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Hormone injection could treat low sex drive in women and men

Doctors said a low sex drive "can have a major detrimental impact on relationships, mental health, and fertility."

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By Stephen Beech via SWNS

A hormone injection could treat low sex drive in both women and men, according to new research.

Kisspeptin can boost sexual responses in women and men suffering distress as a result of their low libido, say scientists.

Two studies, both published in JAMA Network Open, found that giving kisspeptin can boost sexual responses in women and men who have hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD) – a condition characterized by low sexual desire that is distressing to the person.

Women who took part in the trial reported feeling "more sexy" during the kisspeptin treatment.

HSDD affects up 10 percent of women and one in 12 men (eight percent) worldwide and can have "devastating" psychological and social impacts.

The studies were led by doctors and scientists at Imperial College London and Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust.

They explained that kisspeptin is a naturally-occurring hormone that stimulates the release of other reproductive hormones inside the body.

The team has previously shown in men with intact sexual desire that kisspeptin can enhance responses to sexual stimuli, and boost attraction brain pathways, independent of other reproductive hormones like testosterone. Now, they investigated the effects in women and men with low sexual desire for the first time.

The two clinical trials involved 32 pre-menopausal women, aged 19 to 48, and 32 men with HSDD. In both studies, patients underwent scanning of the brain using MRI, as well as blood and behavioral tests.

Taking kisspeptin improved sexual brain processing in both women and men, resulting in positive effects on sexual behavior compared to those who weren't injected.

The clinical trials are the first to explore the ability of kisspeptin to boost sexual pathways in women and men distressed by their low sexual desire.

The researchers believe that the results lay the foundations for kisspeptin-based treatments for women and men with HSDD.


Study senior co-author Dr. Alexander Comninos, a Consultant Endocrinologist at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, said: “Low sexual desire can be distressing and so result in HSDD.

"This can have a major detrimental impact on relationships, mental health, and fertility.

"Even though it is relatively common, treatment options in women are limited, carry significant side effects and in some cases can be harmful to even try.

"And unfortunately, these treatments have limited effectiveness. In men, there are currently no licensed treatments and none on the horizon.

"Therefore, 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 added: “Our two studies provide proof-of-concept for the development of kisspeptin treatments, as we provide the first evidence that kisspeptin is a potentially safe and effective therapy for both women and men with distressing low sexual desire.

"Additionally in men, we demonstrate that kisspeptin can have positive effects not only in the brain but also in the penis by increasing rigidity.

"Furthermore, kisspeptin was well-tolerated by both women and men with no side effects reported, which is crucial from a drug development point of view.

"We now plan to take things forward to hopefully realize the potential of kisspeptin therapeutics in psychosexual disorders - sexual problems which are psychological in origin, such as unexplained low libido.”

Co-senior author Professor Waljit Dhillo, also a Consultant Endocrinologist at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, said: “Our studies build on our previous work to assess the effectiveness of kisspeptin and its boosting effects in terms of arousal and attraction.

"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.

“Collectively, the results suggest that kisspeptin may offer a safe and much-needed treatment for HSDD that affects millions of people around the world and we look forward to taking this forward in future larger studies and in other patient groups.”

During kisspeptin or placebo administration, participants underwent functional MRI while watching erotic videos and viewing male faces to see how brain activity was affected. Non-erotic exercise videos were used as a control.

The team found that kisspeptin improved sexual and attraction brain activity in key brain areas in women.

They also found that women who were more distressed by their sexual function showed greater kisspeptin-enhanced brain activity in the hippocampus - a key structure implicated in female sexual desire.

Researchers found that the more kisspeptin activated the posterior cingulate cortex - a key behavioral brain area - in response to attractive male faces, the less sexual aversion was reported by participants.

Crucially, psychometric analyses revealed that the women reported feeling "more sexy" during kisspeptin, compared to placebo.

In the second study, 32 heterosexual men aged 21 to 52 with HSDD underwent a similar study with the addition of the measurement of penile rigidity, between January and September 2021.

The study demonstrated that kisspeptin significantly boosted brain activity in key structures of the sexual brain network while also increasing penile rigidity by up to 56 percent compared to placebo while viewing an erotic video.

Similarly to the study in women, kisspeptin also had greater effects in key brain regions in men more distressed with their low sexual desire.

Psychometric analyses revealed that kisspeptin improved ‘happiness about sex’ reported by the men.

A 44-year-old man who also took part in the trials said: "I got involved in the trial because I had previous problems with my sexual appetite and performance.

“The issue had always been detrimental to sustaining relationships. I would often make excuses as to why my sexual appetite was low. For example, I would blame stress at work or tiredness as a reason instead of being honest.

"I had tried other performance-supporting medications like Viagra. However, this proved ineffective as the issue was simply one of low desire.

"It was highly embarrassing and not something I felt able to talk to my previous partners about. I feared they would confuse it with a lack of attraction to them.

“I was keen to learn whether there was a solution to my problem and learn more about my condition.

“I received the kisspeptin infusion in June 2021 and I noticed a difference in terms of my sexual desire. The week I had the kisspeptin infusion we conceived our son, who was born in March 2022. I had the best possible outcome as a result of the trial.

“I also learned a lot more about myself and my condition.

"I am really pleased to have contributed to this trial, which has been life-changing for me. I’m glad that others in a similar position could benefit from the treatment.”

A 43-year-old mom who also took part in the trials said: "I was experiencing low sexual libido.

"Initially, I put it down to having small children and being exhausted as a result.

"However, this continued and started to impact my well-being. I wanted to see whether there was another reason why I was feeling this way.

“I had two study visits in 2020 where I received the placebo and the kisspeptin infusions without knowing which one I was getting at the time. I did notice a bit of a difference once I received the kisspeptin infusion and it was fascinating to be part of the process."

She added: “I am glad that I took part in the study as many women wouldn’t like to admit they are experiencing this and may not seek help. I’m glad to know that kisspeptin could be a treatment option for other women.”

Dr. Comninos and Professor Dhillo now plan larger-scale studies, studies in order to develop kisspeptin as a realistic treatment for both women and men with distressing sexual disorders.

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