Q&A with J: Sex and Antidepressants

Welcome back, or simply welcome, to another full week of Q&A with J. Today’s question involves medication and the marriage bed:

I have recently had to go on anti-depressants because of a long bout of atypical depression and they are really affecting me. It is hard to get excited about anything (even chocolate) and I’m noticing it affecting my relationship with my SO [significant other] a lot. We’re both physical touch people and tend to be able to communicate better when we feel together physically, but lately he has felt very rejected and insignificant because I’m not turning to him for comfort anymore.

Before I went on the meds I had a lot of weepy meltdowns and really leaned on him, but now I’m a bit more withdrawn and unexcited, so I think the abrupt change is what is causing problems for us… So far, in talking about it, we’ve decided to ‘ride it out’ and see how I continue to respond to my drugs, but I’m wondering what I can do now (or continue to do if things don’t pick up again) to try and re-establish intimacy. I know it is said that women have to have their head engaged, but I don’t really know what my head is up to these days…

Ah, medication. It’s a blessing to have medications available to deal with physiological challenges. Yes, I know “Big Pharma” has issues, but talk to the people who lived pre-penicillin and you’ll discover we’re a pretty lucky bunch overall. In particular here, antidepressants can provide real relief to people who truly need this tweak to their system.

Q&A with J: Sex and Antidepressants

First, make sure the medication is doing what it should. I don’t know why you would be “more withdrawn and unexcited” on antidepressants than before. I faced a hormonally caused depression in the past, and my withdrawn and unexcited phase was the depression. When I got out of that fog, I felt more engaged and excited — which is typical.

Give the antidepressants time to adjust in your body (usually a few weeks), then take stock. Talk to your doctor if the medications are not making you feel much better or if they cause any problematic side effects. There are multiple options for antidepressants, and you may fare better with another brand. It can take time to find out the best medication and dosage for you, so be willing to communicate freely with your physician and iron out the best approach.

Communicate with your husband how you’re feeling. When we don’t know what’s going on with our spouse, we have a tendency to fill the gaps — sometimes not so positively. We can easily misconstrue what’s going on; for example, feeling personally rejected when our spouse simply doesn’t feel physically good. When you’re dealing with a mood disorder, it’s important to describe what’s going on inside you. This marriage thing is “in sickness and in health,” so let your hubby in on the deal and be honest about what you’re going through.

Try not to whine, complain, and wallow. But discussing how you feel and how to tackle your issues together can bring him along in this process and make him feel like less of an outsider. We often try to spare our beloved the bad stuff, but as long as you can calmly and honestly share, go ahead and do so. It might help you avoid misunderstandings.

Revisit your affection dynamic. Here’s the red flag for me: He feels loved when your depressed self needs comfort through physical affection (“lately he has felt very rejected and insignificant because I’m not turning to him for comfort anymore.”) I believe affection and even sex can be comforting, but the majority of your affection should be expressions of love rather than bids for attention and reassurance.

Certainly, there are times in life when we need more comforting than others, but you two need to work on establishing a healthy balance in which physical touch is a mutually satisfying and relationship-building interaction. If you’ve been remiss in affection lately, then perhaps you need to make a conscious effort to physically touch him in ways that express your appreciation, attraction, and love.

You can build this into a routine even, setting aside time to snuggle together on the couch and discuss your day or giving a long kiss when you greet one another. You might need to make goals and remind yourself often to attend to this important aspect of your relationship. The good news is that physical touch, long embraces, foreplay, and sexual intimacy all release feel-good chemicals into your body that can help your mood.

Your head is where you focus. You also mentioned that “women have to have their head engaged, but I don’t really know what my head is up to these days…” Honestly, your head is wherever you focus. Now when you’re in deep depression, or another mood disorder or crisis, your head space is taken up by the major obstacle you need to confront. That’s entirely understandable.

But hopefully, as you come out of depression, you can reestablish intimacy by making it a priority. If your head’s not in the game, draft your brain and get into play. Spend time during the day thinking about your husband, fantasize about your intimacy together, attend to your appearance and your environment so they lend themselves to sexual encounters, flirt and talk about sex with your hubby — in essence, reestablish yourself as a sensual wife, and pursuing sexual intimacy will, most likely, become much easier.

