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Treating the Symptoms, Treating the Side Effects

One of the ironies in this modern world is that for every ailment, there seems to be a medication to help cure it. And for every side effect of that medication, there’s another medication you can take. It’s no wonder that so many people can end up on a half dozen medications before they know it, and walk around feeling not unlike a zombie.

In an ideal world, of course, medications would be far more targeted and have virtually no side effects (certainly none that needed additional medications to control). Sadly, that world is decades away given our current level of knowledge and science.

It should’ve come as little surprise then to read about how Viagra can help women who are also taking an antidepressant, as one of the most common side effects of modern antidepressants is a significant decrease in one’s sex drive for many people (between 30% and 70%) who take them.

“Sure Doc, I feel less depressed, but I also have lost all desire for sex!” How this ever became a more desirable side effect than first-generation antidepressants’ side effects of things like dry mouth is beyond me. (Yes, I’m being a bit facetious, as there are other concerns with first generation antidepressants such as tricyclics.)

So let’s take a closer look at this most recent study, published in the July issue of JAMA and funded by none other (yes, you guessed it!), the makers of Viagra. Keep in mind, too, that virtually every other study on Viagra has shown no beneficial effects for women. Until this company-funded study was published. Ninety-eight women were included in the study, and this is what their sexual problems looked like at the onset:

As determined by the inclusion criteria, the prevalence of sexual problems was high and the mean (SD) number of problems reported was 3.0 for the sildenafil group and 2.8 the placebo group, with 95.8% of women reporting more than 1 complaint. They reported disturbances in desire (87.8%), subjective arousal (80.6%), lubrication (79.6%), orgasm delay (98.7%), and other difficulties (23.6%), which included anorgasmia, lack of pleasure, and pain. Prior to study entry, the women self-reported a mean of 6.0 sexual attempts per month, of which 1.4, or 29.6%, were considered successful.

Six attempts per month at sex but only 1 1/2 were considered successful? Yikes. Definitely some issues there that could benefit from a solution.

I think the authors gloss over their actual findings a bit, as the data table (Table 2) shows a far more mixed message. While their primary scale showed significance (a clinician-rated scale), the secondary scales used (which included more self-report assessments) showed significance and inter-scale agreement between the two groups only in the ability to reach orgasm on the two measures intended to provide concurrent validity.

The most robust finding of this research therefore suggests only that women taking an antidepressant will have an easier time achieving an orgasm while on Viagra than women who don’t. It’s not some magical pill that will completely change your sex life. But for those who take it, it’s likely to help improve their sex life and make sex enjoyable once again. Previous research has shown no such benefits for non-depressed women.

Notably, there was no change in the two groups’ depression scores from the start of the study to its end. In other words, not taking Viagra and having a less-than-satisfying sex life seems not to negatively impact one’s depression.

Read our news story on the study: Viagra Effective for Women
View the study: Sildenafil Treatment of Women With Antidepressant-Associated Sexual Dysfunction

Treating the Symptoms, Treating the Side Effects

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). Treating the Symptoms, Treating the Side Effects. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 28, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 26 Jul 2008)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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