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Sex & Medication: How Meds Can Impact Your Happy Ending

Sex & Medication: How Meds Can Impact Your Happy Ending

Laura shares her own story of how medication, such as anti-depressants, anti-anxiety and contraceptives, affected her sex life, and what you can do about it if you're facing the same challenges.

I was a teenager when I first started taking medication.

It was the contraceptive pill—Ava or Levlen depending on who owns the pharmaceutical contract this year. I told a doctor at my local sexual health clinic that I was going to start having sex, and by the end of the twenty-minute conversation I walked out with a script in my hand.

They weighed me, took my blood pressure, asked me about my periods, and told me that all medications can have side effects. They told me that as I was overweight I had a heightened chance of blood clots, and that the pill could mess with my menstrual cycle.

As a horny teenager with weird periods anyway due undiagnosed Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), and a ‘that won’t happen to me mentality’, I walked out of the appointment and picked up my prescription.

Excited to lose my virginity and armed with the newfound power to skip my horrendously heavy periods whenever I liked, I felt pretty invincible.

I didn’t realise at the time that this marked the beginning of a dependency on medication that I am still managing now over ten years later.

In saying ‘dependent’ I don’t mean addiction or narcotic abuse, but rather the inability to function in my day-to-day life without the assistance of several medications.

Every evening I take a pill for my depression, a pill and a half for my anxiety disorder, a pill for allergies, and up until recently I took a contraceptive pill that’s sole job was to manage my body’s tidal wave periods and hormonal maelstrom—an inescapable reality of being a vagina-owner with PCOS.

Without these medications my mental health would be in absolute ruins, I would be a sneezy, allergy riddled mess (very unattractive during a global pandemic), and my plethora of unpleasant PCOS symptoms would be left completely unmanaged.

As such, I’m inexplicably thankful for these little drugs in my life, but their benefits do not come without a sting in the tail I have affectionately named the side-effect roulette.

Medication and side effects

Anyone who has ever been prescribed a contraceptive pill has been told that it can make you gain weight. Anyone who has ever been prescribed an SSRI (the most commonly used antidepressant) has been told there’s a risk the meds can actually make your anxiety worse rather than better.

You’re given a little booklet full of side effects that you may or may not read, and what do you even do if a medication improves your quality of life, but at the expense of something else?

I’m talking about your sex life, of course.

Because yes, nothing is sacred, and even your orgasms could be at risk if you want to get your daily dose of serotonin or take a pill to control aunt flow.

For example, Medsafe reported in a study that “Sexual dysfunction is a common, often unrecognised side effect of treatment with antidepressants and antipsychotics,” and a 2013 review of combined oral contraceptives on female sexual desire found that 15% of participants reported a decrease in sexual libido, whereas 21% reported an increase.

Now, sexual dysfunction sounds a bit scary, doesn’t it? But there are a lot of things that term encapsulates, including loss of libido; erectile dysfunction; difficulty or inability to achieve orgasm; and even sexual pain disorders such as vaginismus.

Detail aside, what is clear is that the medications we can often rely on can influence our bodies in ways that we didn’t intend them to.

How masturbation helped me to heal my relationship with my body

So what do you do? What should you expect?

You’re all ready to undertake the side-effect roulette in your search for a happier healthier you, but what if the happy pills steal your happy ending?

Well, as we do in all things sex, we must be safe, we must be enthusiastic, and we must be informed! There is a balance to be sought, and the first step to achieving this is to educate ourselves on all the weird and wonderful ways medication can influence your relationship with sex and your body– both for better and for worse!

The most important thing to know up front is that no matter your experiences so far, you are not alone.

It is incredibly brave and empowering to try and overcome the challenges that will lead you to your perfect cocktail of medication. It might not be easy at first, but bloody hell will it be worth it in the end. Trust me.

Antidepressants

I take Sertraline to help my anxiety and depression, and I realised that right there on the info sheet it says that sexual dysfunction can be a undesirable side effect of the medication.

Did my doctor warn me about this? No! But in their defence, there are so many potential side effects that they couldn’t possibly warn me about every one of them.

I discussed this with some of my friends, and actually discovered that several of them were also taking Sertraline (talk about birds of a feather flocking together, right?).

I personally haven’t experienced any of these side effects, however through these anecdotal conversations I learnt that one friend had experienced a seriously reduced libido, and another had changed medication after their first attempt had made it impossible to orgasm!

Their experiences line up with research that has been conducted worldwide that explores how complex the issue of sexual dysfunction and mental health is, particularly when considering that it can be both a symptom of the illness itself and a side effect of its treatment.

Some great resources in how to educate yourself about mental health medication and its side effects can be found here:

  • Health Navigator (NZ) - a website that provides one place for New Zealanders to find reliable and trustworthy health information and self-care resources.
  • Medsafe (NZ) - provides the data sheets that outlines the general information and side effects of medications that are available in New Zealand.
  • Health Direct (Aus) - a website that provides clinically certified free health advice on behalf of the Australian government.

Rainbow condoms

Contraception

Contraception is no longer just a choice between the pill or condoms. Other hormonal contraceptives are becoming increasingly popular, such as the IUD (Intra Uterine Device) and the contraceptive inplants (LARC), and with these advancements comes a greater understanding of how these treatments can impact our bodies.

In addition to protecting me from pregnancy, my Mirena has made it so that I no longer have to struggle through painful, heavy and irregular periods, and all without having to tolerate the migraines that came hand in hand with my experience on the contraceptive pill. That being said, the Ginet pill kept my hormonal acne in check, as well as the hirsutism that was symptomatic of my PCOS.

When it came down to it, I had to balance the pros and cons of my options to decide what was best for me. There were a lot of things to consider, including impacts on my sex drive, my self-esteem, and my mental resilience when it came to dealing with any negative side effects I chose to tolerate!

Some great information on these topics can be found:

  • Family Planning ( NZ / AUS ) - a great one stop shop for all things sexual health.
  • Health Navigator - a website that provides one place for New Zealanders to find reliable and trustworthy health information and self-care resources.

Talk to your doctor

At the end of the day, the choices you make for your health will always be a deeply personal and autonomous journey.

My loving advice to you would simply be: do not suffer through the impossible out of a dependency on a medication’s benefits. If you think you might be experiencing sexual dysfunction because of your meds, and wish that wasn’t the case, talk to your doctor! I think we can all agree that an orgasmless existence should be avoided at all costs.

Every person’s experience is different, and it’s your doctor’s job to help you strike the balance between a treatment’s benefits and its side effects.

Try sex toys and sexual wellness products

If you're experiencing a loss of sex drive due to medications, there are some specific sex toys and sexual wellness products that can help, such as vibrators, lubricants and arousal oils. Read this guide; the best sex toys to boost your libido for recommendations from a sex educator.

Be informed. Be healthy. Be happy.

Read next:

Content disclaimer:

The information in this article has been fact checked and reviewed for accuracy by Adulttoymegastore’s team of content specialists and sexual wellness experts, including Sex Educator Emma Hewitt.

Adulttoymegastore does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment for illness. Any information published on this website, either by Adulttoymegastore or its authors, is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice, and you should not take any action before consulting with a medical professional.

Laura Gardner, Mental Health Advocate & Sex Positive Columnist
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