This past summer I started taking Lexapro, a common selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, or SSRI, to treat my anxiety and depression from complex PTSD. As soon as I began the medication, I started hearing the horror stories.
“Say goodbye to your sex drive!”
“I’m going off of it because it took away my orgasms.”
“Lexapro makes cumming soooo hard.”
“SSRIs are a nightmare for your clitoris”
As someone who always had a profoundly strong sex drive, I was terrified. My life was stressful enough -- that’s the whole reason I needed to go on medication. How would I function without the intense relief and joy I got from orgasms?
Lexapro is one of the most commonly prescribed medications for depression because it has way less side effects than the alternatives, the catch being that one of those side effects is a pretty big deal. The good news I heard was that for most people, after a 1-2 month adjustment period, the sex drive will return. At least in part. For some, it never would, and they would have to switch medications if they wanted it back. Psychotic drugs have a wide range of effects on different people because brain chemistry varies so much from person to person. Finding the right kind and dose was a journey of trial-and-error. I had no choice but to toss my name in the ring and wait to see how the hell Lexapro would affect me.
After the first two weeks of daily doses, I noticed the difference. I realized that for the past few days, I hadn’t even thought about masturbating. It was usually the first thing on my mind when I wake up in the morning, but I simply didn’t have any physical interest in the activity.
After 3 weeks, I decided I needed to at least try. With my vibrator between my legs, a beautiful lesbian porn scene before me, I got to work. Bzzz. Bzzz. I felt nothing… at all. The buzzing on my once extremely sensitive nether regions tickled me at most and irritated me at worst. Defeated and upset, I threw my vibrator across the room.
I wanted to give up, but as the days went by, I noticed myself smiling more and crying less. Before I started Lexapro, I was sobbing at a bare minimum once a day. Now, I was dancing on the subway platform while I waited for the train. I thought: did I really need orgasms when life was now one big orgasm? But deep down, I knew this was just me trying to make myself feel better after losing something I once held so dear.
I also started to re-examine how I felt about sex in general. I was struck at how much time I had on my hands now that I wasn’t constantly thinking about and pursuing sex. Since puberty, I had pretty much been a slave to my own sex drive. I realized that while sex can be beautiful and extremely beneficial, needing sex to function is not. In my newfound asexuality, I contemplated how many of my former messy decisions I would have avoided if I had not prioritized sex over my friendships, relationships, hobbies, and interests. While this side effect wasn’t meant to help with my depression, the change it had on my relationship with sex and with myself was life-changing.
Five weeks in, I felt a small urge. Could it be…? I decided to try masturbating again. Porn blasting, vibrator in hand, I said a silent prayer to whatever god is in charge of Clits. I imagine her name is Beana, Goddess of FUCK YES! She heard my call. It was softer, gentler, more subtle than my orgasms of past. But there was no denying what it was - a triumphant SSRI climax. Depression: 0. Summer: 0.5.
I started masturbating more and more, and by the 2-month mark, my orgasms were getting pretty goddamn good. My sex drive was present and growing, but it was submissive. It didn’t own me. I could keep it in a box and take it out when I wanted to. Sex went from being my religion to be one of the many hobbies that I enjoy.
At a Halloween party, I finally broke the seal and had sex with someone other than myself. It had been so long that I wanted to take it slow, but down below a STORM was brewing. The rainy season was upon us. The Hoover Dam broke. The valley was flooded.
I was euphoric -- I had cum so far. Three months ago I had been depressed and horny, two months ago I had been completely asexual, and now I was both happy and wet as a motherfucker. Though I’m glad to have my orgasms back, the journey has made me realize how valid and beneficial life on the asexuality spectrum can be. As we actively fight to normalize sex in our society, especially for women, we also need to normalize not having sex.
I was lucky to start my medication as a single person with no current sex partners, so I didn’t have anything to explain or try to navigate with anyone but myself. However, there are hundreds of thousands of partnered people who start sex-drive squashing drugs every year. Communication here is absolutely essential. You need to explain your new needs and feelings to your partner and work out a solution that both of you are comfortable with. It’s not okay to pressure someone into sexual activities if they don’t want to, or can’t, but it’s also not okay to pressure your partner into abstaining from sex acts because you’re out of commission.
Polyamory is an incredible option for people with all levels of sex drive -- it allows each partner to have their needs met while remaining committed to the relationship. Whichever situation you work out, it’s imperative that no one feels guilty.
If you’re someone who is considering going on medication for depression or anxiety, don’t let the horror stories hold you back. Lexapro fundamentally changed my life for the good. My depression is gone and I am still getting off. I was lucky to have my sex drive return, but it’s also important to know that if your SSRI doesn’t work for you in any of the ways you want it to after the adjustment period, you can switch off of it! Finding the right medication and dose takes time.
Your mental health is more important than your sex life. And you just might find that you don’t actually have to sacrifice one for the other.