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How You’re Ruining Your Sex Life, Part II: The Pill

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Kirsten Andersen - published on 06/14/15

Part 3 of a series on great married sex

(Part 3 of a series on great married sex.  Parts 1 and 2 can be found here and here.)

If the United States ever considers dropping the motto “In God We Trust,” it might consider replacing the phrase with “Better Living Through Chemistry.” Americans are among the world’s most heavily medicated people, with millions taking over-the-counter and prescription drugs for everything from heartburn to depression to birth control.  Now, as a cancer survivor and someone who lives with chronic illness, I’m not one to complain about modern medicine – I’ve depended on it for both my survival and my quality of life.  But I’m also familiar with the drawbacks … and one of the most common is sexual dysfunction.

When it comes to spoiling the bedroom magic between married couples, two of the most notorious offenders are also two of the most commonly prescribed medications: hormonal contraceptives in the form of pills, shots, patches, rings, implants and IUDs – used by roughly one out of five women of childbearing age – and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, the most common class of antidepressant, prescribed to one out of every ten Americans (disproportionately middle-aged women).

First, an important disclaimer regarding SSRIs: Obviously, if you’re on an anti-depressant, there’s a reason for it, and it’s not the kind of thing that should ever, EVER be stopped without talking to your doctor. So don’t.

But, and you knew there was a ‘but’ coming, many people are unaware that SSRIs can often kill libido and reduce or even eliminate physical sexual pleasure, leaving men unable to perform in bed and women unable to climax (the clinical term for this is anorgasmia). This can be a nasty surprise, especially as the patient’s mood stabilizes only to find that his or her sex life is now nonexistent.

For the significantly clinically depressed, the dangers of leaving their illness untreated may very well justify the negative side effects of these medications. But severe sexual dysfunction – particularly when the cause is not well understood and anticipated by a couple in advance – can also be a marriage killer … which won’t exactly help a person who is already suffering from depression. 

If you or your spouse are undergoing pharmaceutical treatment for depression, make sure you are both educated and on the same page about the chemical explanation behind any apparent lack of interest or performance capability between the sheets, so that neither of you takes it personally or lets resentment build. You may also want to speak to the prescribing doctor about things that can be done to mitigate this particularly unhappy side effect – sometimes doctors can prescribe a second drug or alter the dosage of the first in order to get patients back to a normal sex life. 

Now, moving on to “The Pill” – or more accurately, all hormonal contraceptives.  

Hormonal contraceptives are a double edged sword – on the one hand, they’re intended to free a woman up to have sex whenever she wants it, with reduced fear of unwanted pregnancy.  On the other hand, they can reduce some women’s libidos so severely that they become uninterested in sex, making the pill seem rather pointless.

According to the contraceptive- and abortion-tracking Guttmacher Institute, 80 percent of sexually active women have used oral contraceptives, with about 18 percent of women of childbearing age currently on them at any given time.  Add those to the number of women who opt for injectable, implantable, or insertable hormones, and you’ve got about one out of every five women whose bodies have been chemically altered, fooled by hormone levels into thinking they’re in early pregnancy – which as anyone who has been pregnant can tell you, is not a time of wanton sexual desire, what with the weight gain, moodiness, sore breasts, vaginal dryness, gastrointestinal issues, and all. 

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