Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 7/1/2022
The medical industry loves a good multitasker. Healthcare providers have prescribed Wellbutrin for many conditions over the years, from depression to smoking cessation — and that’s just what the FDA has approved it for. Chances are you know someone who has used Wellbutrin for other reasons though, from ADHD to obesity, and there’s even reason to prescribe Wellbutrin for people with sexual dysfunction in some cases.
Sexual dysfunction treatment isn’t generally something that antidepressants are known for treating. In fact, some of the most popular antidepressants today can actually cause negative sexual side effects, so it’s worth noting when one doesn’t.
If you’re on antidepressants and suffering from sexual dysfunction, you may be wondering if Wellbutrin or its generic could offer you the treatment you need.
It’s entirely possible that Wellbutrin may be just what you need. Let’s unpack why.
Since the 1980s, Wellbutrin and its generic, bupropion, have been powerful antidepressant medications capable of treating a variety of issues, not just mood disorders like depressive disorder.
Wellbutrin was approved by the FDA in 1985 for the treatment of depression. It’s an antidepressant designed to target receptors for dopamine and norepinephrine, two neurotransmitters. Specifically, NDRIs prevent your brain from reabsorbing excess volumes of norepinephrine and dopamine, which means your brain has access to a larger surplus of these neurotransmitters later on, when it actually needs them. Because of this dual capability, bupropion has been named a norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake inhibitor, or NDRI.
Wellbutrin is now employed to treat a variety of conditions from obesity and weight gain to low sexual desire and erectile dysfunction in people experiencing these conditions as side effects of antidepressant treatment.
Treating depression by influencing dopamine and norepinephrine is just one of the ways bupropion can help people, though. Healthcare providers often use Wellbutrin in an off-label capacity to treat disorders like ADHD, bipolar-related depression, anxiety and obesity.
But in this off-label capacity, bupropion is also effective in a very specific modality: as a treatment for antidepressant-induced sexual dysfunction, specifically SSRI-induced sexual dysfunction.
SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, are the most commonly and safely prescribed medications for depression and anxiety disorders today, but they do come with some adverse effects. While they’re adjusting your serotonin levels, these medications can also lower your sex drive and affect your sexual performance. And they’re not alone.
Many forms of antidepressants increase a user’s risk of sexual side effects, including sexual dysfunction in its many forms. Bupropion is one of few antidepressants that do not cause these common side effects.
Bupropion isn’t just less of a problem for sexual functioning than other antidepressants, though. In fact, some limited studies have shown that the side effects of bupropion may include increased libido.
A small double blind study found that, compared to placebos, bupropion actually increased libido and sexual function — even as a daily medication.
Wellbutrin is not without its own side effects though, and compared with a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, its side effects could be considered more significant. That’s why these days it is primarily used when you just can’t stand the side effects from other medications, rather than as a first line treatment.
And the side effects of bupropion are significant — they include constipation, weight loss, dry mouth, nausea, headache, ringing in the ears, sore throat, loss of appetite, stomach pain and vomiting, uncontrollable shaking in your extremities and frequent urination. It can even affect your sense of taste.
In some cases, you may experience serious side effects when taking bupropion. These may include irrational fears, seizures, hallucination, muscle and joint pain, confusion and rapid heart beat, to name a few. Seek medical attention if you or a loved one notices any of these symptoms, and also contact a healthcare professional if you have trouble swallowing, a fever, rash, blisters, swelling or hives when taking bupropion.
Drug-induced sexual dysfunction can come in a variety of forms, but for many men the reality of taking antidepressants is that sexual activity often takes a hit due to erectile dysfunction.
Bupropion may be able to help, but treatment for these issues might not just include a new medication—it might involve extra work on your part.
The most effective ED treatments are prescription medications, lifestyle changes and therapy.
Therapy is often a surprising suggested treatment, but the psychological causes of ED can be significant, including performance anxiety, confidence issues and other self esteem problems that can make intimacy hard. Previous sexual traumas might also play a part. As such, talking to a therapist about ongoing ED issues is important, whether they’re medication-induced or not.
Luckily, medication-induced ED is one of the cases in which you can fight fire with fire. Prescription medications like Cialis® (tadalafil) and Viagra® (sildenafil) can help correct hormonal imbalances that might be causing ED —including regulating an enzyme called phosphodiesterase-5 — and keep you harder for longer.
And this might be obvious in this day and age, but your overall health might also play a role in your erectile health. If you’re having ED issues, a healthcare professional might suggest lifestyle changes including less smoking or drinking, fewer recreational drugs, better diet and exercise habits and maybe even a good night’s rest.
If you’re on an antidepressant medication and seeing sexual dysfunction, it’s time to talk to a healthcare provider.
Real talk: it’s not like you can switch medications without the approval of a healthcare provider anyway, and going off prescription medication without support is dangerous.
Your sex life is likely an important metric for quality of life — we get that. It’s a common trend among, you know, humans. But the reality is that there’s a balance to be struck between your greater physical and mental health concerns and the specific functions of your… err… recreational organs.
So if you’re having trouble in bed, skip the gas station pills and weird herbal supplements and just talk to your healthcare provider. This conversation isn’t going to be new for them—it’s just a procedure. But for you, getting the right support, advice and medications will be a life changer.
Get professional support today. It’ll lift your spirits—among other things.