Seeking Pleasure on Antidepressants

Seeking Pleasure on Antidepressants

By: Carolyn Kossow

Welcome to the Antidepressant Club!

So you’ve taken the plunge to prioritize your mental health with medication. Maybe you’re excited, overwhelmed, and/or experiencing the ‘I’ve failed’ stigma that is frustratingly so common for those on medication (hint: you’ve not failed. In fact, it takes so much strength to get to this point, well done!).

And now you are here in this new landscape of antidepressants where your brain may be feeling better, but your body has not regulated and is struggling to access pleasure (and/or achieve orgasm). Or, maybe you're a long-time proud antidepressant club member and simply seeking better ways to enhance your sexual fulfillment.

No matter your reasoning, you deserve to experience as much pleasure and embodiment as you wish in your sexual adventures.

SSRIs – the Ultimate C*ck Block

Experiencing difficulty with arousal, sex, and orgasm while on antidepressants is extremely common. If this is you, you are not alone.

1 in 8 adults in the US take antidepressants. 

While there are several types of antidepressants, the most commonly prescribed is called a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI). SSRIs work by preventing neurons from sucking up the neurotransmitter serotonin, allowing for more serotonin to float around in the brain to help treat depression and anxiety.

While SSRIs can be extremely effective, they are also notorious for the side effects of sexual dysfunction. This could look like a curbed libido, difficulty maintaining an erection, or inability to climax.

For some, mental health struggles can affect sexual function as well. This may mean that prioritizing mental health via medication may actually benefit sexual function overall, given enhanced mood and wellbeing.

However, for those that may be feeling better mentally but are still sexually dissatisfied – your lived experiences are valid. Below are our suggestions on how to enhance your pleasure.

Ways to Enhance Pleasure on an SSRI

Talk to your doctor

First and foremost, if you are struggling with any side effects, talk to your doctor. There are several types of antidepressants out there, and a trained professional will be able to help you explore other medications, or dosages.


Identify your pleasure-centered context

When you’re ready to start exploring, it can be helpful to first think about what kinds of environments turn you on. 

To identify the best, custom-made environment for your pleasure-centered context, think about two scenarios – first, a very sexy memory, and second, a not so sexy scenario you’ve been in. What made the first so successful, and the second such a dud?

Questions to ask yourself to help get in the mood:

  • Physical wellbeing - Are you in pain anywhere, or are you feeling embodied?
  • Mood - What is your mood? 
  • Distractibility - Are you expecting your kids to come home? Do you have a meeting starting in 25 minutes? Or do you have all the time in the world?
  • Relationship characteristics - Who are you engaging with? How do you feel in this dynamic? E.g., abundance vs. lacking of trust, connection, feeling desired
  • Setting - Where are you? What’s the temperature?
  • Acts - What sexy acts occur, or don’t occur?

There are so many more considerations to explore, but you get the gist. By gaining further insight into the nuances that turn you on (and off), you can create a custom blueprint of what environment best suits your pleasure. 

For example, you may learn that you’re someone who is strongly affected by smell, and temperature. This may empower you to always light a candle, and ensure the temperature in the room is just right before play time!


Meet your body ‘anew’

The things you may have previously known, loved, and relied upon in your sexual prowess may look, feel, taste, and smell differently to you while on antidepressants. Your body may not respond to the same things anymore. You might miss feeling like a ‘machine’ that has an efficient and well-worn pathway to pleasure. That is okay, you’re allowed to feel frustrated by that. And, when you’re ready, exploring yourself anew can lead to being far more creative in bed.

It can be helpful to imagine yourself as a blank canvas, and explore your own body - alone, at first through masturbation - as if you’d never explored yourself before. 

Go slow, be methodica when you masturbate. Focus on erogenous zones – lips, scalp, hips, inner thighs, ears, chest. Focus your exploration on the journey, without the goal of orgasm. What kind of touch feels good? Where are you most, or least, sensitive? 

This exploration can feel like effort. If you’re struggling with SSRI-induced dysfunction, you may have to remind yourself that your desire might have switched from being spontaneous (can happen organically, or even randomly) to being responsive (where you have to intentionally invite in arousing stimuli). The more intentional you are about setting time aside, and creating a pleasure-center context, the more likely you are to learn about your body and what it is needing now to experience different kinds of sensations.


Introduce toys


One possible tool to help is to introduce sex toys. Your body may need more stimulation than you did in the past to reach an orgasm, and a toy may be able to help get you there.

If you’re already using sex toys, consider using different kinds of toys than you’d previously relied upon. If you used to use small bullet vibes, consider something with a larger surface area and stronger motor – this may help stimulate the labia and erectile tissue within the vulva, rather than just hyperfocusing on the external part of the clitoris.


Finding the right lube can absolutely take your pleasure to the next level. If you are pH sensitive, consider an organic water-based lube with ingredients like aloe vera, and ensure there is no added sugar (glycerin).

If you want something super slick that will feel warming but not be absorbed in your body, you can explore a thin silicone lube. Of note: silicone sticks to itself, so if you’re using a silicone toy, make sure to use a condom over it to protect the toy, or just pair it with a water-based lube instead.

You can also utilize arousal oils with ingredients like CBD that are designed to increase blood flow to the vulva and enhance pleasure. Start with a little, and rub it on your vulva and let it sit for about 15-minutes before you play. You may experience far more sensation, tingles, and that sweet sweet sensitivity!

Shop water and Oil based Lubes

Remember, Nothing is Permanent

Don’t forget that nothing is permanent! If you’ve just started on an SSRI, sometimes it can take weeks to months to adjust. Your sexual sensitivity may return in full force in a matter of time.

Or, if it does not, you can always regroup with your doctor and discuss other options.

The point is, the choice is yours, and whether you are prioritizing your mental health or sexual wellness (ideally, both!), we’re here for you on your journey to healthy, safe, and sexy embodiment. 


Find a custom routine to improve your vulva/vaginal health with our QUIZ


Carolyn Kossow (she/they) is a gender, queer, and racial justice activist based in Brooklyn, NY. She received both her Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees in Gender Studies (London School of Economics and Hamilton College, respectively) and is dedicated to a life and career advocating for social justice. 

Carolyn’s work and research has utilized critical-race, queer, and feminist theories to examine reproductive health injustices worldwide with specific focus on racism and classism within assisted reproductive technologies (i.e., egg donation and surrogacy). She has worked in several nonprofits and start-ups advocating for economic, racial, LGBTQ, and gender justice at a local and global scale. 

Carolyn’s dream is to advocate for social justice, specifically supporting reproductive justice, LGBTQ rights, and anti-racist initiatives, through progressive communications, advocacy initiatives, and education. 


Further Reading:

Debunking 5 Vulvovaginal Health Myths

The 6 Most Common Sexual Health Myths — Busted!

Understanding the psychosomatic effects of recurrent infections

How Stress affects your sexual health

How to Prevent BV After Sex



CDCAntidepressant Use Among Adults: United States, 2015-2018

NYTimesAntidepressants Don’t Work the Way Many People Think

Mayo ClinicAntidepressants: Get tips to cope with side effects

PubMedEffects of SSRIs on sexual function: a critical review

Harvard Health PublishingSexual side effects of SSRIs: Why it happens and what to do


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