For millions of married Americans, sex has nearly disappeared. Hectic lifestyles and pressures from work and parenting are the enemies of romance and intimacy.
Some experts estimate that as many as one out of five couples have “sexless marriages.” This is defined as having relations less than once a month. Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t always the women who are dragging their feet.
A reader recently shared the following story:
“My husband and I have been married almost 30 years. About three years ago he started taking phentermine prescribed by a weight doctor. He was about 30 pounds overweight.
“He stayed on the medication for about two years. During this time he developed impotence and the problem has continued.
“He still orders phentermine over the Internet because he likes the feeling of energy that it gives him, although I don’t think he takes it daily. He also gained 30 more pounds while taking the medicine.
“He has seen his internist but did not disclose his medication history. The physician prescribed Viagra as a treatment for his impotence. Without Viagra he never achieves a full erection, but it hasn’t solved the problem. He hasn’t reached a climax in over three years. Is erectile dysfunction normal at age 50? Could the diet medication contribute to ED? What should we do next?”
Drugs are a common cause of sexual dysfunction. The prescription diet drug phentermine (the phen in the now infamous phen-fen debacle) can indeed cause impotence. So can certain blood pressure medications, antidepressants and cholesterol-lowering medications, to name just a few.
Impotence (erectile dysfunction) is not the only potential side effect from medications. Lowered libido is a subtle but damaging reaction to some drugs. A busy couple working long hours and juggling child-care responsibilities may not even realize that a heartburn medicine like Aciphex or a cholesterol-lowering drug such as Zocor could affect sex drive.
Couples need not accept a sexless marriage. A 50-year-old man shouldn’t have to give up erections and orgasms because of a stimulant diet pill. Getting off phentermine might restore both desire and ability. While no one should ever stop a blood pressure pill or cholesterol-lowering medication without medical supervision, there are alternatives that might be less likely to interfere with sexuality.
For readers who want to learn more, we offer our Guides to Drugs That Affect Sexuality and Treating Sexual Dysfunction, which contain more details on which drugs may be problematic and how to overcome such difficulties. Anyone who would like copies, please send $3 in check or money order with a long (no. 10) stamped (60 cents), self-addressed envelope: Graedons’ People’s Pharmacy, No. YP-96, P. O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027.
Hormonal changes are sometimes responsible for diminished desire. Thyroid, estrogen or testosterone may each affect libido. If that is the source of the trouble, correcting the imbalance could solve the problem.
Sex is not the most significant part of a good relationship, but it is important, and couples should not give it up lightly. Finding time for romance can be a challenge, but the effort is worth making to maintain a healthy marriage.

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