Sex Pill Surprise: Women Treated With Placebo Reported Improvement

Experts say study results show some women benefit just from conversation.

Sept. 16, 2010— -- Men have had their little blue pills for years, but some women in search of the same kind of libido boost may simply need to talk about their problems in the bedrooms.

Researchers studying drug treatments for 200 women with sexual dysfunctions say they were surprised to find that 35 percent of the women who were given a placebo -- a sugar pill -- reported significant improvement in their sex lives.

Now, some experts say, the solution may be found in a conversation with a doctor.

"All women in this study did have a chance to speak to a health care professional who listened to their concerns," said Dr. Andrea Bradford of the Baylor College of Medicine, Michael E. Debakey V.A. Medical Center in Houston, "and, most importantly, took them seriously and really listened to what their concerns were."

Bradford was one of the lead researchers on the study, conducted at Baylor College of Medicine.

Medical surveys show that low sex drive affects nearly 40 percent of women in the United States.

"In the quest to find a medical solution or a magic bullet for women's sexual problems, we may have overlooked some of the basics," Bradford said.

But even getting to those basics isn't easy for women and physicians alike.

"If they don't ask, women won't volunteer or tell," "Good Morning America" medical contributor Dr. Marie Savard said, adding that studies have shown even gynecologists are hesitant to bring up low sex drive with their patients.

"I think it's embarrassing for physicians," she said. "And it takes time."

With men, Savard said, most of their sexual dysfunction can be traced to a physiological problem, which is why Viagra and other erectile dysfunction drugs have worked so well for so many.

"Women, I think, are so much complicated than men," she said. "It'll never be a one size fits all for women."

Raising Awareness About Female Sexual Dysfunction

The placebo pill had such a powerful response from women in the drug treatment study because of the tasks each woman was given; talking to doctors about sex, being encouraged to have more sex and spend more time in the bedroom, and also writing down their feelings about sex, Savard said.

"All of those things helped raise awareness and gave women more time in the bedroom, which women need," she said.

Still, she added, there was no information from the study about how well the actual drug they were testing worked. Only about a quarter of the 200 study participants were given the placebo.

"But we do know that small studies show they don't work that well," she said of previous attempts to find a magic pill for women.

Indeed, an effective female sexual stimulant has remained elusive. A female version of Viagra was shot down this summer by the Food and Drug Administration.

Zestra, a new arousal oil marketed as a sexual stimulant has recently hit the market, but topical products don't work for everyone.