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Antidepressants and Sex Drive: A Guide on How to Manage

Photo of Dr Katherine Hertlein
Reviewed by Dr Katherine Hertlein,
created by Blueheart
created by Josh Green
created by Sophie Browness
Photo of Dr Katherine Hertlein
Reviewed by Dr Laura Vowels,
created by Blueheart
created by Josh Green
created by Sophie Browness

264 million people experience chronic depression around the world. Treating and understanding depression is on the World Health Organization's top priority list.

So many people suffer from depression. Thankfully, there are treatment options that provide real relief from depression symptoms.

Though like any other medication, antidepressants have some side effects. One of those side effects is a lower sex drive, or Antidepressant-Induced Sexual Dysfunction. Low sex drive or a loss of libido can be embarrassing and distressing, especially when the only other option seems to be not taking antidepressants. 

But don't give up on treating your depression. Here is everything you need to know about antidepressants and sex drive.

How do antidepressants affect sex drive?

A lower sex drive is a common side effect of depression. People who experience low sex drive because of their depression often find that antidepressants can actually improve their libido.

But for some, antidepressants either enhance an existing libido problem or create a new side effect. Many antidepressants work directly with your serotonin production, which is an important component of arousal and orgasm. Sometimes it can block those hormone receptors from getting serotonin during sex.

Sexual side effects from antidepressants can affect both men and women and can have varying degrees of severity.

How many people does low libido affect?

It's hard to get a true number for how many people experience low or loss of libido due to antidepressants. That's because lower sex drive is already a side-effect of depression, and many people do not report low libido as a side effect because they're embarrassed.

But sex drive is an essential part of human function, and there should be no shame about discussing the matter with trusted friends and medical professionals.

One study found that of women who take antidepressants 70-80% reported having a lower libido or trouble achieving orgasms.

If you're suffering from sexual dysfunction as a side effect of antidepressants, know you're not alone.

Side effects in men

Sexual dysfunction can have many different effects. The side effects between men and women can differ drastically.

Common male side effects:

 

  • Difficulty getting erections
  • Difficulty maintaining erections
  • Unable to reach orgasm
  • Delayed orgasm

 

Some people may experience multiple side effects, and some people may only experience one. Side effects may take effect immediately or they may not start for a couple of weeks after starting the antidepressants.

Side effects in women

Women experience a different set of side effects than men. But both men and women can feel discouraged by the effect of antidepressants on their libido.

Common female side effects:

 

  • Delayed lubrication
  • Lack of desire for sex
  • Delayed or blocked orgasm
  • Discomfort during sex (rare)

 

Men and women can experience similar effects too. These side effects aren't necessarily sexual, but they can affect a person's libido.

Side effects that affect men and women:

 

  • Weight gain
  • Sluggishness
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness

 

There are so many antidepressants on the market today. Generally, antidepressants work the same way. But there are differences, and some antidepressants have a higher likelihood of affecting a person's sex drive.

Which antidepressants affect sex drive?

Antidepressants in general are associated with causing sexual side effects. Though, some medications have more of a reputation for affecting people.

These antidepressants and their name brand counterparts are most likely to affect libido:

 

  • Citalopram
  • Duloxetine
  • Escitalopram
  • Paroxetine
  • Fluoxetine
  • Sertraline

 

Any antidepressant can cause sexual side effects. The ones listed above are SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor), which work by raising a person's serotonin levels. This is one of the major antidepressant medication types, that is also known to affect sexual function.

These kinds of antidepressants affect sex drive by blocking the hormone receptors that are activated during sex, hence, decreasing sex drive.

Experiencing a lowered sex drive is a distressing experience. And understandably so. Sex is an important aspect of many romantic relationships. Suddenly feeling a lower sexual desire and experiencing lower sexual activity can lead to SDD, or Sexual Desire Discrepancy, which might affect your relationship.

What can you do if your personal sex drive is lower than normal because of antidepressants?

How to help antidepressants and sex drive

Antidepressants are extremely helpful for people with depression. They alleviate some of the harsh symptoms around the disease.

If you're experiencing sexual dysfunction because of antidepressants, it can overshadow the positive benefits you're getting from the medication.

It's important to acknowledge that you're having these side effects and communicate freely with your partner and doctor about it.

Communication plays a big role in finding a solution that works for everyone. Below are some tried and true methods for reducing sexual side effects from antidepressants.

Be patient

If you just started taking a new antidepressant, you may start to feel some side effects right away, including low libido. Side effects like nausea and dizziness are very common for people within the first few weeks or even months of taking an antidepressant.

These side effects eventually fade away as your body gets used to the new antidepressant. Lowered libido may also go away with time. If your sex drive does not return after an extended time, then you should ask your doctor about other options.

Speak with your doctor

Doctors are well aware that a lowered sex drive is a common side effect of antidepressants. Communicate freely with your doctor about your experience and side effects so they can come up with a solution.

Dosage

Sometimes lowering your antidepressant dosage can help with sexual side effects. You should never lower your dosage without a doctor's instructions.

Type of antidepressant

Another antidepressant might not have the same side effects for you. Every person who takes antidepressants experiences different side effects.

Your doctor might also recommend supplementing your antidepressants with another kind of medication, like Wellbutrin. Since SSRI medication can cause serotonin blockers, another kind of medication may be able to stop the blocking.

