Background: Antidepressants can impair sexual arousal. Exercise increases genital arousal in healthy women, likely due to increasing sympathetic nervous system (SNS) activity.
Purpose: 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.
Method: 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.
Results: 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.
Conclusions: Exercise may improve antidepressant-related genital arousal problems.