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Drug Improves Women's Sexual Desire

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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.

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."

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