Sexual Side Effects of Medication

Jay Dee

Sexual Side Effects of Medication

Sep 08, 2015

Another question that came in through our “Have A Question” page.  This is specifically about SSRI’s, but I think it’s applicable to just about any medication as I kept it generic enough to apply to a larger group of people. I think I need a

Sexual Side Effects of MedicationAnother question that came in through our “Have A Question” page.  This is specifically about SSRI’s, but I think it’s applicable to just about any medication as I kept it generic enough to apply to a larger group of people.

I think I need a miracle, so my question is more like ‘can you pray for me’?
I have a family history of clinical depression, which I’ve been trying to treat for the better part of 15 years, since I was a teenager.  I’ve have tried everything and nothing, and the only thing that keeps me functioning and not suicidal or homicidal is antidepressants (SSRI’s, to be precise).  I’ve come to accept that, but I recently got married.  My mom always warned me that SSRI’s can kill your sex life (specifically ability to orgasm) but there was not much I could do: if I stop taking them or try alternative therapy, I have very bad side effects from weight gain to nausea to suicidal tendencies.  I just figured that since I followed God\’s will and was abstinent until I got married that He would reward me for it.
Now I am happily married for a year and a half, but have never orgasmed and really don’t have sex much.  I feel like I’m missing out on a very important aspect of marriage and I just spent the better part of an hour weeping for the loss (or lack) of intimacy with my husband.
I search the internet for treatments or ways to combat this ‘side effect’ and the only answer is “there is no treatment but to stop SSRI’s”.
So that’s it:  I either never ever have a fulfilling relationship with my husband, or I risk a downward spiral of withdrawal, sickness, mood swings, and stay-in-bed-all-day depression.
I really want prayer and support but this isn’t a subject that is appropriate for announcing at prayer meeting or discussing with my pastor or small church congregation.  I don’t have anyone to confide in, I just… need a miracle.  The first answer is finding a current website devoted to Christian sexuality, and I very grateful for that.

So, first off, yes, we’ll pray for you, and I’m sure there are many readers who will as well.  I know we have some prayer warriors out there in the community.

But, I did have some thoughts, or perhaps questions, from a non-medically trained lay-person.

Different drugs have different side-effects

I’m wondering if you’ve tried to alter the brand of medication (with your doctor’s approval and observation of course).  Some SSRI’s are very well known for killing sex drives, like Paxil, Zoloft and others.  But there are some that are not quite as harsh on the sex drive for many people.  At least, they have lower reported cases of sexual side effects.  I constantly hear good things about the Bupropion family of SSRIs (Wellbutrin, Aplenzin or Forfivo XL), the Mirtazapine family (aka Remeron), and Vilazodone (Viibyrd).  But, these are just what often cause lower.  There’s no guarantee they will in you.  It could be that those others that have high cases of sexual dysfunction as a side-effect have no effect on you.  Basically: Ask your doctor if there are some options that won’t kill your sex drive.  If they aren’t interested in discussing it, get a new doctor.  Unfortunately many doctors don’t see sexual side-effect as a serious problem.

Different dosages or frequencies can have different effects

I also know that sometimes it’s possible to change the dosages and frequencies to achieve different effects.  I’m not qualified or educated enough to even give examples, but I do know in other areas, like ADHD, doctors and patients often try switching between slow-release and quick-release medications and different dosages at different times of the day to keep down certain side effects are certain times.

For example, with ADHD (particularly inattentive type), often people will take a higher dosage, slow-release pill in the morning to get them through the entire day, but then a quick-release, lower dosage at night so that it wears off by bedtime so they can sleep better, because the medication keeps their brain focused during the day, but at night, you need to be able to let go and drift off to sleep.

Perhaps there is some pattern like that that can be used for your situation.  Again, ask your medical professional who is qualified to give proper advice.  I’m just asking questions about whether it’s possible.

Sex drive is a misleading term

Lastly, sex drive is a misleading term.  Many women think they have no sex drive because there is no force pushing them to have sex (other than their husband).  But, this is true for the majority of women.  That’s not a dysfunction, it’s fairly typical.  Women often have sex drives that are more reactive than proactive.  It might be an idea to agree to have sex even if you’re not “in the mood”, to see if you can get there once it’s started.

