Hooray, Celexa took my sex drive away!

And now my wife can't manipulate me.

By Cary Tennis
Published February 6, 2006 1:00PM (EST)

Dear Cary,

Recently, I began taking an antidepressant (Celexa). Like apparently many on this drug and others like it, my sex drive sank to near zero shortly after I started taking it. There's plenty of advice online for dealing with the impact that this can have on a marriage (it's certainly having an impact on mine), but nothing about my specific problem:

I like not having a sex drive.

You see, since my wife and I married, we've had plenty of conflict about the lack of sex in our relationship. I've always had a very strong libido, and my wife (especially during pregnancy) never seemed to care much about sex (this wasn't at all true when we were dating). We didn't have sex on our wedding night, or during most of our honeymoon, and quite frankly during most of our marriage so far. When we do have sex, the only time she seems to be enthusiastic is when she is getting something from me (be it children when we were trying to have them, or when I've caved in an argument). If we have an argument, and I stand my ground or even simply try to compromise, the sex can end for days or even weeks, and she knows I'll get lonely eventually and make whatever concessions I need to so that she'll start being affectionate and sexual with me again.

Now that I'm on Celexa, though, I can't believe how free I feel. Her threats of withholding that she lobs when we're in the midst of an argument don't faze me now that I have no desire.

I'm also starting to realize how shallow our relationship is; while I was lost in depression, sex was one of the only things that could lift me out of the depths; she knew this and would hold back if I didn't give her her way. That exchange seems to have formed the basis for more of our relationship than I would care to think. Now that the depression is gone and I don't have a drive to have sex, I'm finally able to hold my ground during an argument without fearing the emotional isolation that results.

My wife has been bugging me to ask my doctor for a different drug, one that has less of an effect on my libido (this despite the fact that we were rarely having sex before Celexa, by her choice). She says she'd like to try to have a more healthy sexual relationship with me, one she admits she was denying me in the past. I am wondering if I want to reintroduce that variable into our relationship when we have so many other problems; I'm also wondering if I should even stay with someone who has manipulated me so much.

What do you think I should do? Try another drug, and see how things go? Stick with Celexa? Or should I start to seriously think about whether this relationship is even worth it?

Thanks for your advice,

Desireless in Detroit

Dear Desireless,

It is not so unusual to hear of a couple bargaining occasionally about sex. That goes on to some degree in many marriages. But if bargaining is the primary or only context in which sex is allowed to occur, that is something else again. What that means, it seems to me, is that the marriage lacks the spontaneous expression of love through sex which forms the basis of an intimate relationship. So yes, given what this drug has providentially revealed, I would think about the relationship and whether, as you put it, it is worth it (a telling phrase). I would ask, Where is the magical selflessness of love, without which what you've got is not so much a marriage as a trade agreement?

And of course what is so very interesting, and, if I may acknowledge it, also comical, is how, by incidentally removing sex as a lever of control, the drug you are taking for depression has revealed the deep workings of your relationship. It is as though a curtain has been drawn aside and there stands your wife, pulling a lever that always used to work but has now been uncoupled from the mechanism. It is funny but it is also frightening. None of us wants to be manipulated. Such manipulation as you describe could, it seems to me, undermine one's very sense of agency, authenticity and effectiveness.

And also, as I repeat often in this column, though I am not a clinician nor even a person trained in psychology, it doesn't take a specialist to speculate that maybe the way you have been manipulated has something to do with your depression.

In particular, my own experience with depression has been that, apart from many organic contributors having to do with rest, diet and exercise, it also seems to have a component of repressed anger. In particular, if I may reveal a little of my own personal life, when I am angry with my wife and do not reveal it or come to understand it in some way, I tend to get depressed. I don't know which comes first, of course -- whether depression deprives me of the ability to express anger, or whether my own failure to express anger brings on depression. But I strongly sense a connection between anger that is dormant or denied and feelings of depression and hopelessness. So if you in some way have suspected that your wife has been playing you like this but have said nothing about it, perhaps your unexpressed anger contributes to your depression.

That said, the main issue in your marriage seems to be not so much your depression per se but something much more fundamental: Is there really any love there? That seems to be what you are asking when you ask in your unintentionally revealing way if I think the marriage may not be "worth it."

Is there enough love there? Does your wife really love you? Do you love her? In what ways is this love expressed?

Sex if exclusively bargained for and never freely given is not "love sex" but commodity sex. Commodity sex is not love. It is trade. Love is something else, a kind of magical synergy, a gift that is not bargained for, a thing for which one is profoundly grateful because it seems to simply arise out of being. One does not purchase this or bargain for it. One does not even necessarily deserve it. One does not have to deserve it. One is not required to be worthy of it. It is a gift. It just arises, comes into being, comes into one's arms unexpectedly.

Sex in love is received when given and given when received. It is the perfect exchange. In fact it is not an exchange at all in one sense: When one is through, things are as they were before; it is an exchange that achieves stasis, absence, not gain, after which one sleeps, or has a cigarette, or turns on the radio and thinks about the infinite variations that can occur in one baseball game.

Last night I happened to be reading the letters and journals of the painter Paula Modersohn-Becker and came across this from her husband Otto Modersohn's journal of March 23, 1903: "It is remarkable: art is like love (that's what Paula said this morning); the more one gives, the more one receives. One must open oneself completely, admire and worship every detail of nature, and then it will reward one wonderfully; one will receive the blessing of the gods. [...] So it is in marriage; if both partners insist upon their own points of view, love cannot reign, nor can it bless them, or unite them."

It strikes me that in the endless bargaining and arguing you and your wife do, there is no room for love to bless you spontaneously.

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