Harvard Mental Health Letter

In brief: Sildenafil may improve sexual functioning in depressed women

In Brief

Sildenafil may improve sexual functioning in depressed women

Most studies have found that drugs such as sildenafil (Viagra) have not been helpful for women suffering sexual dysfunction. A small study published in July 2008, however, reported that sildenafil may improve sexual functioning in some women being treated with antidepressants.

Researchers enrolled 98 women, average age 37, who were randomly assigned to receive sildenafil or placebo. Dosing was flexible, starting at 50 milligrams (mg) before sexual activity, but with an option of increasing the dose to 100 mg — although no dose could be taken more than once a day. At the end of the eight-week study, women taking sildenafil scored higher than those taking placebo on a clinical rating scale of sexual functioning, and were more likely to report feeling as though they had improved.

This study received a lot of publicity, but key limitations weren't always reported. First, the study was funded by Pfizer, which markets sildenafil. Second, it enrolled women who were sexually active but reported problems in arousal and orgasm; there is no evidence that sildenafil improves libido. Finally, the women had not yet reached menopause, and other studies suggest that hormone levels can affect both sexual functioning and response to sexual dysfunction drugs.

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