One last thing, you called him your “significant other,” rather than husband. That doesn’t mean you’re not married, because I’ve heard that term used for spouses as well, so I addressed your question as though you two are wed. But marriage is the relationship I address on my blog, because that’s where God intends sexual intimacy to grow and satisfy. If that’s not where your relationship is, please take a step back and ask what other choices you need to make that would be best for you and for him.

6 thoughts on “Q&A with J: Sex and Antidepressants

  1. Been There

    I took anti depressants for a while and it totally killed my sex drive. I mean it was D.E.A.D. I hated that side effect more than I hated the depression. I decided to stop the meds and talk to a therapist. I learned how to deal with the depression and work my way out of it instead of just popping the pills that were causing problems. When I did that my husband got his wife back and we haven’t looked back. I know some people can’t function without it but I’ll never take them again.

    1. Abra

      Great thoughts, J! Thank you for writing about this.

      As a long term SSRI user, I’ve tried more than my fair share of anti-depressants and dealt with their side effects. I’ve been on them (on and off) for over a decade. Initially, my depression was being caused by a combination of sin (both mine and other’s) and lack of faith — in that case, the pills were ineffective because what I needed was God, not a pill. About 5 years ago, I developed PTSD and am back on anti-anxiety/depression medications. I bring this up partially as a response to Been There. Sometimes depression is something you can work through and I’m so glad you were able to. However, other times, depression is not something you can “deal” with. With mental illness, we need to be careful about not making those who struggle with mental illness feel as though they are being weak for foolish for “popping pills”. I humbly suggest, that perhaps if the side effects weren’t worth the benefits of your medication, you probably didn’t need the medication to begin with. I absolutely deal with side effects from being on my medications, but because I have a legitimate mental and chemical imbalance, the side effects are worth the benefits. As J mentioned, modern medicine is a huge blessing to those who are truly in need, they certainly aren’t perfect, but they are a gift from God.

      And one more thing regarding the original question, I also felt emotionally numb and withdrawn on certain anti-depressants and that is not an uncommon side effect. Zoloft is notorious for that! It zapped all my motivation and creativity. I didn’t feel bad anymore, I didn’t feel anything (good or bad) on it. If those symptoms persist for more than a month (that is the average amount of time it takes for any new side effects to shake out), it is probably worth bringing up the symptom with your healthcare provider. Simply switching medications may solve that problem. Sadly, a low libido is also a common side effect. There are ways to overcome those challenges using prayer, preparation and potentially supplements (like Maca) may be helpful.

      Thank you again, J! Really appreciate your perspective and wisdom!

  2. Rico

    This has happened for both me and my wife on separate occasions. I was able to wean myself off of them eventually (under doctor supervision), and it was certainly a night and day difference.

    My wife is currently on an SSRI (which is a known libido-killer), but it’s balanced out with Wellbutrin/Buproprion which tends to elevate one’s energy and sex drive.

    If you or your spouse is concerned, please talk to the doctor about it. If they brush off your concerns, find a different doctor.

  3. A.L

    You are spot! I have battled depression for almost 15 years. I found that my vitamin D level was 7 (normal low is 40) and my B vitamins were super low as well. Now that we have these back on the rise, I am feeling less depressed. Could your doctor run some labs to check your vitamin levels?

    Different meds had different side effects. When I felt more withdrawn on the meds, that was my cue that it wasn’t the one for me. A few things I have found that help-Step outside every. single. day. Deep breathe for 5-10 minutes. Make sure you open the curtains in your home. Get as much sunlight and fresh air in your home that you can. If you like music, find some that is fun & uplifting music, make a playlist and play it. Don’t watch sad or depressing tv or movies. Don’t read sad books. Try watching comedy clips on Youtube (we love Tim Hawkins and Brad Stine) or watch funny, even to the point of down-right silly, movies/shows. Find encouraging scripture and/or quotes, write them on your mirror with dry erase markers or on index cards and place them where you will see them. I also like essential oils. These are things that I have found help me with my depression. Make sure you are getting enough sleep, too.

    My husband has PTSD and his counselor gave him something to do when the anxiety/depression hit him like a wave. Tilt your head back. Take your thumb and index finger and rub your nose, right between the eyes. Say or spell something with 8-10 letters/numbers backward. Take a deep breath. Recite the Lord’s prayer (silently). Then exhale. My husband found this gives quick relief for that wave of depression. It is also nice because it can be done in public, in the car, at work. The counselor said that it helped release serotonin that helps you “feel good”.

