Sexual desire in women is something that can feel like it’s not as simple as putting a peanut butter and jelly sandwich together. As a woman, you are more like a fine, multi-course meal of an experience. Because your sexual self is made up of multiple ingredients, there are often multiple contributions to why your sexual desire is not where you may want it to be. It can feel complicated but I have you covered.
Unfortunately, when something isn’t where we want it to be we can easily be seduced by a quick fix. As I have mentioned before, quick fixes can be a trap that we don’t want to find ourselves in. Despite this, one of the fixes you may have embraced may be one of the biggest blocks to your sexual desire.
Curious? Thought so.
Many women I see have worked with have experienced depression or anxiety and in their distress, a doctor may have quickly prescribed medication with a promise of a quick path to feeling oh-so-good again. Unfortunately, the most common of the medications used to treat depression and anxiety are antidepressants and these are one of the biggest sneaky attackers to sexual desire.
What Antidepressants Do To Your Sexual Self
There’s no question that a great many medications can help people who are struggling to feel better. Unfortunately, there can be some icky drawbacks that many doctors don’t let you know, or they do let you know but quickly and when you are already overwhelmed. Antidepressants specifically are linked to an increased risk of many negative sexual side effects, including decreased libido, vaginal dryness, and orgasm difficulties. Although the medication can numb out the negative feelings of anxiety or depression, they, in turn, can cause a numbing out to other parts of you like your sexual self.
Ironically, even though the medication was supposed to help you feel better, the attack on your sexuality can make cause you to instead feel a decrease in overall happiness and satisfaction. Not exactly the outcome you want from your medication! It appears we have a modern-day Trojan Horse scenario on our hands.
How Do Antidepressants Attack Your Sexual Self?
OK, I’m going to get very educational here so feel free to skip over to what you can do if you are taking antidepressants. If your eyes start to glaze over, no hard feelings!
Antidepressants work by ensuring greater availability of the chemicals serotonin (5HT), dopamine (DA), and norepinephrine (NE) in the brain. But not all antidepressants work in the same way. Antidepressants are categorized into different “classes” and differ in how they interact with all or some of the 5HT, DA, and NE systems.
The older classifications of antidepressants—the tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)—work by targeting all three NE, 5HT, and DA systems. The newer antidepressants—the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRIs) —have unique mechanisms of action from the older class given they don’t target all three NE, 5HT, and DA systems. More specifically, the SSRIs aggressively inhibit 5HT reuptake and the SNRIs work to block the reuptake of both 5HT and NE, but not DA. The last class are atypical antidepressants -- the norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake inhibitors (NDRIs) – and do not act on the 5HT system but rather the NE and DA systems.
The varied interactions are important because the NE, 5HT, and DA systems play a role in regulating your sexual functioning. Alter these systems with medications and the result is a change in sexual functioning. Unfortunately, this change is often a negative one. Antidepressants overall have a not-so-good impact on sexual functioning but the worst are those that interact the most on the serotonin system. These include common medications like Zoloft, Paxil, and Prozac. The Atypical class of medication, including bupropion and is commonly known as Welbutrin, is arguably the best for your sexual functioning because it doesn’t interact with the serotonin system at all.
What Can You Do If You Are Taking an Antidepressant?
Knowledge is key in deciding how to best avoid undermining your overall wellbeing. When deciding to take medications, take a moment to first stop and assess your options based on the benefits and risks involved. On the one hand, not taking medication and feeling depressed or anxious can result in a negative impact on your sexual functioning. But, on the other hand, if you are taking medication that has sexual side-effects then this can also result in sexual dysfunction.
So what can you do?
You most certainly need to have an open discussion with your doctor about finding a “happy medium” between the two extremes as well as open yourself up to alternative treatment options in place of or in conjunction with your medication.
You can do this by:
Exploring a medication with a lower risk of adverse sexual side effects, such as Welbutrin.
Changing doses of your current medication to optimize the positive benefits while mitigating the negative side effects.
Consider alternative treatments, such as aromatherapy and herbal remedies like St John's Wort.
Become involved in therapeutic approaches including cognitive hypnotherapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, acupuncture, and light therapy.
Take advantage of Sex Therapy Coaching as a strategy for managing the sexual side effects of antidepressants.
When considering your options, it is vital to keep in mind individuals vary in their psychological characteristics and their genetic makeup. This means one person might be highly negatively affected by one medication or a different dose, whereas another individual might not be impacted at all. Also, alternative approaches do not always work for everyone and medications may be vital to your functioning; however, complementary and holistic approaches should not be ignored. Sure, some aren’t the quick fix but if you give them time, you can feel good and also not negatively impact your sexual self.
Given the variances of each individual’s needs, it is vital to talk through your options with your doctor before altering your treatment.
Your mental health and sexual health are both important and so you need to consider your options by weighing the pros and cons of each “cure.” Medications can come to the rescue but sometimes at a price of unwanted damage to your sexual functioning. Take the time to engage in an open discussion with your doctor about all of your options.
Although medications are just one way that your sexual desire and functioning can be negatively impacted, there are many other blocks to consider. To find out what may be blocking your sexual self from being fully free, take the quick Sexual Blocks Quiz to find out your blocks and get steps to take action today!