Annals of Behavioral Medicine

, Volume 43, Issue 3, pp 352–361 | Cite as

Acute Exercise Improves Physical Sexual Arousal in Women Taking Antidepressants

Original Article



Antidepressants can impair sexual arousal. Exercise increases genital arousal in healthy women, likely due to increasing sympathetic nervous system (SNS) activity.


Test if exercise increases genital arousal in women taking antidepressants, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which suppress SNS activity, and selective serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), which suppress the SNS less.


Women reporting antidepressant-related sexual arousal problems (N = 47) participated in three counterbalanced sessions where they watched an erotic film while we recorded genital and SNS arousal. In two sessions, women exercised for 20 min, either 5 or 15 min prior to the films.


During the no-exercise condition, women taking SSRIs showed significantly less genital response than women taking SNRIs. Exercise prior to sexual stimuli increased genital arousal in both groups. Women reporting greater sexual dysfunction had larger increases in genital arousal post-exercise. For women taking SSRIs, genital arousal was linked to SNS activity.


Exercise may improve antidepressant-related genital arousal problems.


Antidepressant side effects Sexual arousal functioning Exercise Sympathetic nervous system activity 



This research was supported by Grant Number 1F31MH085416 from the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) to Tierney Lorenz and, in part, by 1RO1 HD051676 from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) to Cindy M. Meston. The contents of the manuscript are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

Conflict of Interest Statement

The authors have no conflict of interest to disclose.


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Copyright information

© The Society of Behavioral Medicine 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Texas at AustinAustinUSA

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