    Try to find ways to reach out to your SO while you are figuring all of this out. There are more ways to connect than just sex. Hold hands, write notes, send texts, take walks together…just find ways to connect. datingdivas.com has some great date ideas and things to do to connect. My husband loves that I’ve found that site.

    I will be praying for you during this tough time. Hang in there!

  4. Pandemomium

    I started taking an antidepressant about a year ago. It completely zapped my desire and my ability to O. I didn’t care about sex, and I didn’t care that I didn’t care. Other than that, I felt great. At the suggestion of a good friend, I talked with a trusted female pharmacist. She told me that the lack of desire and absence of O’s was a very common side effect of the particular drug I was taking. She suggested another drug that was known for having fewer sexual side effects. My doctor was willing to change my mediication. The change in medication made all the difference in the world!

  5. Over burdened

    Anti depressants and doctors have been the bane of my adult life.
    My ex wife was so manipulative and controlling I ended up on Zoloft (by her demand) or she would leave with my daughter.
    I discovered later she had bi-polar probably from all the sexual abuse she had when she was younger.
    We went to relationship counselling where she would manipulate the psychologist and got my meds up’ed from 50mg to 100mg (even though my original meds were not even from a Dr.)
    I remember lying in bed longing to die but had no motivation to do anything about it
    I would cry out for God to help me or kill me and one day I made a instant decision to stop taking them get back in the workforce and plan my way out of my marriage prison. (May I advise that this is not a good idea for most people but I didn’t need them in the first place. Very dark spiritual things were happening in the house too, and I found out why. She was practicing witchcraft, started taking speed and other narcotics and started working as a prostitute while I was teaching our daughter about Jesus Christ, and the Word of God.) (I met her in church BTW and was blindsided like a fool. This was God’s scourge for my back I guess.)

    2 years ago my daughter told me she was on Zoloft after her Mum had taken her to a psychologist.
    I told her to stop taking them and that teenagers go through ups and downs. It is normal to get depressed.
    She did and she got back into school, has done nursing and left home asap.
    Ever since taking Zoloft I have had ongoing stomach issues.

    Now meds are destroying life again. I am married with a wonderful Christian woman, loyal, faithful, caring etc. Being overweight she sought surgery. I encouraged her to give it another 12 months of eating right and exercise but she ended up larger than when she begun.
    She had surgery 2 years ago (sleeve) to help with weight loss, but this has been a very bad decision.
    She has been in and out of hospital ever since. The first occasion she was put in a psyche ward. I jumped up and down about her problem being nutrition not psychological, she is not able to eat enough to get what her body needs.
    She was put on anti depressants.
    Her mother is a nurse and also told them the same but they refused to listen and my wife’s surgeon was away on holiday.
    They kept her in for 2 weeks.

    From then on it’s as though I do not know my wife some days. She is so distant, she did at one point stop taking the anti-depressants and she had a new lease on life and our sex life was wonderful for 2 months then it fell to pieces around September last year. She started taking anti depressants again.

    The first 3 months of this year she was in and out of hospital 3-4 times. The last time she was less than 24 hours from death, organs were shutting down.
    She was deficient in everything and fortunately I had got her into emergency in just enough time.

    She is now on a plethora of nutrients and again came off the anti-depressants.

    Once again things came back to normal, weight stabilized and her zest for life came back till 4 weeks ago. I asked her if she was taking the anti-depressants again and it was true. I knew because I noticed how a wall had gone up.
    She neglected to tell me that her Dr told her to go back on them. I would have said no cause she was becoming her normal lively self.

    It is so hard to not be resentful. I know she is going through absolute turmoil. She sleeps in another room, even when I speak to her about how we need to be intimate, she completely agrees, even has said we need to try for at least every 3rd day, but it’s as though she forgets until I bring it up again and it still doesn’t happen.

    I love her and try to be patient about this. I try to do as much as I can when I get home from work to take off the load. I feel like I could cry but I just can’t instead it feels more like a blade in the heart.
    I will not leave her. I will do the will of My Lord and Saviour. Even if that means I cannot get my sexual need met. Marriage to me is not just an agreement but a prophetical drama of Christ and His bride.

    But just because I say that it does not mean I am not dying inside, some days feel insane in my head. The lack of sexual intimacy drives many men painfully nuts. I know. I shake sometimes just thinking I have another day before me to push away temptation and desire.

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