September 16th, 2010
10:57 AM ET

Fake pill improved sex drive in women

"Faking it" has long been associated with bad sex for some women, but a new study provides a pleasant twist on that phrase. According to a paper released today in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, the placebo effect may increase sex drive for women suffering from sexual dysfunction.

"It may be that their behavior changed as part of getting treatment, even if the treatment itself was an inert tablet," said Andrea Bradford, lead study author.

It was a small study: 200 women who had been diagnosed with female sexual arousal disorder - difficulty becoming aroused or maintaining sexual activity - participated in a study to find out whether a popular male erectile dysfunction drug - Cialis - could also treat female sexual dysfunction.  The women agreed to engage in sex acts over the course of 12 weeks and keep a diary. Fifty women were chosen at random to receive a placebo rather than the investigational drug.

Prior to each sexual encounter the women took the placebo (a sugar pill) and after the encounter filled out a questionnaire about whether sex was satisfying or whether they had experienced an orgasm.

To qualify for the study, women had to be premenopausal (between 35-55 years of age) and have no medical conditions that could explain their diminished sexual desire (for example, pelvic surgery or a radical hysterectomy).

By the end of the study, researchers discovered that while Cialis did not markedly improve sexual dysfunction in women, one out of three women had their previously low level of desire restored to one considered to be normal with placebo.

"It's not that these women simply believed, 'a sugar pill will help me,'" said Bradford, a post-doctoral fellow at Baylor College of Medicine and the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center. "Other elements were probably therapeutic, regardless of the tablet."

Those other elements may be largely psychological, said Bradford - a function of the women simply focusing more attention on their sex lives.

The study raises more questions than it answers, but the idea of a sham medical intervention addressing female sexual dysfunction speaks to the complexities of female sexuality. It may mean that addressing sexual dysfunction among women will never be as simple as prescribing a "little pink pill" (much like the "little blue pill" marketed to men with erectile dysfunction).

"Maybe we're calling something a disease that is not a disease in the same way as diabetes is," said Bradford. "There may be physical causes for lower sexual desire, but one thing that is clear is there's not one cause."

One implied message in the study: A psychological investment in improving their sex life could obviate the need for a drug for some women.

"It would be great if we had a drug but it may not be your only hope and there may be some real simple steps you can take toward improving your sex life that don't need to involve medication," said Bradford.

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soundoff (852 Responses)
  1. darkashian

    My tool is 9 and 1/2 inches long...is that a big enough stretch of sex bacon?

    September 17, 2010 at 07:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. smc

    What did CNN let the cat out of the bag for?!?!? They had a perfectly good working pill that was cheap to research and produce, and CNN goes and ruins it for everyone.

    September 17, 2010 at 07:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. idel

    Let's have each of this 50 female subjects in an quiet environment. Make known to them that there is no any reason to be inhibited (husband -in any- is out of town, kids are in a summer camp, everything is peachy at work...etc). Then, bring Fabio and let him have his way with them. This would tell exactly where the problem, with those ladies, resides: bellow the waist or above the neck!
    "faking it study" my foot!

    September 17, 2010 at 08:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Jonesty McStabass

    "speaks to the complexities of female sexuality"

    no, it just means that they thought something was wrong with them, but there wasn't

    September 17, 2010 at 08:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Afell

    You know, from my own humble observations of the last 40 years, I have come to two conclusions with regards to this subject. If a man has a problem performing sexually, nine times out of ten it is biological and can be resolved with a pill. If a woman has a problem with sexual performance, though, nine times out of ten the problem is psychological. What this article is telling me is that it appears now that their problem can also be resolved with a pill as long as they don't know that the pill is not really doing anything for them.

    September 17, 2010 at 08:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Rick

    A man didn't have ane cheese for his mousetrap so he used a picture of a piece of cheese -and caught a picture of a mouse. Fake Viagra – fake orgasm. And natural childbirth makes as much sense as natural tooth pulling.

    September 17, 2010 at 08:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. NYgirl

    Don't worry, the tea party will outlaw it. Sex is bad!

    September 17, 2010 at 08:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Dystopiax

    How did any =placebo effect= get past the FDA? That is one of the purposes of using a DOUBLE BLIND experimental model. It may be that this drug will need to be used by male and females wearing burqas with holes in them. Then it should work properly.

    September 17, 2010 at 08:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Dwight Rockford IL

    This is old news. Remeber Elaine 10 to 12 years ago on a Seinfeld episode; "Fake, fake, fake, fake, fake!"

    September 17, 2010 at 09:09 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Papa Tango 15

      Come on Elaine, give me 30 minutes, I know I can make it happen, lol.

      September 17, 2010 at 09:40 | Report abuse |
  10. MikeFallsChurchVA

    Ummmm yeah my GF definitely needs nothing like this, she is a wild animal in bed!!

