There's a Pill for That

For Prozac Nation, is dosage dictating desire?

| July-August 1999

One pill makes you taller, another makes you small. Or put more prosaically: Have we reached the point where our most intimate activities are governed not by our emotions but by the contents of our medicine cabinets?

With recent surveys indicating that more than half of those taking Prozac and its relatives, Paxil and Zoloft, lack interest in sex, have difficulty reaching orgasm, and are unable to maintain an erection, depressed Americans are reaching for antidotes to their antidotes, causing some observers to question our new commitment to pharmacological sexuality.

“We want the quick pill. This is America,” says Dr. Domeena Renshaw, author of Seven Weeks to Better Sex (Random House, 1995) and director of Loyola University's Sexual Dysfunction Clinic in Chicago. But the problem doesn't stop at our borders. It exists in all industrialized nations, where the clock and calendar have become tyrants, she says. In our hurry-up society, sex becomes a low priority. So we search for a quick, convenient, synthetic stimulant to give us performance on demand. Women are even taking their partners' Viagra, she notes.

When Prozac hit the market back in 1987, it spelled salvation for millions of Americans battling clinical depression. Psychiatrist Peter D. Kramer in his best-seller Listening to Prozac (Viking, 1993) called the little pill a restorer of self; it bestows feelings of greater self-worth, boosts confidence, and improves job productivity. Today, Prozac is among the top five prescribed drugs in the country.

But just as Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft may make shy people more comfortable in the boardroom, these selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may have an altogether different effect in the bedroom.

“When Prozac first came on the market, the medical profession didn't have a clue about how vital serotonin was to sexual pleasure and responsiveness,” writes Dr. Valerie Davis Raskin in Family Therapy Networker (March/April 1999). As she explains it, anti-depressants target neurotransmitters like serotonin inside and outside the brain, and may reduce genital sensation as a mild anesthetic would do. “What used to feel great feels good, what used to feel good feels OK, and what used to feel OK doesn't even register now.” Remedies for these side effects include Viagra, Wellbutrin, and gingko, she notes. And if that doesn't do it, there's always Asian ginseng, oats, or wild yam, as Michael Castleman points out in Herbs for Health (March/April 1999).

12/3/2008 2:41:43 PM

Although this article is from 1999, the issue of FSD (or female sexual arousal disorder) is still in the news now in 2008. And this month there is actually an upcoming documentary on Canadian news channel CTV called "Pharma Sutra" - just like this 1999 article's title! :) The documentary talks with some women who suffer from FSD as well as discussed 3 upcoming treatments for the condition. One is a pill, one is the testosterone patch, and the other is a nasal spray which should be " Bremelanotide " from Palatin Technologies (since I've never heard of any other nasal sprays that cause arousal). Just FYI and for your readers who may be able to watch that documentary. // Claire

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