A couple of months ago I lost my orgasm.
2018 was the year from hell for me. Looking back, it is a wonder I came through to the other side. I’ve battled with my mental health for years, but due to stigma, I refused to seek help.
I had recently started studying Psychology at the University of Leeds after switching programs from nursing. However, due to clerical errors, my funding for the course was delayed so I was forced to go to university and work full time at the same time. At one point I even got a second job to cover my expenses.
I was fine until I wasn’t.
I went from powering through to being unable to leave the house due to anxiety and daily panic attacks. Simple tasks like; showering, doing the laundry, and cooking were impossible. I stopped seeing friends, stopped going to work, and stopped attending university.
After a few months of battling my pride, I finally went to the doctor who immediately diagnosed me with depression. I started taking 50mg of Sertraline daily. A little later on, I was subsequently diagnosed with BPD (borderline personality disorder) which in short is a personality disorder characterised by unstable relationships with other people, unstable emotions and an unstable sense of self.
This was my first time taking antidepressants so I was a little apprehensive about the side effects. Luckily I only got a few — which included insomnia and loss of appetite — but considering my history with eating disorders, the latter didn’t make me too sad (to be honest).
I would like to say that I came out victorious. But I did not. I had been too slow with getting help; I got fired from my job, and withdrew from university (again). And on top of that, I had a painful fall-out with a long-term (now ex) friend. It was then that I stopped taking my medication and spiralled (again).
However, this time my friends didn’t let me sink too far down. They saw the signs, refused my requests to be ‘left alone’ and pushed me to go back to the doctor. This time with my dosage doubled, I emotionally felt better. I got a new job and began to sort out my life.
Sertraline is an example of an SSRI- selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor — some of the most commonly prescribed antidepressants. Other well-known brands include; Zoloft, Prozac, Paxil and Lexapro. They act by increasing the amount of Serotonin the brain makes — by blocking the reuptake of serotonin in the brain, making it more readily available — resulting in better moods
Serotonin works with dopamine, a neurotransmitter that can alter your sex drive, so the increase upsets the equilibrium. The sexual dysfunction caused can both diminish your libido and inhibit your orgasm. However, the effects vary from person to person due to our differences.
Between 25% to 73% of people taking SSRIs experience sexual side effects and the resulting psychological fallout is serious: in fact, this past June, the European Medicines Agency officially declared that they were going to recognize Post-SSRI Sexual Dysfunction (PSSD) as a medical condition.
A 2018 literature review called the condition “debilitating and under-recognized”, describing the chronic numbness as genital anaesthesia. In addition to a lack of desire and ability to be aroused, folks suffering from PSSD also experienced erectile and orgasmic dysfunction.
While everything else was looking up, I reacted very differently to the medication the second time around; perhaps it was the higher dose, perhaps lots of things. The first symptom was extreme fatigue. No matter what I did, I always felt lethargic. Working nights at a bar didn’t help. My chronic exhaustion was so bad that while on a trip with friends, I spent 70% of my time in bed sleeping, while they took to the hills, hiking and exploring.
Then I noticed the second symptom. I was having sex with my partner at the time and it felt fine. Which was the problem, it was — just fine. It was then I realized my clit was losing sensation. I was also drier than usual. Turns out that my partner had noticed this too and gifted me with some lube the next time we met up.
I assumed the problem would fix itself — I hadn’t connected my body’s quieting to my antidepressants — so I left it alone.
Then one day I was watching a TV show which featured a sex scene and I realized that I hadn’t masturbated in a while (I don’t masturbate to sex scenes, it was just a reminder). Then I realized hadn’t wanted to masturbate. I had gone from once a day to nothing in two weeks.
I instantly went into doomsday mode. I tried everything. From switching sexual partners to changing my vibrator batteries. I even went for the nuclear option — intense high vibrator masturbation sessions. But even that couldn’t get me a little wet. After around 30 minutes of failure, I did what all people are advised against and Googled my symptoms.
Luckily Google wasn’t too far off and correctly diagnosed my issue as a side effect of my antidepressants. It was then I decided I didn’t need orgasms. Surely the decrease of my depression was enough for life satisfaction? Orgasms were a gift I would just have to sacrifice for my joy, I thought. And I made it work.
