Welcome to 2016, a time when we’ve got health and wellness advancements like sheep placenta capsules and fitness trackers so smart they know when you’re slacking off.
But there’s still not one FDA-approved treatment for low libido in women. This despite the fact that 43% of all women struggle with some form of female sexual dysfunction—whether it’s caused by medications, pre-existing conditions, or Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (HSDD), the clinical name for a chronic lack of interest in sex that causes personal or relationship distress. (Let’s not even get into the fact that there are 26 approved drugs to treat various forms of male sexual dysfunction.)
The encouraging news is that research has uncovered a handful of natural and off-label treatments that might provide relief, including a landmark HSDD drug that’s vying for FDA approval in 2015. The first step to addressing sexual troubles: Talk to your doctor, no matter how embarrassing the conversation might be. “This problem is incredibly common,” says Leah Millheiser, a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Stanford University. “So bring it up with your physician—or ask them to refer you to someone who can help. There’s usually someone in every community who deals with FSD.”
In the meantime, here are some current treatments to know about.
Add another item to the long list of benefits achieved through meditation: A study at the University of British Columbia followed 117 women through four 90-minute therapy sessions based on mindfulness, a meditation technique that emphasizes total attention to bodily sensations of the present moment. At the 6-month follow up, the treatment had significantly improved desire, arousal, and lubrication—and decreased both sex-related distress and depressive symptoms.
Short for dehydroepiandrosterone, this neurotransmitter is required for the production of testosterone, the hormone that can rev up sex drive. One study of both men and postmenopausal women with HSDD found that DHEA supplementation upped sexual function in women compared to a placebo. Interestingly, the treatment wasn’t effective for men.
Research published in the Journal of Alternative Complementary Medicine found that women who struggled with sex while taking antidepressants had improved libido and lubrication after 12 consecutive weeks of acupuncture treatment. The results are especially encouraging in light of the fact the SSRI and SNRI drugs—which are used to treat depression—cause some amount of sexual dysfunction in 50–90% of patients.
This hormone therapy is perhaps the most controversial of treatments—likely because it’s not approved by the FDA to treat low libido in women. But many doctors provide the treatment to HSDD patients anyway, because a number of studies have shown that it’s safe and effective. Other research warns that it can increase the risk of breast cancer and cardiac problems. Still, HSDD can be a source of major relationship distress—and many women are willing to take bigger risks for a chance at recovery. Testosterone side effects usually include increased body hair and acne.
A study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that after 12 weeks of yoga, women reported increased satisfaction, desire, arousal, and orgasm—as well as decreased pain. Get started with a regular practice with the 10-minute gentle routine in the video above.
This antidepressant works by increasing levels of dopamine and norepinephrine, two hormones essential to arousal. Researchers in Iran documented its effects by studying 232 women with HSDD, administering either the drug or a placebo. After 12 weeks, almost 72% of women in the bupropion group were “definitely satisfied” with their treatment. Only 3.7% of women in the placebo group said the same.
The fix for everything, apparently! In a population of women with type 2 diabetes, greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet was associated with lower overall prevalence of sexual dysfunction—even after adjusting for confounding factors like age. (Give these 20 400-calorie Mediterranean meals a try.)
Yep. Women might stand to benefit from the little blue pill, too. While it didn’t improve overall sexual function for women back in a 1999 study, it has more recently shown promise for women whose sexual dysfunction is related to taking antidepressants. Still, large-scale data on this option is scant.
Doctors and women across the country have high hopes for this non-hormonal drug that treats HSDD by increasing dopamine and norepinephrine and decreasing serotonin, a hormone that contributes to feelings of inhibition. It’s been studied in more than 11,000 women to date and, in some trials, has been shown to double participants’ average number of satisfying sexual events per month. But the FDA has rejected the drug twice, citing concerns with side effects like drowsiness, dizziness, and, in some cases, sedation. What’s next for flibanserin? Its maker, Sprout Pharmaceuticals, is hoping that the third time will be the charm: They plan to resubmit for FDA approval in early 2015 with a new set of data from side effects trials.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.