Pain Reduces Sexual Desire in Females
“Not tonight dear, I have a headache.” Due to the popular belief that women use headaches as an excuse to avoid sex, many female migraineurs loathe to use migraine as a reason to turn down sex. Yet many women will attest that sex is the last thing on their minds during a migraine. A study released this week found that there may be a biological reason for this.1
In this study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers discovered that pain and inflammation significantly reduced the sex drive of female mice, but had no impact on male mice. Even when the pain was in the penis directly, it did dampen the sexual motivation of male mice. When the female mice were treated with pregabalin (Lyrica) or a drug that boosted sexual desire, their sexual motivation returned to normal levels. Pregabalin itself is not an aphrodisiac and did not increase the sexual activity of female mice not in pain. For the female mice with pain, however, pregabablin both treated the pain and restored libido.
Prior research has shown that context has a greater influence on women’s sexual desire than it does for men. What’s been uncertain is whether this is due to cultural or social factors or if there’s a biological basis. This week’s study indicates that, at least when pain is involved, biology plays a role.
Migraine is believed to be an inflammatory condition with pain as a primary symptom. Because migraine is not solely a pain disorder, but a neurological one, findings of pain studies don’t necessarily apply. In searching for comparable studies, I found that research on migraine and sexual desire is relatively scarce and focuses on general sexual desire, not desire during migraine attacks. The two most relevant studies are:
- A 2006 study that was widely reported found that migraineurs generally have higher sexual desire than those with tension-type headaches. The study was small, with only 23 participants with migraine and 36 with tension-type headache. It did not compare the sexual desire of migraineurs to those without any headache disorder.2
- A study published in 2008 gathered data over a five-year period from more than 19,000 migraineurs. In these findings, male migrianeurs had more sexual desire than non-migraineurs, while female migraineurs had less sexual desire than non-migraineurs.3
Many questions remain about the impact of pain, and migraine specifically, on sexual desire. While the study published this week was limited to mice, it is an important step toward better understanding how pain can impact sexual desire in humans. And once it is understood, perhaps effective treatments will follow.
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