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January 10, 2022
Pleasure & Desire | Sexual Politics & Culture

Depression, Antidepressants and Sex

Depression can have a strained relationship with sex. The connection between depression and sex is not new.  

When a person is depressed and the brain chemicals that stimulate desire and arousal are not pumping and the brain is not firing the way it normally does, one may find they are disinterested in sex, have no arousal or desire, have trouble with getting and maintaining erections, and may find that their body just does not function the way they are used to.

Now add to that mix anti-depressant medication, specifically SSRIs and we now know this can be toxic for sexual functioning.  

For decades, people have complained that when they went on anti-depressants, they had a loss of sexual feeling or desire and that their sexual functioning was impaired. We now know that long-term use of SSRIs can create long-lasting impacts. Whether these are reversible is not yet known.  

A recent article from Canadian drug policy researcher, Alan Cassels, presents a harrowing picture of how dire this connection may be. 

Dr. David Healy has been studying PSSD, (Post SSRI Sexual Dysfunction), and his recent study showed evidence based on over 300 case studies that people are experiencing a tremendous loss of sensation and other sexual impairments. He believes that almost everyone who takes an SSRI/SSNI will experience some form of sexual dysfunction. He found that people experienced:  

“…premature ejaculation and persistent genital arousal disorder (PGAD), but other drugs were also linked to ‘genital anaesthesia, pleasureless or weak orgasm, loss of libido and impotence.’”  

One of the most troubling aspects of this horrendous situation is that doctors all-too-often dismiss patient’s sexual concerns, particularly women. As medicine has been increasingly driven by the pharmaceutical industry, the shortcuts for doctors to just prescribe a pill and send a patient away have been too easy and the financial kickbacks and conflict of interest troubling. 

This new research is illuminating what many people have known for a long time: that anti-depressants not only adversely impact their sexual expressing and experience, but that it may create a whole other level of mental and emotional distress to lose sexual pleasure and ability to have sex in the way they are used to. 

In my work, I experience so many people who feel they have missed out by not having the sexual experiences they’ve wanted for such huge chunks of their lives. This brings a whole other element to the soup that keeps us from the erotic power and sexual ecstasy many of us desire.  

There are many ways to develop ourselves sexually and falling into despair about the impacts of anti-depressants certainly will not be the cure. Seeking support, education, new opportunities for growth and exploration is key to taking control of it.  

With COVID, people have truly been suffering emotionally and the use of SSRIs have risen dramatically. It’s so important that we talk about the impact on our sexuality and sexual functioning, that we not be afraid to talk about it and to ask questions of our doctors.  

We get to hold them to a higher standard and make sexuality the important part of the equation that it is.  

We all get to be well emotionally, mentally and sexually and one does not need to eclipse the other.  

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A’magine, formerly Amy Jo Goddard is author of Woman on Fire: Nine Elements to Wake up Your Erotic Energy, Personal Power and Sexual Intelligence and co-author of the best-selling classic Lesbian Sex Secrets for Men. She earned her Master’s degree in Human Sexuality Education at New York University and has been teaching and speaking about feminism and sexuality for over two decades.

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