- Researchers say injections of the hormone kisspeptin may be able to help boost the sex drive of both men and women.
- They added that the injections could be an alternative in a field where there currently are limited treatments.
- They noted that kisspeptin doesn’t directly treat erectile dysfunction because it is more focused on arousal.
Hormone treatment could help improve sex drive among men and women who encounter low sexual desire.
Researchers say the hormone kisspeptin seems to improve the sex drive of individuals with hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD), which affects up to 8% of men and 10% of women worldwide.
Two studies, both published in the journal JAMA Network Open, said treating people with the naturally occurring hormone kisspeptin was shown by MRI scans to enhance responses to sexual stimuli and boost attraction brain pathways in both male and female study subjects.
Kisspeptin is known to stimulate sex hormones in the body.
The two studies were done by researchers from Imperial College London and Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust.
MRIs and other tests showed that kisspeptin administration improved sexual brain processing in both women and men, resulting in positive effects on sexual behavior compared to people who were given a placebo.
The same research team previously published a
The study in women is the first to look at the effect of kisspeptin in this group.
The researchers reported that women who were given kisspeptin responded more positively to erotic videos and other stimuli, and reported feeling “more sexy” after taking the hormone.
Men experienced more activity in regions of the brain related to sexuality and greater penile rigidity.
“It is highly encouraging to see the same boosting effect in both women and men, although the precise brain pathways were slightly different as might be expected,” said Dr. Waljit Dhillo, a senior study co-author, a senior investigator from the Department of Metabolism, Digestion and Reproduction at Imperial College London, and consultant endocrinologist at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust.
Dr. Alexander Comninos, a senior study author, an honorary clinical senior lecturer at the Department of Metabolism, Digestion and Reproduction at Imperial College London, and a consultant endocrinologist at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, said the study is “the first evidence that kisspeptin is a potentially safe and effective therapy for both women and men with distressing low sexual desire.”
Comninos noted that current treatment options for HSDD among men and women range from limited to nonexistent.
“There is a real unmet need to find new, safer, and more effective therapies for this distressing condition for both women and men seeking treatment,” he said.
Dr. Catherine Monk, chief of the Division of Women’s Mental Health in the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York, said the research “brings rigorous neuroscience to an urgent issue relevant to women’s overall health — lack of libido and the need to develop interventions to address it.”
“The neuroimaging results are consistent with the model that HSDD can be understood as overactivity in brain regions related to self-monitoring (which may dampen down desire), showing that … kisspeptin corrects this inhibitory pressure,” Monk told Healthline. “However, the lack of change in women’s subjective experiences on a rating of feelings of sexual desire following kisspeptin should give some pause: experiencing arousal and pleasure drives brain biology which further drives the mind. Do we want our brains aroused without our (subjective) minds being aroused as well?”
Monk also advised that future research include questions about sexual assault or child sexual abuse.
“Such experiences dramatically impact sexual pleasure and interest and the interventions for those traumas cannot easily be found in pharmacology alone,” she said.
Men have access to a variety of drugs to treat erectile dysfunction, but those drugs don’t have any impact on arousal.
“Desire is not going to be impacted by Viagra or Cialis,” Dr. Stanton Honig, a professor of urology and director of sexual and reproductive medicine at Yale Medicine, told Healthline.
He noted that the subjects in the kisspeptin study in men all reported having normal erections.
Testosterone can be given to people with low levels of the sex hormone — both male and female — to increase sex drive, Honig said.
He added that the FDA has approved a drug called dflibanserin (marketed as Addyi, and sometimes called the “female Viagra”) specifically to treat HSDD among women. However, dflibanserin is known to have concerning side effects, which kisspeptin did not.
Research on HSDD “is probably an underestimate of the issues people have,” said Honig.
“Lack of interest in sexual activity can be multifactorial,” he said, ranging from everything from performance anxiety or lack of sleep to biological factors such as those addressed in the kisspeptin study.
Kisspeptin appears to raise the level of two hormones, FSH and LH, known to boost testosterone production, although the study did not find elevated levels of testosterone itself.
“We don’t know how it works, but it does have an effect on hormone levels,” Honig said.