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Self-help books and erotic fiction are equally efficient in treating low sexual desire in women, study finds

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For women experiencing low sexual desire, either self-help or erotic books could be a viable form of therapy, researchers claim in a study published in Sexual and Relationship Therapy.

Low sexual desire is one of the most common complaints women bring to their health care providers. Approximately 24% to 36% of women between the ages of 30 and 59 will experience low sexual desire at some point in their lives. However, there have not been many studies proving the efficacy of treatment for low sexual desire. The most promising, in-person treatment that appears to be most promising is “a short-term (i.e. three session) mindfulness-based group psycho-educational intervention.” despite the effectiveness of this method, one of the difficulties with it is its accessibility. It requires the presence of clinicians trained in this specialized therapy method. It is also important to note that treatments for sexual dysfunctions are often not covered by insurance companies, which greatly limits the access for many women.

Bibliotherapy is an emerging sexual therapy due to its accessibility and affordability. Purchasing a book is often much cheaper than paying for therapy sessions, and is an easy, one time occurrence. This study aimed to examine two types of bibliotherapy, both self-help and erotic fiction. Self-help books have been shown to be effective in different areas, not just low sexual desire. Erotic fiction books, on the other hand, has been used for treating low sexual desire but never empirically studied. This study examined the effectiveness of both self-help and erotic fiction to address the need for validated treatment of low sexual desire.

For the self-help book, A Tired Woman’s Guide to Passionate Sex was used because of prior research showcasing its efficacy in treating heterosexual women with low sexual desire. For the erotic fiction book, Passion: Erotic Romance for Women, a collection of erotic fiction stories, was used due to its similar length and target audience as the self-help book.

Married women between the ages of 30 and 55 who self-identified as having low sexual desire in their otherwise happy marriages were recruited for this study. There were 20 women assigned to self-help and 27 assigned to erotic fiction. All identified as heterosexual and were married. Participants took a pre-book survey to assess sexual desire. Participants were then given their copy of the book (either paper or electronic) which was accompanied by detailed instructions for reading the book. The instructions were the same for both the self-help book and the erotic fiction book. The study took place over the course of six weeks; at three weeks they were given a reminder to finish the book and complete the end survey.

Women who read either the self-help book or the erotic fiction collection significant improvement in sexual desire, with no significant difference between either book. They also reported increased satisfaction, arousal, lubrication, orgasm, overall sexual functioning, as well as decreased sexual pain. While the self-help book was written as a treatment, the erotic fiction collection was written for entertainment. They could be equally effective because they “provided women a feeling of empowerment and control.” It is important to note that the study was limited based on the books that were used. The erotic fiction group had a high drop-out rate, so if bibliotherapy is used, it is important for clinicians to monitor patient response.

There are broader implications of this study. Firstly, it creates a more inclusive definition of bibliotherapy. Second, it adds to research on bibliotherapy and its efficacy. Finally, the study contributes to understanding and treating low sexual desire in women, and can act as a springboard for future research and treatments.

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