As for not orgasming, and not enjoying sex, that’s a difficult position to be in.  You can try more foreplay (like a full body massage), mutual masturbation, sex toys, or some less conventional activities if you haven’t already.  And you may need to learn to communicate more about what feels good during sex.  And in the end, even without orgasm, many wives tell me that sex still makes them feel emotionally connected, that it’s not critical (though it would be nice).  Of course, not everyone will agree with that, I’m just relaying what some have said.  Individual wives will of course vary.


So, in short, yes, we can pray for a miracle, but let’s not let that get in the way of asking questions about what can be done in the mean time.

Looking for help?

23 thoughts on “Sexual Side Effects of Medication”

  1. libl says:

    I would also recommend gut healing through the GAPS or SCD diets. The state of our digestive tract can have a HUGE impact on the rest of our body and mind. I know a woman who lessened much of her child’s autism symptoms through simple dietary changes. A friend of mine has gone from suicidal and manic to successful fitness instructor and empowerment coach by changing her diet and discovering what foods her body negatively reacts to. (Counseling, therapies, and adjusted medications were/are still in the picture, but the dietary changes keep her from being dependent on life-altering and side effect problematic doses).

    1. Jay Dee says:

      Oh yes, good point, thank you. I completely forgot to mention that.

  2. Norah says:

    Oh My GOODNESS!!!!! This is exactly why I’m in school to help couples like this. I’m praying already. My heart is grieving. I agree with Jaydee you don’t have to have a drive to have sex. Alot of foreplay before hand will help. If your just married over a year don’t worry,it took me maybe two years before I had an orgasam with my husband. They kinda take practice. Since I found the blog and others have I recently started started having an orgasam every time we make love. Before I had them but they were few and far in between. It was like he nor I knew how imorotant they were for me.This month I will be married 13 yes we’ve been together 14 years. With this blog and some personal coaching I have been able to speak up nicely and camly for my needs. Even if they’re meet half way be patient. You got your while life to work on this. Your starting now that’s the greatest thing about. You guys will get there.

  3. original poster says:

    Thanks so much. I originally asked the question, so I want answer personally: I have tried Wellbutrin and Remeron in the past (before I got married) not for sexual side effects obviously but for other side effects or when my medication stopped having any effect. I think Wellbutrin made me sick, and Remeron caused me to gain 10 pounds in just 2 weeks – weight that had taken a year to get off without dieting but merely changing my exercise and eating habits. To see all that effort ruined was awful!
    I want prayer as well because I just moved to a new area and need to find a new doctor. My old one knew me and my family for many many years so I am nervous about leaving that familiarity, and frustrated that I have to explain everything allll over again to a new GP! I’m also going to ask my women’s healthcare provider about a different birth control to help balance my hormones (I’ve used that for over 10 years as well, for medical purposes).

    I love the idea of changing a diet and lifestyle. I moved overseas for several years and back, and its a struggle for my innards to adjust to those changes. I’ve been trying to eat more “natural” and every change I make seems to have some affect that frustrates me – from digestive to cramps to heartburn, and I admit a lot of it is not knowing how long to persevere with a diet and allow time for changes, or to quit immediately because it makes me feel bad. How long do I try vitamins or herbal supplements, spending money that may or may not work for me?

    I guess its clear that I need to really work with a doctor, but it will be a few more months before we get insurance. So until I have the means to take control, I pray for the endurance to hang in there!

    1. Jay Dee says:

      Hi! I’m so glad you commented. It’s rare I actually get a response.

      Hormonal birth control can also have a serious effect on libido. Unfortunately, coming off hormonal birth control can take weeks, months, or even years to reset from. They’re brutal on some people.

      And yeah, detoxing from certain foods can be worse than dealing with the foods themselves. But at least it’s temporary.

      I can’t say how long you should try. Around here, health food stores have qualified professionals that can give advice, do you have something like that in your area?

