When you’re feeling really down, sex is normally the last thing on your mind. Add certain medications into the mix, and it can be a downright no-go. I had been warned a loss of sex drive was a side effect of taking antidepressants, but I guess you never really think that the side effects are going to affect you, do you? What are the chances? 1 in 10’000? 1 in 100? 1 in 10?
Truth is, it’s more like a 7 out of 10 chance. A low, or lack of sex drive, alongside a complete inability to orgasm, is among one of the most common complaints amongst people taking antidepressants, particularly (but not only) those on SSRIs, and this is often with immediate effect even from a relatively low starting dose.
So when I began taking regular meds I quickly noticed the change in me. First it was a like strange kind of solid… stability. With no hormone changes to upset my balance I felt wonderfully numb to any sort of drive or desire for anything sexual. It was as if that part of my mind had just been wiped. And I became increasingly aware of how everyone else is driven by it, even exploited by it – adverts, social media, fashion, music – all of it became laughable and down right boring to me.
But, of course, these drives (to eat, to sleep, to survive, to win, to have sex) are all part of what makes us human. And, as good as it was to feel a little more stable in myself, I also felt strangely distant from what made me… well, me.
Over time, I’ve realised what just a huge part of me this drive is. I am proud of how I look, and I guess something in my libido drove me to put more effort into my appearance to others, to care about what I eat, to work out more. To be deemed sexually attractive I guess. Now? I couldn’t care less. I eat healthily, and I am physically active still- but it is more of an internal caring for my physical health (I want to give my body the best chance I can for my mind to get better). No longer have I got that fierce drive behind my intentions, to make me run faster, further, harder like I did before. It is as if my competitive streak has been wiped along side my libido. And while this is healthy in some senses (I am, like, the most zen person in the gym), in other ways it is… kind of boring. And it can make it hard for me to connect with someone else, as I just can’t comprehend their desire to win.
Any activity that has any sort of sexual connotation is completely lost on me. Certain music types go straight over my head, let alone watching the videos that go with them. Dancing, which I used to love to the extent that I wouldn’t drink when we went night-clubbing so as to enjoy it more, has become almost a completely lost art to me. Clubbing itself is down right weird, let alone dressing up for it. Flirting and teasing is an absolute null, which I guess was a larger part of my interactions with others, gay, straight or otherwise, than I cared to realise before. Having proudly declared myself on my personal statement as ‘friendly, approachable and highly social’, I often now find myself with no desire to connect with new people I meet at all, let alone put any effort into my existing friendships. Jokes are lost on me, and I find myself more and more with nothing to add to conversation. I feel boring, dull, and not worthy of their friendship. Of course, much of this could be linked with my depression rather than my lack of libido, but it’s all mixed up and it’s not always easy to separate one from the other.
One thing that is definitely down to the side effects however, is how physical contact feels to me. I have been through a few occasions where I feel empty… completely uninterested in any sort of contact with anyone. Even just a touch on the shoulder might irritate me, rather than feel like a comfort. Being turned on at times feels more like a dull ache, a mild annoyance, than anything enjoyable. And, of course, not wanting to be insincere with my partner or myself, this leads to more and more physical rejection from me. Which puts more and more pressure on my partner to be constantly constantly patient and not get upset for me. I can’t even fathom the strength of character that Rich has shown for all of those times. He is my rock, and I love him so much.
I went from being one of the most tactile people in my circle of friends to one who would avoid physical contact at all costs. More and more distancing from the things that once gave me comfort. From my friends, from my partner, from myself.
And what about love?
As my energy lifted, I realised that sometimes there was more than just a lack of libido going on. It could be more like a distinct lack of, well… anything. My antidepressants were, at times, having a profound effect on my feelings of personal connection. Ie. I was struggling to feel, and sometimes even understand the concept of love. In any sense. Romantic, parents and their children, even friendship.
Of course, the one who noticed my lack of connection the most was the one closest to me, Rich. These extreme feelings of ‘nothingness’ would only last a few days at a time, thankfully, but still- it’s incredibly alarming and distressing when you look at the one who you’ve decided to spend the rest of your life with for some sort of comfort and still feel no interest of joy in life. Sometimes I would try to challenge the feelings, but the more I did that, the more empty I seemed to feel inside.
