By Louise Allen
I have always had a very respectful, loving partnership with my nether regions. Since our ‘introduction’ in my early teens (thanks, Dolly Sealed Section), I made sure to treat her well, and she has treated me very well in return. It felt as though we were always working towards a common goal (or goals, multiple – the plus side of being a woman). Life was good. But in my early 20s, mental health got in the way, and our relationship has been complicated ever since.
My first foray into the world of antidepressants started when I confided to my GP that I couldn’t understand why I was ‘sad all the time’ (the word ‘anxious’ hadn’t yet entered my vocabulary, and so a good 50% of my issues remained unexposed), and was promptly prescribed a round of Zoloft, with (surprisingly) little questions asked. For those not in the know, Zoloft, and other selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) medications, have the very common side effect of preventing orgasm. You can get to the brink but never fall off the edge. This doesn’t sound like the worst thing until it happens. Every. Single. Time.
Until that point, it had not taken very much effort to get me to climax (I’m still unsure if this was a testament to the technique of my then-boyfriend, or to my ultra-sensitive nerve endings). But suddenly, nothing could coax an orgasm out of me. No amount of oral, lube, literotica.com, or use of a gigantic, whirring hot pink vibrator that my thoughtful, but slightly clueless, significant other had picked up for me at SexyLand, could help. Despite the fact that it sounded like a lawnmower and made me feel like I had a jittering pool noodle between my legs, I gritted my teeth and gave that vibrator my absolute all in order to finish, but all to no avail. What was wrong with me‽ My confidence and relationship began to take a nose dive.
I returned to my doctor, embarrassed but determined to find a solution to both of my issues. Surely, I pleaded, there must a way to treat my depression and reach the big O at the same time. The answer I received was not reassuring, and I eventually went off the meds. And so, I continued life as a desperately depressed 22-year-old, but all was fine because my sex life was bangin’! Until a year later when I broke up with my boyfriend, had a complete mental break down, became heavily suicidalnd was finally diagnosed with manic depression and a severe anxiety disorder.
In the decade since, I have been on (and off) every combination of anti-depressant, anti-psychoticnd anti-anxiety medications possible, and I have run the gambit of good and bad side effects. I found myself in a constant Catch-22 cycle, common to many mental health patients, of taking medication, becoming well, stopping my meds when the going was good, then crashing hard and fast. The intense horniness during those unmedicated stints was like a drug in itself after feeling numb for so long, and chasing that rush caused me to make a few (oh, who am I kidding, a lot of) poor choices regarding my sexual health and emotional wellbeing (shout out to all the cute, emotionally unavailable guys with accents who hung around Brunswick St, Fitzroy, circa 2011-2016).
My current drug combo seems to be succeeding at keeping me happy and healthy and it is unlikely that I’ll ever go anti-depressant free again. The risk is too great and I’ve had enough falls to know that my brain chemistry needs constant help. Sadly, the cost for myself, and many others is a libido that is constantly in the toilet and a very subdued V. I can reach orgasm, but it is never the leg-shaking, pillow-biting charge that it is when I am unmedicated. It seems a relatively small price to pay to retain my sanity and keep my life on track; however, I have at times genuinely grieved my missing sex drive because she was awesome. Don’t they say women reach their sexual peak in their 30s? Well, mine is M.I.A., but at least now I can get up most days and actually put on pants. You win some, you lose some.
My current partner is a very understanding dreamboat, gifted from the heavens (or Tinder, as it’s more commonly known). He is hot, generous, and very skilled in the right areas, but that all counts for naught when chemicals are crushing your hormonal instincts. And so, we work at it; we grasp opportunities when they come; we create intimacy that doesn’t revolve around sex; we listen to the podcast My Dad Wrote A Porno and think ‘it could be worse’.
Some things I have learnt along the way:
- Be mentally kind to yourself. Berating your body for not performing exactly how you want it to doesn’t help the situation and will just make you feel worse. Depression and anxiety are just as much of a libido slayer as the meds can be, so look after yourself.
- Be kind to yourself physically. Just because you might not reach the peak doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the hike. Masturbation and sex can still be pleasurable without orgasming. Or, if your current jam is ignoring your V and watching MAFS with your cat, then have at. Do whatever makes you feel good.
- Be honest with your sexual partner/s. In order to be supportive and help you, they need to know where you’re at.
- Talk to a professional. Different treatments work for different people and you always have options. If something doesn’t feel right, change it up.
- Treat yo’self. There are some amazing toys designed to assist with low libido and every woman (young or old, single or taken, horny or not) should invest in a decent tool or two. The Top Drawer page of this site is a great place to start.