Type "low sex drive" into Google and a plethora of online retailers will compete to help men get over their libidinal issues. Try these special Bombyx Mori pills, or go the natural route and drink pomegranate juice. Still can't get it up? Well, there's Viagra for that.
Now scientists at the University of Siena have discovered a possible solution to problem of low male sex drive, which doesn't involve potentially diarrhea-inducing herbal pills. Professor Andrea Fagiolini's team conducted a study involving 38 men aged 40 and above, suffering from a range of disorders characterized by a lack of interest in sex.
All of the men, the BBC reports, were treated with light box therapy every morning for a fortnight. However, half of the group was given a specially adapted light box that gave out a significantly reduced amount of light. The findings, presented at the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology's annual congress in Vienna, showed a clear distinction in the group receiving effective light therapy and the control group.
When all the men were retested at the end of the experiment, the men who'd received the full light therapy had tripled their sexual satisfaction scores, and increased their testosterone levels by 71 percent. The men who had received the shoddier light box showed only a minimal increase in sexual satisfaction, and no increase in testosterone levels.
It's estimated that 20 percent of men will experience issues with their sex drive at some point in their lives, with causes including depression, low testosterone levels, and alcohol abuse. While the link between testosterone and the male sex drive is well established, little research has been done into the impact of sunlight on the production of the hormone in adult males. Some scientists believe that testosterone levels in men fluctuate seasonally, increasing in summer and decreasing in winter, although evidence to support this theory is limited.
"We do not know yet the exact mechanism by which light therapy affects the production of testosterone in the body," says Professor Fagliolini. "One hypothesis is that the action is mediated by an increase of luteinizing hormone, which is produced by the pituitary gland and is known to increase testosterone."
Light boxes have been around for some time now and are used to treat a range of conditions, including seasonal affective disorder and depression. Most work by emitting a light that is made up of the full spectrum of colors (although it appears white to the naked eye), mimicking the effect of natural sunshine on the body.
Intriguingly, Fagliolini suggests that women looking to conceive might benefit from similar treatment. "Luteinizing hormone is also connected with ovulation and this mechanism might be in testing for women too, especially in the studies around female fertility."
I ask whether sex-starved men and women around the world should rush out to buy their male partners light boxes. "It's too early for a general recommendation on using light boxes," he responds. "We need more studies. However, if further studies confirm the efficacy [of this approach], then light therapy could become a treatment option."
While cautiously optimistic about the potential impact of light therapy on sexual dysfunction, Fagliolini believes more work is needed. "I'd like to study this effect in a larger sample, and check how the levels of other hormones—such as luteinizing hormone—are affected."
Until then: If you're sexually frustrated but don't want to kick your partner out of bed just yet, why not try locking them out of the house on a sunny day instead?