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Navigating Sex on Antidepressants
A question we've been getting more and more often in-store is about how to navigate the negative sexual side effects of antidepressants. The side effects can be wide and varied, but the ones we most commonly hear about are a change in the desire for sex, change in the sensation someone feels during sex, a change in ability to get or maintain erections, orgasms not feeling as satisfying, or more difficulty reaching orgasm.
We’re not doctors and we can’t offer medical advice, but we are sharing what we hope are some creative ways to get around or work with these side effects. If you're dealing with similar issues we hope you find something helpful in here. And if not, you can always email firstname.lastname@example.org to ask us more!
Talking to a Doctor
If you're experiencing these side effects and they are bothering you, we definitely recommend talking to your doctor as a first step.
The first option given is usually to work with your doctor to try a different dose or medication that works better for you. This will be a great option for some folks, but if you don’t want to change your medication or dose, that's totally fair too.
One thing some people find helpful is to have sex right before taking a dose, since the medication will be at its lowest concentration in your body.
It can be a hard thing to deal with when you've been used to having sex one way for a long time, and all of a sudden your body starts working in a different way. It is totally okay to have a grieving period about this - the way we have sex can be really connected to our identities as sexual beings, and it takes time to get used to a new "normal".
At the same time, we would definitely encourage seeing this as a chance to explore new ways of having sex. It can be easy to get stuck when trying to go "back" to something, but seeing it as an opportunity might open up some new possibilities. Maybe this is a chance to learn some massage skills, explore new fantasies, take a BDSM 101 class or incorporate mindfulness into your masturbation?
This can be especially helpful if your libido is lower than you want it to be. Intentionally surrounding yourself with things you find sexy can be a way to remind yourself that sex is a thing that you sometimes enjoy.
If orgasms aren't coming as easily as they used to, it might help to just remove the expectation of orgasm altogether. This doesn't mean you'll never have another orgasm! But in general, pressure is the enemy of pleasure, and focusing only on orgasm can get in the way of noticing other kinds of pleasure you might feel.
If you have less feeling/sensation than you used to, maybe this is an opportunity to explore different kinds of sensation on different body parts? You might find that g-spot, prostate, and/or anal play are sources of intense pleasure, even if your sensation has decreased in other areas.
We have a tendency to see sex as really genital-focused, but there are so many other parts of your body that can receive pleasure. Using things like feathers, floggers, or electro-play are all ways to re-imagine sexy sensations.
If you’re wanting to re-imagine sex for yourself, here are some questions for reflection that might help:
- What does ‘Sex’ mean to you?
- How do you define sex?
- How are those ideas supporting your pleasure? How are they getting in the way?
- Do you have any ideas about what sex “should” look like? If yes, where do those ideas come from? What are some of the impacts on your sex life?
- What body parts do you consider to be sexual? How are those areas bringing you pleasure right now? Are there other parts of your body where you’d like to explore sensation?
- What’s one new sexy thing you’re interested in trying?
Helpful Products for Navigating Sexual Changes
For Staying Harder, Longer:
Constriction rings (aka cock rings). These can be super helpful for someone who’s having trouble maintaining an erection. They often help people get harder and last longer, and there are tons of options for type, fit and style. Read our pamphlet for more info, or shop our selection.
To get that Blood Flowing:
Pumps for everybody! Pumps come in many different sizes, and help to increase blood flow to the area they’re being used on. Usually blood flow increases to your bits as you get turned on, and this is part of what causes genitals to get hard, wet, swollen, and/or extra sensitive. Sometimes antidepressants can get in the way of your brain telling your body to get aroused, so using pumps can be a way to reverse-engineer the process. Pumps can go on nipples and genitals of all sizes.
If You Can’t Get Hard:
If you’re a penis-haver and you’re unable to get hard or stay hard, there’s a definite possibility that you can still have an orgasm. The most sensitive area of most penises is in the head, so try focusing your stimulation there. Look for toys that offer a lot of sensation in that area, like the Hot Octopuss Pulse III, or a rechargeable wand with penis attachment.
To Reach Orgasm:
Masturbator sleeves can be useful for someone with an outie/penis who’s finding they’re taking longer to cum than they want to. One thing that can help with this is increasing the amount of stimulation, so really textured, lubed-up sleeves are a good option, and can be used alone or with a partner. Not pictured here is the Fleshlight Stamina Training Unit, which is designed to be extra stimulating, and might be a good choice in this situation.
Large rechargeable wands are often so powerful that the vibration goes beyond the surface and deep into your nerve endings. They can be great on a vulva or the head of a penis for helping someone reach orgasm. If you’re finding that you often plateau and can’t quite get to orgasm, try pulling one of these out toward the end of your sexy time.
The Sona Cruise by Lelo is one of several suction-y type toys that help people come quickly. These don’t tend to numb people out the way a vibrator can, but can be very intense!
Navigating Side Effects with a Partner
If you’re dealing with some sexual side effects of antidepressants, it’s probably a good idea to let your partners in on what’s happening for you. Even though it probably has nothing to do with them, many of us have a lot of insecurities about sex - it can just help ease some tension to say that it’s not them, you still find them attractive, your body is just responding to things differently. How deep you go into it might change depending on the intensity of your relationship, of course!
But even for one-night partners, giving them a little info might help them to know what hot sex looks like for you. For example, you could say something like: “Just so you know, I’m on these meds right now that sometimes stop me from getting hard. So I might not be able to fuck you with my cock tonight. But I’d still love to go down on you or use a vibrator together. Would you be into that?” You could even send this as a text message pre-Tinder hookup (and if they don’t respond well, you won’t have to waste your time on the date 🙃).
If you’re the partner of someone dealing with these side effects, try to remember that it’s not about you! Taking it personally can put more pressure on your partner, and cause a lot of anxiety just about the idea of having sex. If your partner’s not feeling sex at all right now, it might help to talk about some other ways to feel close and get some physical intimacy in - massages, holding hands, showering together... all great non-sexual ways to stay close!
A Final Word
At Venus Envy, we think consent and self-determination are central to all aspects of health & wellness. We know that lots of people have talked to their docs about the sexual side effects of antidepressants and have found that their concerns weren't taken seriously, and this really breaks our hearts.
So if you've had this happen or you're worried about this happening, we want you to know that we think it is TOTALLY valid to care about your sexual health as much as your mental health, and also valid to share your priorities with your doctor. You 100% get to decide what's important to you, and it is not silly to take your pleasure and sex life seriously. And of course, it's also a legitimate decision to decide that the sexual side effects aren't a big deal for you, or are well worth the trade-off.
Whatever decisions you make, we see you and we support you.
Content adapted from Venus Envy Ottawa's Instagram account. Originally published in November 2018. Copyright Venus Envy, all rights reserved.