Women on antidepressants experience a diminishing of sexual desire.  In the STAR*D large, multi-site study on depression, 50% of women suffered sexual side effects from antidepressants. Thus, while antidepressants help patients recover from depression, they also reduce the desire for intimate and satisfying connection with partners.

In a report published online Nov 1, 2013 in Depression and Anxiety, Tierney Ahrold Lorenz Ph.D. and Cindy May Meston Ph.D reported that exercise and scheduling sexual activity both have a positive effect on women’s loss of sexual desire.

In their article, EXERCISE IMPROVES SEXUAL FUNCTION IN WOMEN TAKING ANTIDEPRESSANTS: RESULTS FROM A RANDOMIZED CROSSOVER TRIAL, they reported on a series of experiments designed to discover how to reduce or defeat antidepressant side effects.

They reported: “Fifty-two women who were reporting antidepressant sexual side effects were followed for 3 weeks of sexual activity only. They were randomized to complete either three weeks of exercise immediately before sexual activity (3×/week) or 3 weeks of exercise separate from sexual activity (3×/week). At the end of the first exercise arm, participants crossed to the other. We measured sexual functioning, sexual satisfaction, depression, and physical health.”

Exercise immediately before sexual activity did increase desire.

Scheduling sexual activity three times a week increased orgasms.

They conclude that exercise before sex and scheduling sexual activity can be effective behavioral countermoves to antidepressant sexual side effects.

Here is the contact information: Correspondence to: Tierney Lorenz, Ph.D., Kinsey Institute, Indiana University, Morrison Hall 326, Bloomington, IN 47405.

The abstract is available at

But a better version is on, namely at:

The site is worth joining if you are a mental health professional. While you will read psychiatry articles, there are often some good psychotherapy articles like this one, and the cost to join is very reasonable and attractive, namely zero.

This report on antidepressant side effects is rather good news. A serious symptom of depression is isolation, and bringing back a better intimate life is a good counter to that. Interesting, simply scheduling sexual activity works quite well at increasing satisfaction. In other words, as is true with other aspects of treating depression, we simply can’t trust our own emotions when depressed. The depression tells us to not try, it is not worth while, and nothing good will come of it. None of that turns out to be true.

While patients may think that scheduling intimacy takes the romance out of it, the opposite is the case. People feel closer when they make a point of cultivating intimacy. The fact is that we are creatures of habit, and so we flourish when we develop and maintain positive habits.

In other words, our brains will lead us astray unless we follow patterns and protocols that engage us and broaden and deepen relationships. A habit of intimacy is like any other positive behavior like gratitude and cultivating strengths and savoring: it improves our lives to make the good a planned part of our lives.


By |2016-11-26T09:19:49+00:00January 28th, 2014|Enhancing Mental Health, Exercise, Love|3 Comments

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  1. dr perri January 28, 2014 at 1:44 pm - Reply

    How would clients with a past trauma history (especially sexual abuse) deal with regularly scheduled sexual activity? In my practice I find that females with a trauma hx have difficulty with feeling a loss of control (especially early on in trauma treatment) and I wonder if they have issues with this. Any thoughts?

    • Dr.J January 28, 2014 at 8:43 pm - Reply

      Dr P, obviously you have to use clinical judgement in all cases. Depends on the level of readiness. If the client wants to transcend and no longer be a victim, then taking accountability and choosing to move forward could be therapeutic. Comes back to the partnership between the therapist and the patient.

  2. Ann kramer January 30, 2014 at 7:03 am - Reply

    What I see in this is the need to help people see their life from a ‘wholeness’ perspective. That exercise increases libido–but it also improved the body’s health, opened one’s mind (if you exercise consistently, mental health benefits!). We need to help our clients approach any disease/disorder from a wholeness–not just the symptom of depression.

    I find with my clients, when I show them the ‘wholeness’ using the Life Puzzle–they can identify many areas of their lives that have ‘holes’ and when we start filling those in, many of the symptoms that brought them to counseling in the first place are now either lessened…or are put into context of ‘if I change this part of my whole, it will impact this symptom. As this example shows–I increase exercise, I increase my sexual drive, that can lead to improved communication/desire to ‘schedule’ intimacy…and depression is reduced.

    For too long the helping professions have focused on the piece, not the whole. But Real thriving–as Dr. Johnson notes…really is about the whole first.

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