      1. original poster says:

        I’m really uncomfortable with the health food and diet professionals, because as much as one group swears by something, another says its the worst thing in the world. Even GAPS has critics that made me think twice, although eating more natural foods and less processed, less sugar, and trying to eliminate one common allergen at a time (a few weeks without dairy, a few weeks without gluten, etc) seems fine over all.
        I am glad to have become aware of the side effects of birth control. I started quite young for menstrual problems, so the sexual side effects didn’t matter at all (and I wouldn’t have even known).

        1. Ian says:

          I was reading threw the comments and saw some ppl suggesting different drugs, i read some stuff about 5 htp a year ago or so. Its a natural product that has had a lot of research, this link has some good info about it . Ive heard of ppl being able to slowly stop taking the pharmaceutical stuff. Also Maca Root has some interesting properties to it. Ill let you do your own reading. Also, make sure you dont claim the depression as your own. We all make the mistake of owning what ailes us ? ill be praying for you and your spouse, that it will loose itself from you and that u can walk free of it? bless you !

    2. Kay says:

      Hi OP,

      I noticed that you are on hormonal birth control for your hormones. I used to do the same thing until I realized my birth control that was actually making my depression worse. For those of us who are sensitive to hormones, birth control is a really bad idea. I highly recommend going off of it and finding an alternative method. (I use FAM.) I am currently taking Wellbutrin for postpartum depression, but I am researching more about hormones right now and I wonder if low progesterone has been my problem all along. I am seeing so many stories of women who were able to quit their depression meds by using bio identical progesterone cream. I am going to see my doc to get my hormones tested as soon as I can get an appointment. I encourage you to look into this too! I’m looking into essential oils too.

      I second what others said above. It took me a long time to learn to orgasm. I think my birth control played a huge role in limiting that and making arousal very difficult. Now that I am off, I will never go back on. I had no idea how awful it was making me feel.

      How long did you take the Wellbutrin? I always felt a little nauseous, dizzy, and shaky when I first get on it or increase my dose, but it evens out in 4-6 weeks. I am also on the mood stabilizer seroquel. SSRIs always stopped working for me after a while and made me even more suicidal.

      I also HIGHLY recommend vitamins and supplements to ease your symptoms. I was able to eliminate my PMDD in between pregnancies this way. I rec a B complex (with C), vit D, cal mag zinc, probiotics, and a very high dose of omega 3s.

      I hope you find something that works for you! My best friend was on Celexa and it almost ruined her marriage because of its impact on her sex life, so please know you are not alone! She found some form of herbal alternative that works for her anxiety.

      1. Kay says:

        Oh and my mom went on Prozac back in 09 and suddenly was unable to orgasm after 30 years of marriage and no problems. I am sorry to say that I don’t know if there is anything you can do to reverse the sexual side effects of SSRIs except to find some other way to manage your symptoms.

        (I am probably going to have to do the GAPS diet eventually myself. I agree with the above poster; SO much of our health starts in the gut!)

      2. original poster says:

        Thanks! I went on birth control since a few years after I started menstruating, because it was irregular and deathly heavy. I am certainly interested in alternative methods, but they would have to continue to regulate my menstrual cycle (or I’ll be bleeding out for 6 months, then neither of us wants sex!)

        The wellbutrin was quite a while ago. Talking about this makes me realize that my body has certainly changed since I last tried all the various treatments, and perhaps its time to try again. MOSTLY possible because at the moment I’m a stay-at-home housewife and if something happens, I can just deal with it. Previously, I’d be making these adjustments in the middle of SCHOOL, and WORK and being involved in my church, so it was VERY difficult to go through these adjustments publicly; I am so very blessed to be in a transition mode right now, we just moved, my husband has a good job, and I have some wiggle room to consider my future and prepare for freelancing, working online, or choosing PT work. So NOW would be the time to get all this weird stuff out of the way!

        1. Kay says:

          “Deathly heavy” sounds like estrogen dominance/low progesterone! 😉 I had blood drawn today; I am eager to see what my hormone levels are. Have you had another baby since you originally started the SSRI? Each baby can really change things for us hormonally, so what used to be true for you may no longer be the case. My cycles were very different after each kid. Apparently my last baby really messed me up, lol. I hope you are able to figure things out! We are all so different. I hope you are able to begin a new chapter now!

          1. Original poster says:

            No kids at all, and we don’t want any at this point. If God puts that desire in my heart, I think I’d lean toward adoption after working in orphanages a few years ago.

