Antidepressants and the Lost Orgasm


Note: this post contains frank discussion of mental health issues including suicidal ideation.

There’s a particular scene in Sex and the City that still haunts me, over a decade later. And no, it’s not Samantha force feeding her blowjob-loving date wheatgrass to sweeten the deal, or the moment Miranda decides, with her face wincingly close to the proffered hole, that ass eating is off the table. It’s not even the moment that Carrie makes a friend’s problem all about her for the hundredth time and you realise the character you most identify with is a deeply problematic role model.

The scene that gets me every time is when Charlotte tells Samantha, whose ‘loss of her orgasm’ is plaguing her, that it’s possible women only get a certain number of climaxes in their lives. And maybe Samantha’s used up all of hers. Samantha, in a rare human moment, says tearfully, ‘That’s the meanest thing you ever said to me.’

I mention it because years later, I too lost my orgasm. I wasn’t being careless with it, but given that it was hard-won to begin with, I hadn’t necessarily paid it the tribute it deserved. And then one day, I went on antidepressants and it just… went away. And like Samantha, I lost a little part of my soul.

I’d always liked having sex. But what I truly loved was masturbation.

The helpful folk on the SSRI forums had warned me that the pills can hand you back your sanity, but sometimes take away your reason for being sane, which is surely being able to enjoy all of life’s pleasures. What the hell is the point of taking a chemical supplement that makes me reasonable enough to meet a man, if I then can’t enjoy the fruits of my normal-social-interaction labour? But by that point, I’d done enough research on the pills to realise that people who post on forums often want you to feel worse about your choices. If something didn’t work for them, they need you to know it’ll be the same, if not worse, for you. They need the misery to spread, so it’s not as suffocatingly heavy a blanket over their own hearts and minds.

I’d always liked having sex. I liked it with strangers, I liked it with people I loved, and occasionally I liked it (far too much for the feminist in me) with misogynists, creeps and bros. But what I loved – truly looked forward to every day – was masturbation. Sex with myself, a person who knew from years of experience exactly how my body worked.

It had taken me a while to discover masturbation, for which I blame my upbringing – it’s hard to feel relaxed about something your mother used to turn off every time it came on TV; hell, she even tried to stop me using tampons because ‘they’re for married women’ – but since that first one, I’d never had to cajole an orgasm out of myself. To me, climaxing was like flipping a light switch in an already-lit room (or something slightly more erotic). If anything, I had the opposite problem to Samantha Jones. I had so many in the back catalogue, I never thought they’d all get their day in the sun.

‘Where was my orgasm?’

When I finally addressed the depression that had plagued me all my life, orgasms were the last thing on my mind. And even if I’d known they were already packing their bags, I wouldn’t have prioritised them. What’s a little temporary death compared to the very real and permanent death I was constantly plotting every time I watched a train approach the station?

The first week, the drugs set in, and with it, some side effects. I’d wake up in steaming pools of sweat, feeling like I hadn’t slept at all. I’d have hallucinations so harrowing involving things I’d said or done, I’d call up the bemused friend the next day to apologise for being a dick in my own nightmares. And a few times, just in that first week, I had a couple of explosive orgasms that, honestly, I’m not even sure I conjured up deliberately.

And then… nothing. And not just physically, but mentally as well. My interest in sex shrank to a burnt unpopped corn kernel, which was shocking to me. Because until that point, even in the depths of misery, I’d always still been able to find someone I wanted to fuck and who wanted the same. Now, not only did I find the human body faintly repulsive, I didn’t have the energy to go back to the source. If the idea of a cheeky day-wank ever flitted across my mind, it felt like a suggestion made in jest, like ‘I’m getting up early to go to the gym tomorrow’ or ‘I’m going to try Veganuary’.

I forced myself to try it eventually, with painful and dry results. It felt like I was hate-fucking myself. And if you’ve ever masturbated for more than half an hour without any tangible results (excluding webcam performers – you do whatever you do and I support you!), you’ll know it’s not just frustrating. It’s devastating. Where was my orgasm? When could I expect it back? And was my hand permanently in this witchy claw shape now?

‘I tried all the physical things one can try, including an ill-fated self-choking incident…’

What I found out from the internet while trawling for a quick fix (some kind of magical lube, I was hoping), was that this was not uncommon. Everyone from medical professionals to women’s magazines were telling me that yes, lowered libido, dryness and inability to climax were all side effects of the meds I was on. And the best way to combat these issues? Change the meds, come off them completely, or just learn to live with it. None of which I was in any position to do. Imagine having to choose between crying with relief or crying all the goddamn time? Incidentally, I couldn’t even cry about the whole mess, since the pills had taken away my tears, along with my sadness.

I wish someone had told me that it does get better, with time. It wouldn’t have been 100% true, but it would have probably stopped me watching increasingly horrific (morally for a feminist, not legally!) pornography in an attempt to get turned on, or even just slightly wet without a bucket of lube permanently under the bed.

I tried all the physical things one can try, including an ill fated self-choking incident that left me with the same ‘lucky to be here’ gasp of gratitude as the time I slipped in the bath, thudded down directly onto my coccyx, and for a brief second thought I’d fractured my spine into paralysis. I tried getting drunk. I tried getting stoned. I tried holding my breath. And still… nothing.

Happy ending?

It’s been a few years now and I’m pleased to report that it – and I – did make a pretty successful, if a little war-torn, come back [check out my next post for the gory details]. Of course, it isn’t the same any more. It’s a little less intense and it’s become quite the tease. You know, the friend who ditched you for the popular girls, but still wants to be friends when they’re being bitches. Being desensitised means it takes a lot more to turn me on these days, but in a way (and yes, you have to really want to see this point), it’s not a terrible thing. It’s forced me to really think about what I like, and who I’d like to do it with. It’s forced me to get to know my body better than I ever did when it was easy, and it’s forced me to have some tough conversations with myself about what is and isn’t okay to watch (conclusion: everything is fine as long as everyone wants to be there, but please god don’t let me die without closing all those windows).

Mostly though, I feel gratitude. It turns out that no matter how drugged up you are, there is no limited number of orgasms you can have. And that knowledge provides a far greater mental relief than either sex or drugs combined. That, and my bucket of lube.

Andrea is a mostly straight thirtysomething comedian and writer based in London. She writes film features, sex columns, beauty reviews, sitcoms, corporate stuff she wouldn’t put her name to, and stand-up solo shows. Check out her website for examples of her work and details of her 2018 Edinburgh Festival show ‘Holes of Joy’, watch her on NextUpComedy.com, or follow her on Twitter @ShutUpAndrea.

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