How do medications affect sexuality? Can anything be done if I am taking a medication that is affecting my sexuality?

Many classes of drugs can affect the female sexual response cycle and cause sexual problems. Many antidepressants and antihypertensive medications can affect and alter female sexual desire, arousal, and orgasm. Ask your physician specifically to check pharmacologic guides and guidebooks to identify potential offending agents and discuss substituting another drug, one with less sexual side effects. Also, sexual pharmacology textbooks are available for quick and easy reference and you can check the Internet.

If you are on a medication and can positively link your origin of sexual problems to beginning this medication, discuss the situation with the prescribing healthcare provider.

Some of the common medications that can affect sexual response cycle include antihistamines for hay fever or seasonal allergies, blood pressure medications, tranquilizers, and some of the common ulcer medications. Many women take daily antiallergy medications for hay fever or other seasonal allergies, and these medications dry out mucosal membranes and will also affect vaginal health and wetness. Consider limiting them and use a good lubricant as well. Antidepressants are commonly prescribed to women for mood issues and depression, and some women are on the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These medications may affect and delay orgasm in both men and women. Commonly prescribed SSRIs include fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), and sertraline (Zoloft).

If you are on a medication and can positively link your origin of sexual problems to beginning this medication, discuss the situation with the prescribing healthcare provider—do not automatically stop or wean down a medication to lessen the sexual side effects. Discuss alternative medications, drug holidays, or other solutions with your doctor or provider.

Some young women on birth control pills complain of sexual issues. The biochemistry in these tablets may decrease free bioavailable testosterone, which may be linked to lowered sexual desire and interest. Simply switching these women to an alternative form of contraception may improve sexual functioning. Others do not mention any complaints while on birth control pills, and the studies are confusing at best. Discussion of contraceptive options with your provider is essential.

The medical treatment of sexual dysfunction often includes changing medication regimens, altering dosing and/or time intervals, or switching to a new drug. Never abruptly stop any prescribed medication without first consulting with your prescribing physician. There may be a good alterative or one that causes fewer or less intense side effects.

You may be able to remain on your medications even if they are affecting your sexual function. Specific anecdotes may be available. New, exciting research was recently published that shows that women who suffer from sexual dysfunction as a result of their antidepressant medications (like serotonin reuptake inhibitors) may benefit from a trial of phosphodiesterase inhibitor medications (sildenafil[1] /Viagra (Pfizer Inc.), tadalafil/Cialis (Eli-Lilly and Company), vardenafil/ Levitra (GlaxoSmith Kline/Schering-Plough)). These drugs, although primarily FDA approved for men, are now moving to the forefront in the management of some female sexual complaints.

  • [1] A phosphodiesterase inhibitor that is used in the treatment of male erectile dysfunction. New data suggest this class of medication can sometimes be used for the treatment of serotonin reuptake inhibitor-induced female sexual problems.
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