What Doctors May Not Mention About Side Effects
It’s common to blame problems in the bedroom on our aging bodies or on
stress. But a lesser-known culprit may be in our own medicine cabinets: Some
of the most widely used drugs, including statins, can produce changes in
sexual arousal and performance.
A physician will typically mention specific guidelines and tips, such as avoiding
alcohol. One topic that isn’t always discussed is how certain drugs may affect
a patient’s sex life.
That should change, says Albert Wertheimer, a professor of
pharmacy administration at Temple University, and Patricia
Bush, a professor emeritus at Georgetown University School
of Medicine. They wrote Your Drugs and Sex: How
Prescription & Non-Prescription Drugs Can Affect Your Sex
Life (Outskirts, $14.95) and discussed it in an interview. Here
Many people assume that their doctors would notify them if a
medication could significantly influence their sex lives, but is
this not typically the case?
Wertheimer: Most people 50 years old and over take drugs for conditions like
diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, gout, asthma, depression, arthritis, allergies,
gastroesophageal reflux disease, and many of these drugs cause profound effects on
sexual performance. Most patients assume declining performance is due to aging,
and physicians are not schooled in this area.
Bush: The problem is that patients don’t ask about how drugs will affect their sex
lives, and the doctors don’t tell. Why don’t the doctors tell? Because the patients don’t
What kinds of unintended sex-related effects can prescription and over-the-
counter medications have?
Bush: Cholesterol-lowering drugs, statins, antidepressants, anti-anxiety and anti-
psychotic drugs, anti-fungals, anti-ulcer and anti-epileptic drugs, oral contraceptives
and cancer drugs can all have consequences on sexual arousal and performance.
The kinds of things that they can cause as side effects include erectile dysfunction,
difficulty achieving orgasm, ejaculation failure, impotence, decreased desire, pain
during intercourse and lower testosterone.
Wertheimer: Sleeping pills decrease interest in sex, and the same thing happens
with many antihistamines for allergies. Antidepressants make ejaculation difficult to
achieve, so patients with premature-ejaculation problems can use antidepressants to
Why is it important that people be aware of these lesser-known side effects?
Bush: People are living longer, and in a lot of ways that’s a good thing because we
are treating the chronic illnesses like diabetes, depression and high blood pressure
that people have.
Because people are taking more drugs, the problem of sexual dysfunction caused by
medicines is growing. As people get older, they have more health issues that can
interact with these drugs, so actually the side effects get worse and are more likely to
happen. For example, aging itself can cause failures in sexual performance, let alone
compounding issues like diabetes, and so on.
What can patients do if a drug seems to have negative sexual side effects?
Wertheimer: I recommend they chat with their physician and look up more
information about their condition and drugs used to treat it. However, generally
physicians know very little about if certain combinations of drugs might cause sexual
difficulties. The answer is to experiment and change one of the drugs to see if it
makes a difference. If one or more drugs are involved, our book lists other drugs for
the same indication that are not usually associated with sexual-function problems.
Bush: Another important thing to know is how to find good information. There’s just a
whole lot of rubbish out there about medications on the Internet. The reliable websites
we recommend for looking up drug information are the National Library of Medicine’s
MedlinePlus (www.nlm.nih.gov) and the Food and Drug Administration’s Drugs
Reprinted with permission