase sexual drive levels; it had an almost aphrodisiac effect in some patients."

Female sexual dysfunction is a widespread, serious, and little-understood problem, Mark Ackerman, PhD, a psychologist specializing in sexual health at the Veterans Administration Hospital and Emory School of Medicine in Atlanta, tells WebMD. "When you talk to women who have the problem, they'll tell you it's a huge problem. It can lead, frankly, to the destruction of a good relationship."

"I think it would be hard to make a blanket statement to say that one drug in and of itself is the answer to hypoactive sexual desire in women," says Ackerman, who also counsels men and women as a private-practice sex therapist. Still, "whether it really boosts sexual drive or not ... certainly merits further attention," he tells WebMD.

Reduced sexual desire in women can have many causes, Ackerman says. "One, of course, is the nature of the relationship and another is their overall mental health. Another factor is whether there is any history of sexual trauma, sexual abuse. Psychosocial trauma certainly needs to be ruled out before you can prescribe any medication."

Suki Hanfling, MSW, LICSW, AASECT, founder and director of the McLean Hospital Human Sexuality Program in Boston, tells WebMD: "The most common thing we deal with is low desire in men and in women. The most common cause, aside from menopausal issues, is depression. Or there may be some people who are depressed and don't know it. The other is marital/relationship conflict. There are so many causes for it, but [Wellbutrin] is an exciting possibility."

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