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Is Your Antidepressant Giving You the Sexual Blues?

If you’re a woman who takes an antidepressant—as 1 out of 6 American women do—there’s a good chance you’re experiencing sexual problems. The specific side effects vary from woman to woman, but they can involve problems with desire, arousal, orgasm, or satisfaction. Some women even have pain during intercourse.

 

Because of these side effects, some women stop taking their medication. But this can leave them with persistent symptoms of depression, anxiety, pain, or menopausal hot flashes. Fortunately, research has shown that there are a number of ways to deal with the sexual side effects of antidepressants short of stopping them altogether. [1]

 

For low desire, the following strategies may be helpful:

  • Adding the antidepressant bupropion (Wellbutrin©)
  • Low-dose testosterone
  • Sexual or sensual activity 3 times a week
  • Acupuncture

 

For problems with arousal, phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors (Viagra©, Cialis©, Levitra©, and their generic versions) are not effective for women. But other strategies have worked better than placebo in controlled studies:

  • Exercise, especially 30 minutes before sexual activity
  • Saffron supplement

 

Orgasm problems, on the other hand, have been responsive to sildenafil (Viagra©) in some women. Other remedies include:

  • Use of a vibrator
  • Maca root

 

For women who are experiencing difficulties in a number of areas, there are other possible strategies, including:

  • Switching to an antidepressant with fewer sexual side effects
  • Waiting to see if the sexual side effects will improve
  • Reducing the dose or discontinuing the antidepressant if the underlying problem is well controlled
  • Engaging in sexual activity before taking the daily dose
  • Citronellol of Rosa damascena oil
  • Changing sexual expectations
  • Accepting that the sexual cost of taking an antidepressant is worth its benefits

 

If you’re someone who needs to take an antidepressant and is having sexual difficulties, it’s good to know that there are strategies you can try that may help improve your sex life. There are no guarantees, however, that they will work.

 

Perhaps the one recommendation that applies universally is to change sexual expectations. This approach works not only when one partner is using medication that affects sexual function but also throughout a person’s lifetime when pregnancy, children, illness, aging, and other circumstances force us to be more flexible about sexual satisfaction. We can see this as a limitation. Or we can consider it an invitation to expand our sexual repertoire.

[1] Lorenz T, Rullo J, Faubion S. Antidepressant-induce female sexual dysfunction. Mayo Clin Proc. 2016;91(9):1280-1286.

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