Baylor College of Medicine News

Female sexual dysfunction treated with placebo

Women with low sexual arousal experienced clinically significant symptom changes after taking a placebo, say researchers at Baylor College of Medicine and The University of Texas. The finding appears in the current edition of the Journal of Sexual Medicine.

Researchers examined data from a previous clinical trial that followed 200 women over a 12-week period. Fifty of those women were randomly chosen to receive a placebo instead of a drug treatment for low sexual arousal. None of the participants knew which treatment they were given. To measure the effect of the treatment, women were asked to rate symptoms of sexual dysfunction such as low sexual desire, low sexual arousal, and problems with orgasm.

Overall improvement seen

"Women who took placebo showed an overall improvement in their sexual symptoms," said Dr. Andrea Bradford, a postdoctoral fellow in the department of family and community medicine at BCM. Results showed that on average, one in three of the women who took placebo improved to a degree that most clinicians would consider a meaningful change. Most of that improvement seemed to happen during the first four weeks.

Bradford added, "Even though these women received placebo, they all had an opportunity to talk to a health provider about their difficulties and were asked to monitor their sexual behaviors and feelings on a regular basis. Just taking part in this study probably started some meaningful conversations."

Symptom changes were linked to the frequency of satisfying sexual encounters reported by the women during the treatment. Many women reported they received more stimulation during sexual activity while they participated in the trial, even though their partners were not given any special instructions.

Limited intervention has positive effect

"Our study shows that even a limited intervention can have a positive effect in many women with sexual dysfunction," said Bradford, the lead author of the study. "This comes as no surprise to sex therapists, but it does suggest a need to investigate behavioral factors more closely in clinical trials."

Others who took part in the study include Dr. Cindy Meston, professor in the department of psychology, The University of Texas at Austin.

The study was funded by the Houston VA Health Services Research and Development Center of Excellence.