Women who are taking antidepressants and experiencing sexual dysfunction may benefit from regular moderately intense workouts, say researchers from the University of Texas in Austin.

Lack of sexual desire is fairly common among women taking antidepressants but is seldom talked about. The new study, published in Depression and Anxiety, says that engaging in exercise at the right time holds the key to a more satisfying sex life.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that one in 10 Americans aged 12 and over takes antidepressants and that women are 2.5 times as likely to take them as men.

They also point out the antidepressants are the third most commonly prescribed drug, with the rate of use increasing by nearly 400% during the period 1988 to 2008.

For the study, the researchers recruited 52 women who were taking antidepressants and had reported lower libido as a side effect. For the first 3 weeks, the women engaged in sexual activity with no exercise.

All the participants were then asked to add three 30-minute sessions of strength training and cardio exercise to their routine and engage in sexual activity three times a week. Women who exercised regularly were asked to add the three extra sessions to their regular routine.

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Women who committed to a regular exercise routine reported stronger libidos and improved sexual function.

The researchers divided the participants into two groups and asked them to either exercise immediately before sex, or take exercise that was not linked to sex. For the final 3 weeks of the study, the two groups switched.

Based on the participants’ self-reported assessments of sexual functioning, satisfaction and psychological health before and after each experiment, the researchers showed that 30 minutes of exercise prior to intercourse reduced the libido-dulling effects of the antidepressants.

All the women who committed to a regular exercise program reported improved orgasm function, but when the exercise was taken immediately before sex, the women reported significantly stronger libidos and more satisfactory sexual function.

Tierney Lorenz, an Indiana University post-doctoral research fellow who conducted the study, says:

Considering the wide prevalence of antidepressant sexual side effects and the dearth of treatment options for those experiencing these distressing effects, this is an important step in treating sexual dysfunction among women who are taking antidepressants.”

She explains that moderately intense exercise activates that sympathetic nervous system – which primes the body for action and increases blood flow to the genital area. Antidepressants are known to interfere with the sympathetic nervous system, depressing its function.

Lorenz adds:

“These findings have important implications for public health, as exercise as a treatment for sexual side effects is accessible, cheap and does not add to burden of care.”

And while it may not sound that romantic, Lorenz concludes that scheduling regular sexual activity and exercise may alleviate the adverse side effects of taking antidepressants.