Sexual functioning in depressed outpatients taking mirtazapine

Beth K. Boyarsky, Waheedul Haque, Mark R. Rouleau, Robert M.A. Hirschfeld

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

70 Scopus citations


Objectives - One-third of patients with untreated depression have sexual difficulties manifested by decreased libido, erectile dysfunction or delayed ejaculation. This dysfunction may be exacerbated by stimulation of post- synaptic serotonin 5HT2 receptors, a side-effect of most widely-used antidepressant medications, especially the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Mirtazapine is an atypical antidepressant with α2 adrenergic antagonist and serotonin 5-HT2 and 5-HT3 receptor-blocking activity. In theory, it should not worsen and perhaps may improve sexual function. This pilot study investigated sexual functioning and antidepressant activity in depressed patients taking mirtazapine. Experimental design - Twenty-five (F = 18, M = 7) sexually active adult outpatients with a DSM-IV- diagnosis of major depressive episode entered a 12-week, flexible-dosing, open-label pilot study. The Arizona Sexual Experiences Scale (ASEX) assessed sexual functioning and the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HAM-D) assessed depressive symptoms on a bimonthly basis. Principal Observations - Desire, arousal/lubrication, and ease/satisfaction of orgasm improved (by 41%, 52%, and 48%, respectively) in the depressed women. In men, desire, arousal/erection, and ease/satisfaction of orgasm also improved (by 10%, 23% and 14%, respectively) but much more modestly. HAM-D, Clinical Global Impression (CGI) Sheehan Disability Scale (SDS), and Symptom Checklist-90 (SCL-90) scores improved in both groups. There was a 50% dropout rate among women before six weeks of treatment. However, the ASEX and HAM-D scores of the groups terminating before and after six weeks of treatment showed similar rates of improvement. Conclusions - Mirtazapine has a beneficial effect on sexual functioning in both depressed women and men. Longer-term double-blind research assessing sexual function during the administration of mirtazapine as well as other antidepressants is recommended.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)175-179
Number of pages5
JournalDepression and Anxiety
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1999


  • 5-HT2 serotonin antagonists
  • Alpha adrenergic antagonists
  • Depression
  • Sexual dysfunction antidepressants

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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