Background: The recognition and treatment of sexual side effects caused by psychotropic agents have become topics of increasing clinical concern. Gaps in our understanding of the biology of sex and in our knowledge of the effect of Axis I disorders on sexual functioning have made both recognition of sexual side effects and a coherent treatment approach to these side effects difficult.
Method: The author reviews case reports, case series, and animal studies derived from a MEDLINE search for English language articles on the topics of the effects of psychiatric disorders on sexual functioning, the biology of sex, rates of sexual dysfunction associated with each medication class, and treatment approaches when these side effects occur.
Results: In evaluating sexual function in patients taking psychotropic medications, clinicians should first consider other potential causes of sexual dysfunction. In general, dopamine increases sexual behavior, serotonin inhibits it, while norepinephrine has conflicting effects. Sexual side effects have been described in association with all the major classes of psychotropic medications. Neuroleptics are often associated with sexual side effects. Priapism, seen with neuroleptics and trazodone, should be treated as a urological emergency. Anxiolytics cause mild, nonspecific sexual side effects as do the mood stabilizers. Among the antidepressants, the more powerful serotonergic medications--e.g., the serotonin selective reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), clomipramine, and MAO inhibitors--may cause more sexual side effects than the tricyclics. Potential strategies to treat antidepressant-induced sexual side effects include lowering the dose, waiting, and switching to another agent. A number of specific antidotes, such as cyproheptadine and yohimbine, have been reported to reverse these side effects in a limited number of cases.
Conclusion: Clinicians must be aware of and specifically ask about medication-induced sexual side effects. More effective treatments of these side effects must await much needed double-blind studies of various approaches, especially those to treat SSRI-induced sexual dysfunction.