Feature Illustration by Anya Perepelkina
We are always told that our first time won’t be up to scratch. That-despite unrealistic expectations-we’ll probably just be left in a puddle of pheromone-laden sweat, Durex Play strawberry lube (that tastes suspiciously similar to Askeys dessert sauce) and disappointment.
This wasn’t the case with me. When I had sex with my first girlfriend, it was as mindblowing as the fake When Harry Met Sally orgasm. Maybe it was the excitement and spontaneity of youth. Maybe it was the need to hump something other than a pillow. Whatever the reason, it was truly spectacular. Think shaking legs, ovarian fireworks, and the really strong desire to order a pizza afterward because you felt the desperate need for an alternative energy source.
But despite the clitoral bliss I had just experienced, the rest of my body was still heavy with the deep and seemingly unshakeable depression that had been weighing on me for several months. Although I was adamant that I didn’t want to go on medication for a long while, probably due to the stigma surrounding anti-depressants and mental health in general, I eventually realised that there was no shame in taking something that could help to keep my head above water. Something that meant I no longer felt as if I was drowning every day.
As I struggled increasingly with social interaction, my relationship with my girlfriend broke down. This is when I began taking medication for my mental health. After a few months passed, my mood gradually began to lift, and I began dating again.
Dating with expectations of uncontrollable lust leading to amazing, bed-rocking sex.
But much to my disappointment, our first sexual encounter fell completely flat – for me anyway. And no, it wasn’t actually because he couldn’t hit the button. Everything just felt dull, as if the sensation in my body wasn’t registering with my brain, and the nerve endings in my clit had gone out of business. Although I had read that anti-depressants may affect libido, I didn’t realise that they would affect my sex life to the extent that they did.
Studies have found that around 70% of adults taking anti-depressants experienced sexual difficulties while on medication, with some reporting a loss of feeling in their genitals. Although the exact mechanisms are not known, anti-depressants target the neurotransmitters in the brain, which can, in turn, affect the part of the brain that controls sexual desire and is activated during sex. Hence why many people say they have had difficulty reaching orgasm when on medication for their mental health.
As well as experiencing a small but very noticeable loss of physical sensation, I found that while anti-depressants certainly helped to stabilize my frequently fluctuating mood, I would disassociate more regularly – even during sex. And let me tell you, it’s hard to get the bed rocking when you feel like your head is too heavy for your body and that you may or may not be entering another dimension while your partner looks at you with confusion and mild concern.
Although the physical manifestation of my medication was burdensome, what I found most challenging was that I wasn’t prepared to navigate this issue when starting anti-depressants. Not only had I not been educated about it, I still harboured the unrealistic expectation that sex was always meant to be, well, sexy.
And as a queer person, a lack of substantial sex education is something that I’m all too familiar with.
I began to realise that I would have to take it upon myself to adapt my understanding of sex and acknowledge my own sexual needs, instead of thinking of sex as a ‘one size fits all’ pair of jeans, which, in reality, doesn’t suit most people.
I’ve been on anti-depressants on and off since I was a teenager, and have been taking them steadily for about two years now as I’ve found they’ve definitely helped me to maintain stability during times that were a challenge to my mental wellbeing. And from experience, I think it is possible to have a fulfilling sex life while taking anti-depressants. Although it’s very dependent on the person and how anti-depressants affect their body, I’ve found that communicating with partners about how my medication impacts me has definitely removed some of the pressure to perform in a certain way, while also bringing a closeness beyond physical intimacy.
Despite what most of us queer folk are taught in school sex ed, sex is so much more than penetration, and really can be considered as any form of pleasure. As with many issues that we encounter in our sex lives, the problems I faced when taking anti-depressants partially stemmed from how I was educated both about sex and mental health, which fed into the physical symptoms of my medication.
When reading about the impact of anti-depressants on sex online, it’s all a little doom and gloom; when you read stories of people who started taking medication for their mental health and then suddenly lost all feeling in their genitals, split up from their partner, threw away their phone and went on to live alone in the highlands where they would never have sex again, it’s certainly offputting, particularly if you’re about to start or are already taking anti-depressants. But as is with sexuality, nothing is ever set in stone, and you can – time and resources permitting – adjust your medication until you find what works for you, as you can consider what sex means to you, and what you want from your sex life.
I’ve had pretty awesome sex while taking anti-depressants, so it’s not like taking medication for depression or anxiety will automatically sap your vagina of its sensation and leave it shriveled up like a raisin. Anyone who’s had sexual relations, whether they have taken anti-depressants or not, will know that sex might not always be as picture (or porn) perfect as hoped for, but that’s okay, and that doesn’t have to stop anyone from feeling sexually confident and ready to try rocking the bed again when they feel ready.
A Note from Anya on her illustration: I found out that various flowers and plants are often used to symbolise different aspects of sexuality. The oil from violets was used as an aphrodisiac in ancient Greece in hopes that the sexual act will be pleasurable + both them and calla lilies are symbols for lesbian love and bisexuality respectfully. The more you know! And I thought that blooming flowers would represent the hope for new beginnings and experiences that antidepressants give you.