The physical side effects were excusable as being down to the drugs, but it was hard to find an excuse for the lack of love I was feeling. Even harder to discern whether these were genuine, completely natural feelings of my own, or whether it was just the depression making me think things I wouldn’t if I were healthy. Unless you’ve ever felt something like this yourself, it’s perhaps impossible for me to explain what it’s like to not be able to trust your own mind to know what’s best for you. It was a huge comfort to me therefore when I found studies online validating this very sensation. It helped me to explain it to others and, mainly, to comfort myself. As a creative type I had always invested a huge amount of my life to indulge in feeling through art, music, and performance. I quickly realised there was actually nothing I considered more terrifying in this world than to be unable to feel.
Add into this a mixture of self-hate, overthinking, and a general dissatisfaction with life from my depression (to put it mildly), and what can start out with a small doubt as to whether you are enjoying a conversation over coffee with one of your friends, can end up with you thinking that you just want to end your relationships with everyone you know, and even end your life.
And all from a side effect of the meds that are meant to be helping you to get better.
The negatives seem to outweigh the benefits of taking the medication in the first place at all. But the good news is that there is a huge variety of agents for treating depression, and it is very normal for it to take a handful of attempts to find the right one for you.
The real problem is that doctors don’t seem to prioritise this subject when discussing depression and antidepressants with their patients. I only became aware that a lack of libido was a possible side effect of meds when I actually felt it happen for myself and then researched it. I know that GPs are under a huge amount of stress, especially when it comes to fitting it all in a appointment barely 10 minutes long, but still. I have so far seen at least 5 GPs, and 2 psychotherapists, and only 1 of those 7 ever asked me directly about my relationship with my partner, and certainly not about my satisfaction with my sex life.
The only other times I have discussed this with healthcare professionals is when I have been the one to bring up the subject myself. When this happens, maybe I have asked the wrong questions, but it has always focused around the physical side effects of the medications (the physical lack of libido), and even then not in terms of what that means for me personally or emotional.
The answer from my doctors has always been that ‘if it’s not too detrimental to your relationship, then it’s not worth changing the meds’. And I understand that, I do, I really do. I know full well how long it can take for these medications to kick in- weeks, even months long sometimes. And the thing is, it’s not “too detrimental” to my relationship, despite having gone on for over 9 months now, because Rich and I talk about it. We have gone through a lot of pain together because of it, and, luckily for me, he’s much cleverer than to actually listen to me when I’m down. So we are strong. So strong.
So I continue taking my meds, and I continue putting up with some days feeling distant, and some days knowingly hurting the ones I am close to in my pushing them away, and I wait for some magic lift of my depression. And when I talk to my doctor, my lack of libido remains low on the list, understandably perhaps, when it’s placed under such things as ‘suicidal feelings’ and ‘lost sense of purpose’. The question is, how much of that ‘lost sense of purpose’ is the depression any more, or how much is it actually enforced by the low sex drive?
But that doesn’t mean that it’s not still a huge problem for me, and affects Rich too, and it is certainly detrimental to my mental state. More than anything, I hate that I bring him pain sometimes, even if it is my illness, rather than me that is causing it – it can be so hard to discern the two from each other at times. Nothing is black and white.
It’s a difficult subject to discuss it seems, even for me, and I’m not exactly shy when it comes to expressing my feelings. But that, if anything, raises the flag to me that it’s something that we need to talk about more.
Medications have proven to be effective in treating depression, so it’s not something that we should be scared of doing because of the side effects. Equally though, more people need to realise that discussing personal and private thoughts and feelings with a medical practitioner can be as relevant to your treatment and recovery as the physical symptoms themselves.
I don’t really know what I’m trying to achieve by sharing all of this with you, but I can only hope that it helps someone out there to see this all written down and realise that they aren’t alone in feeling how they do. Because at the moment when I type into my search bar ‘what it feels like when you lose your libido’, I just get tips on how to get it back and what might have caused it, rather than anything on what it actually means for someone to go through it.
So I hope this made sense to someone out there, because god knows I’ve spent enough hours trying to work it out myself.
I just want to say a huge thank you to Rich for allowing me to talk about this publicly, as obviously this doesn’t just affect me, but is hugely personal for him too. Probably that’s yet another reason it’s hard to talk about openly, especially if you have a long term partner, because it’s very much about them too.
I hope you’re all well,
Stay breezey 😘