Are antidepressants killing your sex drive?
For those of you dealing with mental health issues, having to choose between your wellbeing and your sex life on antidepressants can be a frustrating dilemma.
But, what if you didn’t have to decide? What if you could find a healthy balance?
We wanted to find out:
- how antidepressants actually affect your sex drive &
- how to combat sexual side effects and strive for a fulfilling sex life whilst taking antidepressants
While antidepressants are proven to have a high success rate of reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety, 40% of users report sexual side effects.
Decreased sex drive is thought to be the number one reason people stop taking their antidepressants.
Some people who take antidepressants report symptoms ranging from a slight numbing of sensation, to a loss of feeling entirely in the nipples and genitals. Some develop erectile dysfunction or anorgasmia, which means delayed, diminished or inability to reach orgasm.
When approaching medics to resolve this, many patients are met with the response:
“You have to make a choice: happiness or sex?”
But the distinction is not so simple. Your wellbeing plays into sex and sex plays into your wellbeing.
When experiencing periods of low mental health, you release the stress hormone, cortisol (putting you in fight or flight mode). Your mind and body find it harder to become physically motivated to get in the mood for sex in the first place.
Additionally, sex is so important for your wellbeing, as orgasms release oxytocin and endorphins that relieve stress. There is even a study shown that sperm can have antidepressant effects!
Therefore, a balance is essential. But also remember, it’s okay to not want to have sex too – with and without antidepressants. It’s your body and your choice.
If you want to know how to approach sex when its your partner who is suffering from mental health issues, read some of our expert advice.
In a recent study, figures showed that up to 13% of people are currently taking antidepressants in the US to help with mental health issues, typically for anxiety and depression. Since the turn of the millennia there has been a 400% increase in people taking antidepressants.
With women 2½ times more likely to be taking them than men, this could potentially be contributing to the orgasm gap. In a recent study the orgasm gap has shown that men have 3 orgasms for every 1 a woman has.
How do antidepressants effect your sex drive?
When discussing our sex drive, we must address both the physical and psychological responses.
There are four stages in the sexual response cycle:
- Desire: This is the initial excitement phase which can last from a few minutes to several hours. Triggered by mental or physical stimuli to build up to the arousal stage with increased muscle tension, erect nipples, blood flow to genitals, vaginal lubrication and pre-cum.
- Arousal: This is the plateau phase, the acute moment of heightened sexual tension and sensitivity just before orgasm.
- Orgasm: This is the forceful release of sexual tension resulting in muscle contractions and ejaculation; generally only lasting a few seconds up to a minute.
- Resolution: This is the state of recovery and return to normal state. Penises go through a refractory period which can last from a few minutes to a few days (in extreme cases). However, continued stimulation in some vaginas can lead to multiple orgasms – and if the penis orgasms without ejaculation, it is also known to experience multiple orgasms.
As the most popularly prescribed antidepressant, SSRIs (serotonin-selective re-uptake inhibitor) allow your brain’s nerve cells to absorb more of your natural supply of the happy hormone – serotonin.
SSRIs mostly affect the initial stage of desire; the physical and psychological motivation to get the state of arousal. This essentially delays or diminishes the chance of orgasm.
An increase of serotonin levels means that your body automatically produces less dopamine. Dopamine is essential for psychological sexual desire.
Additionally, these high levels of serotonin are found to decrease levels of nitric oxide. This is needed to relax the muscle tissue and blood vessels that supply blood to the sexual organs for physiological sexual arousal and sensation.
It can take a few months for your body to adjust to antidepressants, and many people’s sexual libido do return to their previous level.
What many people don’t realise is that the body’s arousal responses and orgasm are still intact – it may just take much longer to get there.
In taking longer – this can also result in more powerfully charged climaxes (so there is hope!). So, when you do reach high levels of desire it can be that much more exciting.
However, we must emphasise, everybody is different. Be patient with yourself if the sexual side effects persevere!
Hopefully some of our tips can help.
What are some of the ways you can combat the sexual side effects?
Raise your dopamine levels:
To counter the drop in dopamine, try boosting your natural supply with foods such as dark chocolate, watermelon, walnuts and almonds.
Exercise also raises your dopamine levels. Running has so many benefits for your sex drive. To name but a few, these include improving body image, reducing anxiety, increase testosterone levels and better blood flow supplied to your genitals.
Use a vibrator:
Vibrators like Crescendo and Tenuto increase blood flow to the genitals, reawakening nerve endings that may have felt numbed. With personalised vibes that you can control from the MysteryApp, it can build up sensation gradually to help you climax.
While physical arousal is typically thought to follow desire, desire can also be triggered by physical stimulation.
Experiment with other sex toys:
Clamps can help to bring back sensation to the nipples and clitoris. Maybe even use butt plugs and lubricant to excite the senses further.
Try these mindful techniques to experience more awareness and sensuality in your sex life. Becoming more present in the moment and noticing each and every touch can heighten even the smallest sensation.
Watch or listen to porn:
Immerse yourself in your favourite porn alone or with a partner. Get turned on by the sounds as well as the visuals to encourage a state of arousal. Audio-porn is great for letting your imagination to roam free to find that dopamine hit.
Explore your fantasies:
This is your chance to really fantasise and day dream about what turns you on the most. Find ones that your body responds to, even if they may be slightly taboo.
Write them down and create your own erotic fiction. Maybe even think about exploring them with a consenting partner. Sometimes, just discussing them with someone can help to turn you on.
Taking yourself out of your comfort zone can potentially provide an extra boost to your sex drive.
During sex and masturbation, try to not be goal-oriented. Take your time. Enjoy the ride. Be sensitive to your mind and body.
Know that adding pressure to achieving orgasm will most likely have adverse effects.
Communicate with your doctor:
Not all antidepressants negatively affect your sex drive, so discuss any concerns you have with your doctor and they may be able to give you an alternative or reduce your dosage.
Make them aware of the importance of your sex life to your wellbeing, but also listen to their advice. Don’t reduce or change medications without their supervision.
Communicate with your partner:
Be as honest as you like with your partner. Having a spoken understanding of where you are at sexually and explaining the difficulties may relieve some of the pressures – allowing you to relax and enjoy.
Form an accepting relationship with your mental illness and know that it is a part of your journey.
Consider therapies such as CBT and talking to a counsellor alongside taking your medication to help overcome psychological issues. These will be your foundation blocks for if you decide to come off the medication.
While it has not been scientifically proven, many people report increased levels of desire after taking certain herbal remedies.
Ginkgo Bilboa is normally taken to improve cognitive function and blood flow. This can aid your sex drive as the desire response is linked to both the psychological and physiological. However, be aware of how these herbal remedies may interact with any medication you are on!
To benefit your mental health and sexual health you will need a healthy balanced diet that includes the essential nutrients that your body needs.
Proper rest will naturally increase your dopamine levels and help to build you up to becoming best version of yourself. And these will hopefully, eventually, help you to come off the antidepressants.
While SSRIs are not considered addictive, you may experience withdrawal symptoms when coming off them which can last up to a few weeks. So it is best to gradually reduce your dose under doctor’s supervision.
If you can get to a point where you and your doctor feel confident in coming off them, your sex drive should reset. Many report “returning to orgasm-land with a vengeance”.
But in the meantime, remember happiness is a mood and not a destination, and we have all the hope for you and your libido!