Antidepressants and sex: A doomed romance?

As a libido-friendly "happy pill" gets FDA approval, we talk to people who've endured other drugs' bad side effects

By Tracy Clark-Flory
Published January 29, 2011 9:01PM (EST)

It sounds like an absurd deal with the devil, the sort fairy tales are built around: You can get back your zest for life -- all you have to do is surrender your desire for sex. Feeling depressed, isolated and lonely? Just take these pills that will make you lose interest in one of the most powerful ways that humans achieve connection and intimacy!

Extreme, perhaps, but that's a common trade-off made by going on antidepressants, especially selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Of course there are other potential side effects, but dry mouth and insomnia are bearable insults compared to sacrificing your libido, erections and orgasms; and these sexual snags are a significant reason people discontinue treatment, according to experts. So when news broke this week that the FDA had approved Viibryd, a so-called sexy-friendly antidepressant, it caused quite a stir. Far too often, people are forced to choose between their mental and sexual health -- as though these were entirely separate categories.

A 25-year-old photographer living in Florida tells me that his libido plummeted when he went on antidepressants. "I would have chosen a bowl of ice cream over the sexiest woman alive," he said. "I stopped taking the medicine because it wasn't worth the side effects." It's an interesting contradiction: He lost his libido but not the strong desire to have a sex drive. Now, he says, "I'm horny 24/7" -- which is just th...

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Tracy Clark-Flory

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