If switching medications or lowering your dosage is no longer an option, you can try other methods to reduce sexual side effects.

Timing matters

You're more likely to feel a lowered sex drive right after you take your antidepressants. In contrast, your sex drive is likely to be higher the hours before your next dose, when the effects of the medication start to wear out.

Timing your dosage to when your most likely to have sex can help make sure your sex drive remains strong when you need it. For example, if you're most likely to have sex in the evening, then you probably want to take your antidepressants in the morning.

Beware of taking breaks from medication

Some people may want to take a few days off their medication to get relief from the side effects they're experiencing. This kind of thinking is tempting, but be aware that it's flawed.

Stopping your medication for any reason, even for a few days, won't result in any symptom relief. In fact, it may cause a relapse in the illness the medication is treating or withdrawal symptoms like nausea and dizziness.

Self-dosing and self-medication is never a good idea. If you think you're ready to stop taking medication or lower your dosage, speak to your doctor first.

Supplement antidepressants with alternative therapies

Other forms of therapy can be beneficial for treating the root issue that may be causing lower libido. Therapy may also assist with treating the depression you're taking medication for in the first place.

Forms of talk therapy can help a person better understand their desires and drives, including sex drives. Couples where one, or both, partner suffers from depression can benefit from couples therapy or sex therapy to help form new understandings and trust that result in higher sex drives.

You may also want to try natural supplements or acupuncture to help with the sexual side effects of antidepressants.

Many times, people find that exercise helps them to raise their sex drive. It may be helpful for partners to exercise together or experiment with new forms of stimulation.

No matter what method you try, both parties need to be on board, and that involves a lot of communication.

Communicate with your partner

It's easy to close off your partner when your sex drive is low. But remember that relationships are more than sexual interactions.

Communicate with your partner about the contribution that your medication has on your sex drive and how it's affecting you. For example, share with your partner how it may take longer for you to feel aroused. Tell them what time of day you're most likely to want sex, and discuss how often you want to have sex.

It may feel like you're taking some spontaneity out of the interaction, but communication is a key ingredient to emotional connection. You may find that forming a stronger emotional bond helps to strengthen your sex drive.

Be honest

Depending on a person's background or personality, they may be uncomfortable talking about sex. When you're communicating with your partner or your doctor, be truthful about the symptoms you're feeling.

If you're not honest about the side effects you're having, then your doctor and partner won't know what help or support you need.

Don't blame

A low sex drive can lead to frustration, especially within relationships. When that happens, people tend to blame others. But, blaming your partner or yourself for a lack of sex drive can only worsen the problem.

Remember that it's a side effect of depression and antidepressants, and it's no one's fault. Keep a positive spirit, and you'll be back to normal in no time.

Be creative and work together

You and your partner may find it helpful to step outside of your comfort zone. New experiences stimulate different parts of your brain. Opening new pathways can help you to regain your sex drive.

Some people find that sex toys, role-playing, or other forms of intimacy help them get more aroused and orgasm easier when they have a lower libido.

Practicing non-sexual acts of intimacy can help reestablish trust and romantic bonds. Many couples find it helpful to practice mindfulness together and focus on the present, as well as each other.

the pressure off having sex can be helpful too. Instead of planning on having sex one night, try planning to just be together and cuddle or touch each other in a non-sexual way.

If it leads to sex, then great. If not, then you didn't disappoint yourself or your partner.

Of course, other factors may lead to a lower libido. If that's the case, other treatments may be more helpful.

Determine if there are other factors

There are more things than depression and medications that can affect a person's sex drive. All sorts of psychological and physical things can affect a person's libido.

Hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD) or the female equivalent (Female Sexual Interest/Arousal Disorder) are commonly untreated disorders. A person with either of these disorders has no desire for sex or intimate contact.

This is not to be confused with a person whose sexual orientation is asexual. If you don't want sex and you're ok with it, that's absolutely fine! What makes the difference is a person with HSDD or FSIAD experiences distress over their lack of desire for intimacy, which usually harms their relationships.

Outside factors can also cause sexual dysfunction. Alcohol and drug use can cause erectile dysfunction and/or lowered libido. That is also the case when going through withdrawals.

Life changes like age, stress, and having a baby can also affect a person's sex drive. These factors can emphasize an existing problem.

Check out our guide on (almost) all the different causes for low libido, if you suspect that there might be a different reason for your loss of libido.

Get help from a certified sex therapist

The unfortunate irony is that sexual dysfunction is very stressful. And yet, stress is something that can contribute to sexual dysfunction.

If you‘re suffering from the side effects of antidepressants and sex drive, it may be time to get help from a therapist. Now seeing a sex therapist might not be something on your bucket list, and you probably have a million questions about how that would look like and how it might benefit you. That's why we wrote an article talking about Everything you need to know about sex therapy.

If seeing an actual therapist isn't an option for you, for any reason at all, you will be pleased to find that Blueheart is a digital sex therapy app for couples with libido issues. It's discreet, private, and aimed at helping you have a fulfilling sex life. We use a technique called Sensate Focus, which is being used by sex therapists all over the world to help couples overcome sexual desire and arousal issues.

Try Blueheart for free to overcome your libido issues and join thousands in building a stronger, more intimate relationship.

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