    3. libl says:

      You sound like the perfect candidate for GAPS and/or SCD diets. I went through a time recently where my guts just gave out on me. I couldn’t eat much of anything without getting sick, do I just ate what healthful foods I could tolerate and slowly added to it according to what is SCD legal. Now, I can eat most foods just fine, but I cannot eat commercial bread products and only small amounts of homemade bread products.

      I feel better and have better brain clarity.

      Another thing that helped was getting off of social media. It amazed me how much it had an effect on me. I went from having days where I scrolled through status updates and could barely get out of bed to having good days filled with activity and interests, and not losing my temper at my kids all the time.

      I am not saying such things are a cure-all. I am just saying that really take a good look at your life and lifestyle and see if there are little things you can do to help yourself.

  4. Brent says:

    As a pharmacist I hear this on a regular basis. The FDA just approved a new medication specifically for female sexual desire. I would recommend that you talk with your doctor about the options that are available to you. Thought and prayers coming your way.

    1. Jay Dee says:

      Yeah, if you’re in the USA, you can ask about flibanserin, the medication Brent mentioned. Canada and many other countries have yet to approve it.
      Also, I understand it only helps 10% of women, so while it’s worth asking about, it’s not a miracle pill.
      And make sure you are aware of the risks and side-effects. But that goes for any medication.

    2. original poster says:

      Thanks for reading!
      I heard about this, but I’m not at all interested in 1) such a new medication that hasn’t had time to really know the effects 2) something that is rumored to have been pushed through FDA for political reasons and 3) even MORE medication, ideally I’d like to take less, preferably vitamins and herbs if I must pop a pill.

  5. ArBrown says:

    Its not just SSRI meds that effect sex drive. A lot of Blood pressure meds do it as well. In men especially it can induce erectile dysfunction. I know because it is what my husband and I live with. It takes a lot of work and patience but sex can be wonderful and fulfilling even with issues.

  6. Anonymous says:

    My wife of 35+ years has never experienced a true orgasm. She also has low sex drive and is uncomfortable with initiating sex Less than 10 occurrences in 35 years). We have come to accept this despite seeking a variety medical assistance over the years. God has given us strength to overcome the anger and bitterness over our situation. Heaven will be so much better than any sex on earth!

    1. Norah says:

      ??? that truly breaks my heart hugs

  7. Susie says:

    I, too, didn’t know what I was missing for a good long time into my second marriage. I was married for 6 years and had 2 children before I experienced the first orgasm of my life. WOW!!!!! All I knew was I wanted more! I guess my hormones changed after the birth of my 2nd one or something…no clue what the real reason was…but it was worth the wait. If you’re in the same boat I was in, don’t give up!

  8. Bryan says:

    We have been married almost 19 years. My wife took birth control pills for the first half of our marriage and I am certain it diminished her desire for sex. She has been free of them since the birth of our last child (now 9) and had her tubes tied since she was already opened up for a c-section. It took several years, but occasionally now she exhibits a strong sexual desire. I don’t expect her to have the same “drive” as I do, but I like the “no birth control” her way better!

  9. Anonymous says:

    I myself struggle with depression. I recognized symptoms after having my children. When I asked my OB about anti-depressants he said he would not perscribe them because he didnt like them. Im so glad I followed what he believed, my journey has been tough but my faith has really been what I needed to get through. I will pray for you. Try doing something you’ve been holding yourself back from, something small. Then see how good it makes you feel. Its a start but you have nothing to loose.

  10. original poster says:

    just an update: I’m weaning off the anti-depressant, and the side effects of withdrawal are… just awful. If you’ve been through it, I don’t need to tell you, if you haven’t, then look up forums on “SSRI withdrawal” and welcome to my horrible world.
    I’m spending a ton of money to see a naturopathic doctor and counselor, and of course my GP. First consult is next week, so my fingers are crossed that I can get through this. Some scary tales tell of PERMANENT side effects of SSRI’s.
    Someday I hope to want a sex life at all…. for now I just want a life, period. 🙁

Share your thoughts

Becoming More Sexually Engaged - For Christian Wives Course - Cohort starting this Sunday