The definition of an orgasm is one that is highly subjective and frequently disagreed on. It has been reported that when people are asked to describe one, the responses vary wildly. However, sex and relationship expert Dr. Jess O’Reilly describes it as, “ the ultimate experience of pleasure.” Stating that while for some it is a release, for others, they lose control, scream and even convulse. Some even cry .(Crymaxing).
During orgasm, genital muscles contract, genitals fill with fluid and the heart rate soars. At the same time, their brain will release high levels of oxytocin and dopamine — hormones that ply you with feelings of happiness, closeness and even empathy.
For years, female orgasms have confounded scientists — the prominent theory being there’s no biological necessity for conception — but a team of scientists now believe these hormonal surges were crucial many years ago for reproduction.
“In mammals such as cats and rabbits, these surges occur during sex and play a crucial role in signaling for eggs to be released from the female’s ovaries,” writes Guardian columnist Nikola Davis of the study. “By contrast in a variety of other mammals, including humans and other primates, females ovulate spontaneously.”
Regardless of their biological origins, there are myriad benefits to orgasms from providing circulation to organs and aiding in healthy estrogen levels that keeps vaginal tissues supple, to protection against osteoporosis and heart disease. Not to mention the glorious post-orgasm wave of relaxation.
During my former stoned masturbation sessions, I would either cook or order some pizza first (it tastes so much better), and after eating I would smoke some more and then masturbate till my soul felt centered.
However, seeing as my clitoris was numb, I ditched the masturbation and settled for pizza and Netflix. I was looking to kill time and cure my boredom. Whereas before I would budget myself to one takeaway a week and cook the other evenings, due to filling the void with food, I began ordering out almost every single evening. I wanted something to look forward to at the end of the night. And for me, pizza settled those urges.
In retrospect, I could have just gone to the doctor and changed my medication, but I felt that it would be selfish for me to want both good mental health and orgasms. In life, we are told that we have to make sacrifices and I believed that this was my sacrifice.
After the last two months I had put in, I didn’t want to erase what progress I had made. For all we know, the sensation will come back tomorrow, I told myself. So I decided to power through.
And I did. Until one night, when I was out with friends and we all got into a group picture. When I saw myself I was horrified with how I looked. Even though I had been eating considerably more, I hadn’t noticed my weight gain until seeing that picture.
My fatigue was no better — if anything it’d gotten worse — my diet was awful, and I hated how I looked. Although the medication was working in helping my moods, the side effects had the opposite effect.
It was then and there that I decided not to go back to get my prescription refilled. I was petrified of restarting a different medication in case they landed me back into a situation I was so desperately trying to escape. So I stopped taking them. Orgasms — and all the behaviors wrapped up in and around them — were more integral to my life than I thought. Without them, all equilibrium was lost.
And a few weeks after my break? My orgasms returned. Due to the nature of my disorder, my moods peak and fall. So far I have been very lucky and been fine without my medication. However, I am well aware this will change.
I have noticed my anxiety has subtly been making a reappearance so I intend on restarting them again soon before I spiral and collapse. In doing more reading I have found — and believe — that I don’t need to choose between happiness and physical release — I deserve to treat my illness and have some orgasms in the meantime.
There is no such thing as the perfect body, life, or antidepressant, but I’m getting closer to wonderful all the time.
Not being able to orgasm is a hard place to be. I didn’t realize what I was missing until it was gone, as cliche as that sounds. My antidepressants made me realize that I need my orgasms. I am due to restart my medication soon and for when I do, I have found a few tips that can help manage the symptoms. (Whether or not I’m with a partner.)
- Communication is key (I know, I know). Talk about it. It will help take the pressure off and make you feel safe and seen and heard. Sex shouldn’t be about the 20-second destination, but the entirety of the body and the journey of going into oneself. Discuss boundaries, turn-ons and consent (!!!).
- Alter your environment. Human brains crave a diversity of experience. If you can’t get turned on in one way or in one place, keep trying new things to help trigger desire. New toys! Role playing! Sex outside, maybe up against a wall in an alley. (Be safe!) Try a little bondage. Get sensual with music and candles. Just don’t give up.
- Switch up your medication. Like I said earlier, I exhausted all options and I am now looking into changing up my medication after a short break well-armed with knowledge about PSSD and my own body.