Laura Cook candidly recounts the difficulties of maintaining a healthy sex life while on antidepressants.
Having to choose between being able to cum and being able to get out of bed every day is tough.
I’ve never felt that doctors would take me seriously if I told them the predominant reason I hate being on antidepressants is that it makes sexual pleasure and achieving orgasm so bloody hard. Expressing one’s sexuality honestly within a healthcare context is something so many women struggle with and it doesn’t help that our experiences are often minimised and ridiculed. It’s difficult to explain how SSRIs impact me sexually because I’ve been sick for so long that I’ve almost forgotten what a non-medicated orgasm feels like. My sexy, blurred memories of more intense orgasms contrast so greatly to my ‘climaxes’ now, that sometimesI’m not even sure if I have cum because they’re that pathetic. It’s common to reach a point where everything goes numb down below, which transforms what should be a pleasurable experience into a frustrating and somewhat pointless seeming endeavour. All in all, a very sad state of sexual (or not so sexual) affairs.
As a survivor of sexual trauma, my relationship with sex has been confusing over the past few years. On top of the ingrained shame that comes with female masturbation and women’s sexuality in general, the complexity of a sex life post-trauma can feel very overwhelming. And if this wasn’t enough to deal with, add a reliance on medication that makes you feel impotent into the mix. While societal pressures seek to persuade us that our 20s are for having loads of great sex, for me, it’s been a rough ride (and not in a good way). For something so common, the impact of antidepressants on sexuality is rarely confronted publicly, which is especially surprising considering the rise in mental health issues amongst the student population. A delightful double-whammy of sexual stigma and ableism leads to avoidance of the issue entirely.
My relationship status has varied throughout my time taking happy pills and expressing my difficulties to sexual partners has often been unsuccessful. I have been fortunate enough to have partners who also take SSRIs, and although they may have slightly different symptoms, they still understand its impact and are able to truly empathise. Tinder hook-ups, whilst universally unsatisfying, became pretty painful for me. Certain men I had the misfortune of being intimate with, believed they had the power to make any woman orgasm instantaneously. For my own sake and for the benefit of their future partners, I had to break it to them that they were, in fact, shit in bed. Even fake orgasms were off the cards, although I was sometimes tempted to try, just to put a stop to their cringeworthy, pathetic attempts. I may sound bitter, but honestly it’s just better to go solo when that’s the other option.
About the only benefit that has come from these shit side-effects is the vast expansion of my sex toy collection. The drawer by my bed is just about over-flowing with my rainbow array of vibrating silicone. Personally, experimentation has been key to overcoming the sexual challenges of living with depression. For a while, my Tinder bio was simply ‘buy me sex toys pls’. Lovehoney do great UNIDAYS offers to help out with student budget issues, as sex toys can get expensive. I’ve felt judged by friends for my partial reliance on sex toys to cum, leading me to the sad realisation that the relationship between mental health issues, SSRIs and sexuality is poorly understood by people who haven’t directly experienced these issues. I’m not wildly horny (although it would be so fine if that was the case), I just need all the help I can get.
However, talking about the effects of antidepressants with other sufferers has been really liberating and made the struggle more bearable. It validated the frustration I was feeling and helped me to fight the insistent thoughts that I was just ‘making a fuss’. The focus on orgasm as the sole goal of sex is also a problematic issue in this context, however the ability to get there if you want to would be nice!
I’m fortunate enough to have women in my life with whom I can talk about my unhappy vagina, but equally I have friends who struggle to understand. Hopefully, reading this might help someone feel less isolated if they haven’t yet found a way to voice how antidepressants affect their own sexuality.
Artwork by Laura Stewart-Liberty.