Botulinum toxin – otherwise known as Botox – injections to "fill in" wrinkles are increasingly common and available on the UK high street (and marketed cheaply on social media) but a new study suggests people should think twice before plumping for the procedure, and not just because it could go badly wrong.
By effectively freezing your facial expressions, Botox could hinder your sexual pleasure and ability to orgasm at all, according to research by Cardiff University. The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, explored the impact of Botox on embodied emotion, the theory that emotion (and consequently our experiences) can be shaped by our facial expressions.
Botox is often used to treat frown lines, and previous research has found this can lead to a reduction in depression, so researchers wanted to know: By impairing the facial expressions associated with sexual excitement, does Botox reduce women's ability to enjoy sex? (The muscle groups often targeted in cosmetic Botox are the same ones associated with sexual excitement and orgasm, including frown and laughter lines, and the area around the jaw.)
Researchers followed a small sample of 24 women who'd had Botox (and were tested before and after treatment), and compared them with 12 women who'd had non-muscle restricting facial procedures, such as skin peels. The women were asked to complete various questionnaires relating to their sexual function, mood and ability to read others' emotions.
The findings are enough to leave anyone furrowing their brow. The 13 women who'd had Botox on their frown lines reported reduced sexual satisfaction – orgasms were harder to achieve and less satisfying. There was also a "near significant" decline among women who'd been treated for crow's feet and frown lines.
The study concluded that curbing our ability to produce the facial expressions associated with sexual pleasure leads to reduced feelings of sexual pleasure. "This finding demonstrates the importance of facial expressions during sexual intercourse," said the researchers.
"The results suggest that the facial expressions do not occur simply to communicate pleasure to a partner but they are an integral part of the feeling of pleasure and are important in the process of achieving orgasm," the researchers continued. "This demonstrates an important role for facial feedback within sexual intercourse and it is potentially a previously unimagined significant negative impact from cosmetic [Botox] treatments."
The study also examined whether the treatment of crow's feet (laughter lines) would reduce mood (by impairing patients' ability to smile with their eyes), and whether Botox would curb people's ability to recognise emotional expressions in others (because their ability to mimic emotions would be reduced).
In keeping with the finding on sexual pleasure, the women who'd had Botox on their laughter lines reported increased depression scores, and they were also less likely to be able to recognise others' emotions.
"The current results add to our knowledge of the psychological effects of injections of powerful neurotoxins and broaden the scope of the embodiment of emotions," the researchers said. It's yet another reason to think long and hard before getting a cosmetic treatment.