9 Treatments for Sexual Dysfunction in Women
Men have those little blue pills, but until we have our own (pink?) pill, women will have to turn to other treatments to improve sexual vitality. From experimental medications to hormone therapy— and even Viagra itself—we talked to top health experts to find out what works, what doesn’t and what’s safe for treating female sexual dysfunction.
This over-the-counter drug is believed to help increase sex drive. “A few studies show that it helps older postmenopausal women regain libido,” says Sue DeCotiis, MD, author of A Woman’s Guide to Sexual Health. However, she adds, the results are limited in scope: The drug, she says, has only been shown to improve sexual function in older women with adrenal insufficiency. Also, it does not have the same effect on younger women.
Should you take it? Maybe, says Irwin Goldstein, MD, director of sexual medicine at Alvarado Hospital in San Diego, California, and editor-in-chief of The Journal of Sexual Medicine. “DHEA can theoretically improve low interest, arousal and orgasm intensity.” However, he says, a recent study showed that DHEA was equally effective as a placebo. And you should be aware that side effects include acne and facial hair growth. Yeah, not exactly what we had in mind, either!
While this drug isn’t yet FDA-approved, a lot of people are talking about it. What is it? A nonhormonal drug that works by increasing certain neurochemicals, noradrenaline and dopamine, which “rebalance the imbalance of brain chemicals associated with acquired hypoactive sexual desire disorder or low sexual interest,” says Dr. Goldstein.
Should you take it (when and if it’s available)? Recent studies of the drug have been very promising. “…[F]libanserin has been shown to be effective in improving sexual interest,” Dr. Goldstein says. The dose of the drug, which is not yet available, is 100 mg taken each night before bedtime. The effect is seen within four weeks and continues to improve over time. Side effects? Drowsiness, but no facial hair!
3. Testosterone Patches or Gels
It may sound odd that the male sex hormone testosterone could improve your sex drive, but sexual health experts have long known about the hormone’s potential for treating female sexual dysfunction. Many health experts believe that decreased interest in sex may be related to testosterone deficiencies. “Testosterone has been studied in thousands of women and has been shown to be effective in improving sexual interest, arousal and lubrication, and orgasm frequency and intensity,” explains Dr. Goldstein.
Should you take it? Maybe. “As mentioned in a report in The Journal of Sexual Medicine, over two million prescriptions were written for women in the U.S. in 2006,” he says. “Side effects include acne and facial hair growth.” But there’s a bigger caution, he says: Studies are currently underway to assess breast cancer and heart attack risk with female use of testosterone treatment.
Known as PT-141, this drug was found to cause sexual arousal after it was developed to be a sunless tanning solution (which Dr. DeCotiis says didn’t pan out).
Should you take it? No! “It was pulled off the market due to cardiovascular toxicity,” she warns.
You may recognize the name of this drug as a popular antidepressant, but what can it do for your sex drive? It could possibly rev things up, says Dr. DeCotiis. Wellbutrin works by enhancing the production of the neurochemical dopamine, which also aids sexual function.
Should you take it? Maybe, but only after careful consideration with your doctor. Dr. Goldstein says studies of Wellbutrin’s effect on female sex drive, while small, have shown promising results. “Wellbutrin has been shown to be effective in improving sexual interest,” he concludes. But the drug is not without side effects, which can include insomnia and mood changes, including panic and anxiety.
It’s popular in parts of Europe, but Tibolone was never developed to treat sexual dysfunction. It’s an osteoporosis medication for postmenopausal women that was “found to have a positive effect on sexual arousal and lubrication,” says Dr. DeCotiis.
Should you take it? Not yet. “It’s nowhere near being approved here, and there are no studies available for review,” she says.
Wait—Viagra for women? “In a recent double-blind, placebo-controlled study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, women with sexual side effects due to antidepressants showed significant improvement, especially in orgasm function, with use of Viagra,” says Dr. Goldstein. “The dose is typically 25 mg and is taken an hour or so before sexual activity. Side effects include facial flushing, headache, nasal stuffiness.”
Should you take it? Possibly, says Dr. Goldstein. “When the hormones are normal, Viagra does increase blood flow to the genitals during sexual arousal,” he says. “Women often experience more lubrication, more tissue engorgement and more opportunity for orgasm.”
This over-the-counter medication, which is an essential amino acid, is believed to be a blood vessel dilator—one that could help get you in the mood. “Use of L-arginine can theoretically improve arousal and engorgement,” says Dr. Goldstein.
Should you take it? Maybe. But little is known about the side effects of occasional or frequent use of L-arginine, so talk to your doctor before self-treating. And while this product is often praised by vitamin and supplement commercials on late-night TV, Dr. Goldstein is quick to point out that it isn’t yet entirely backed up by science. “No studies have confirmed the benefit of use of this agent.”
9. Hormone Therapy
You may have heard about hormone therapy as a treatment for symptoms of menopause, but can it do anything for your sex life? In short, says Keehn Hosier, MD, ob-gyn, a physician who practices at Brookwood Medical Center in Birmingham, Alabama, hormone therapy may not improve your sex drive, but it could improve sexual function. “Hormone therapy tends to help more with symptoms that prohibit intercourse, including lubrication and vaginal atrophy,” he says.
Should you take it? It could make sex more enjoyable for you, specifically if you suffer from vaginal pain and dryness. “But because of ongoing concerns about breast cancer and heart disease, hormone therapy requires an in-depth discussion with your physician,” Dr. Hosier adds.