    September 17, 2010 at 09:19 | Report abuse | Reply
    • johnnyhouse

      Marriage will cure the problem.

      September 17, 2010 at 09:47 | Report abuse |
  11. johnnyhouse

    Whatever happened to "Diamonds are a woman's best friend?. I sure would not want to be the one to tell them they have a mental problem.

    September 17, 2010 at 09:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. johnnyhouse

    if you live long enough you will figure out that they ain't our kind of people.

    September 17, 2010 at 09:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. jim

    I am next to certain that men have more of a hormonal drive for sex then women. I am positive it has something to do with hormones and their levels. Women have to chose to get in the mood.

    September 17, 2010 at 10:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Derp

    Well that was fun. My comment waaaaay up there was really aimed at the science. Everyone (who could think of the problem) is assuming the study is well controlled but there is no information telling us about that. The very act of handing out a prescription to "go get sex" might be significantly altering participant behavior. Thus, perhaps turning women who normally would not go pick up a guy, to now do so in order to fulfill the perceived requirement of study participation. That would be a very dramatic and sloppily uncontrolled problem.

    September 17, 2010 at 11:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Roland

    Its like alcohol and all the other things women need an excuse to be slutty so its not their fault. Some women don't understand their not being slutty if their sexual. Its perfectly natural.

    September 17, 2010 at 13:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Mike

    Well many women really want some fun from sex, and in some that little push of faith, makes it happen. A woman has to be relaxed to get to an orgasm, muscle tension before that does not help.

    September 17, 2010 at 13:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Frank

    How about this, stupid 'doctors'? Maybe, just maybe, not everything that's wrong with a person isn't a 'disorder' or a 'disease'? Maybe these women are going through some things in their life. Maybe they're stressed out. Stress is a total buzzkill. Maybe they haven't had good experiences with s@x – their previous partners didn't know what they were doing or they just don't know what they like/want. Or maybe they're just repressed. Who knows? That's why we have poppers.
    Oh, and you straight boys on here are just embarrassing. I don't know why women bother with most of you people.

    September 18, 2010 at 05:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Frank

    Oh, and a woman's sexuality isn't harder to figure out than a man's. Stop with the stupid stereotypes. Everyone's complex in their own way. Some not so much, obviously. Especially going by the comments on this site.

    September 18, 2010 at 05:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Henry Post

    I wish there was a pill that makes women mute. The world would be a much nicer and peaceful place. Dont you agree?

    September 18, 2010 at 16:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Charlie

    "My surgar in your coffee, dear?"

    September 18, 2010 at 19:37 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Charlie

      Meant to type: "More sugar in your coffee, dear?".

      September 18, 2010 at 19:38 | Report abuse |
  21. MissHotStuff

    Hm, well if you ask me most of men and womens arousal problems nowadays comes from poor lifestyle choices. People are in general fat, eat nothing but crap, and don't work out... then complain that they cant get off or even get aroused by their beastly partners. The healthier I am and the sexier I look the more aroused I am and the easier it is to get off. If you ask me its a case of people needing to put down the cheesburger and stop expecting a pill to come out to cure their diseased fat asses. Want a great sex life? Work out and eat right. DUH!

    September 18, 2010 at 20:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Pete

    I never get these studies – women aren't attracted to alot of men. They are pickier because of evolution. The cost of choosing the wrong guy is quite extreme from an evolutionary standpoint..This is not a medical problem. It's just part of life. The fact a sugar pill helped a tiny amount goes to show you that it's mental things that lower a women's sex drive – and not physical. in short there is nothing wrong with these women..

    September 23, 2010 at 14:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Dr. Bill

    State of mind is very significant to sexual response. Women, as with men require a degree of stimulation elevating their sexual desire to achieve orgasm. Psychological engagement levels determine outcome of sexual encounters. Favorable outcomes, amongst both partners, are usually successful when both partner's mental states are synchronized with anticipation of an orgasm, mutual pleasure and desire, and positive expectations for sexual satisfaction. The size of the ship and motion of the ocean matters!

    September 28, 2010 at 15:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. IamnotGod

    This test shows you how dumb women really are. Let me guess, the participants in this "pill" study were blond colored hair women. lol.

    Women need more than a pill to improve their sexual appetites. What they need is a better frame of mind when it comes to having sex. To many women today are either whores who love sex or frigid/semi-frigid women who have sex "just to keep the peace" with their mate. Either one of these two are losers.

    Whatever happened to love, cherish to death do us part? Good job again ladies. The women today have to many things they can substitute sex with a mate with. Such as their old reliable "BOB" (vibrator, dildoes, and other unmentionable toys).
    All I want is a soft hand or lips. I'm I asking for to much?

    September 30, 2010 at 09:42 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.