By Imogen Robinson
It is a well known fact that depression can diminish your interest in sex, and that antidepressants can, somewhat counter-productively, make this problem worse.
The reasons behind loss of libido due to depression are manifold. You may simply stop gaining pleasure from sexual activity, you may lose interest in sex, your relationship may be suffering and thus your sex life, or, if you are single, the will to go out and meet people may disappear. In any case, if you’re struggling to get up, eat, shower, or go to work, chances are that having sex or masturbating aren’t high on your to-do list.
But if you have experienced loss of libido due to depression, treatment, or both, how can you go about getting it back once you are better?
According to Dr. Leila Frodsham, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, it isn’t all bad news when it comes to antidepressants, although many people do report losing their libido with certain, commonly prescribed antidepressants. For some, however, antidepressants may not affect your libido, and you may find your libido returns after your mood has improved with their help.
“Everyone is different and can metabolise drugs at a faster or slower rate,” says Dr. Frodsham. “But, while reduced levels of serotonin reduce libido, so can increased levels, along with affecting arousal and ability to orgasm.” Reduced libido can be improved, however, with certain SSRIs such as fluoxetine (Prozac).
According to Dr. Frodsham, certain SSRIs are well known for reducing libido and sexual function, such as citalopram. “Changing SSRI can improve matters,” she adds. “Riboxitone is a new SSRI that is felt to have less detrimental effect on libido. An alternative to SSRIs that has less of an effect on sexual function is agomelatine. Both of these drugs have limited availability in the UK but are more widely used in the USA.”
If changing medication isn’t an option, however, it may simply be that you need to take the pressure off yourself in order to reach a state where you’re comfortable with sexual contact again, and, indeed, desire it. Lydia, 28, who works freelance as a programme manager and writer, is one of those who found her loss of libido got worse lost after she was prescribed medication for depression and anxiety.
After losing interest in sex for a long period of time, and not enjoying it when she had it, eventually she realised that what helped her regain her sex drive was being able to trust the person she was sleeping with, despite the fact that she was still on medication.
“I think I originally lost my libido due to a combination of the depression and the medication,” she says. “Although I’m not depressed anymore, I do think I have come out of the other side knowing that having meaningless sex is something that doesn’t make me feel great, and even the thought of it makes me feel uneasy.” For now, although she thinks she has regained her sex drive, she’s more than happy only having sex when it’s with someone she trusts.
When she had lost her sex drive, she says it isn’t something that necessarily affected her a huge amount. “I was feeling so many things at the time, I don’t think losing my sex drive was high on my list of worries,” she says. “I think this was my mind’s way of telling me to focus on myself and stop wasting time and energy on other people and new relationships that ultimately left me exhausted.”
Nonetheless, she did take some small measures to try and “rediscover” her libido, namely sleeping with new people. “But I was always drunk,” she says, “and I would be completely detached from it the next day.”
While it is important to understand that loss of libido isn’t exactly the be all and end all, and that improving your mental state should absolutely take precedence above going out and desperately trying to have the wild sex life you believe everyone else must be having, Dr. Frodsham states that there is some truth to the saying that if you don’t use it you lose it.
“Sex in a longer term relationship needs some work to keep it on the agenda,” she says. “Any long term illness can affect sexual wellbeing. It is important to clear time for sex as you might do for work or social commitments and to have regular sexual contact isn’t full blown. Communication with your partner is vital in reestablishing a sexual relationship.”
Things can, of course, be different, if you weren’t already in an established, loving, sexual relationship with a long term partner before you developed depression. In Lydia’s case, she was single, and it was only when she was ready on a psychological level to engage in sex with someone she felt cared about her that she was able to enjoy it again.
“It came back at a time when I felt happier in myself and had given myself enough space for people to be able to trust how I am feeling,” she says. In short, as trite as it sounds, in Lydia’s case at least, it boiled down to be happy in herself before she was able to be happy with someone else, and physical intimacy slotted in hand in hand with mental intimacy.
Dr. Frodsham reiterates this. “Sex has varied importance for different people, but touch and intimacy have huge positive effects on both mental and physical health, so the two are not mutually exclusive.”