Our Bodies, Our Blog

When Antidepressants Leave Lasting Damage: Living with Post-SSRI/SNRI Sexual Dysfunction

By Guest Contributor |
close up of antidepressant pills

by Emily Grey

My clitoris is now no more than an inert and sensation-less nub of flesh. I am unable to feel attraction, arousal or orgasm.… The effects of losing my sexuality have been absolutely devastating to my relationships and mental health. I have been robbed of an essential aspect of my humanity.” – Emily, age 24, PSSD 2 years

Sexuality is an integral part of our lives, central to our identity, our quality of life, and the ways we connect with other human beings. So what happens to those of us whose sexuality is removed or severely diminished by a medication? What about when that eliminated or compromised sexuality does not recover, even after the medication is stopped? For people with long-term Post-SSRI/SNRI Sexual Dysfunction (PSSD), the impacts to our lives can be substantial.

SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and SNRIs (serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors) are classes of psychoactive pharmaceuticals used to treat depression and other mental health conditions. They come under many names and are known for causing reduced libido during treatment for many people. SSRIs are better known for this side effect than SNRIs, but both can have an impact on sexual functioning. For many users of antidepressants, the sexual side-effects are the reason they eventually discontinue the drug, with or without medical supervision.

When we patients bring our concerns about sexual functioning while on antidepressants to our health care providers, we are almost universally told that our sexuality will return to normal after tapering off the drug. Unfortunately, recent data has emerged showing that this is not always true. Some people continue to experience sexual dysfunction for weeks, months, or years after stopping the medication. Sometimes, these symptoms emerge only after tapering off the medication.

For an unfortunate minority, a total elimination of sexual drive persists indefinitely. We may have severe or total loss of erotic sensation in our genitals, sometimes to the point of tactile numbness. We may be unable to experience attraction, arousal, or orgasm – for long periods and with no other discernible cause apart from treatment with antidepressants.

In addition to the loss of libido and sexual sensation (numbness of genitalia and other erogenous zones), my general sensitivity to the pleasure of touch has declined. A caress on bare skin registers as little more than pressure…. There is a feeling of numbness, as if there is some kind of barrier between my skin and the source of contact. — Ellen, age 48, PSSD for 14 years

Finally, some of us find our reduced sexual functioning is accompanied by emotional and cognitive symptoms such as “brain fog” or reduced emotional range, commonly referred to as “emotional blunting.” A common variant of this is the reduced or removed ability to experience emotions of romantic attachment.

The accompanying emotional blunting … has eliminated all romantic feeling from my heart and mind…. – Emily, age 24, PSSD 2 years

The prevalence of these symptoms among patients treated with SSRIs and SNRIs is unknown, as are the underlying causes, risk factors, and recovery rates. There is currently no known effective treatment.

For many years, the medical community was skeptical of the existence of PSSD. Patients were frequently told that our symptoms were a result of a mental health condition, despite the fact that we had never experienced such symptoms prior to antidepressant treatment.

When I brought some literature on PSSD to my former psychiatrist, she refused to even look at it, dismissing it—and my concerns—as “ridiculous.” I have also raised it with my current GP, but he’s not interested in hearing about it. – Ellen, age 48, PSSD for 14 years

That view is now shifting due to the dedicated work of researchers, whose documentation of PSSD cases led to the recognition of PSSD as an iatrogenic (meaning caused by medical treatment) condition by the European Medicines Agency. Though not yet recognised outside of Europe, doctors around the world are slowly becoming more aware of the risk of Post SSRI/SNRI Sexual Dysfunction. Health Canada put SSRIs and SNRIs under review for long-term sexual dysfunction in 2018 and the report is expected soon.

For those of us who do not regain our sexuality, or only partially regain it, the future is a long road of reaching acceptance and rebuilding our sense of self:

The trauma and grief and loss can’t be blocked down by a vision of miracle reversal. To be honest it’s more of a slow rebirth. Like dying and coming back to life as a new person entirely. – Kara, age 29, PSSD for 7 years

Patient activist groups are now springing up around the world to advocate for recognition and more research into the causes, rates, and potential treatments of this disorder. Our group – PSSD Canada – was established in May 2020 to advocate for PSSD sufferers in our home country of Canada and internationally. We are explicitly not anti-psychiatry or against the use of antidepressant medication, but we advocate for greater research, awareness, and transparency of the potential health risks so that patients can be better informed about using these drugs. We collect personal stories, academic sources, and professional statements of support at our website and invite others to be in touch with us  (pssdcanada@gmail.com) as we learn more about this condition.

Emily Grey is the co-coordinator of PSSD Canada.

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False or Misleading Claims: More Problems with Addyi

By Guest Contributor |

by Marshall Miller and Dorian Solot

The so-called “pink Viagra” drug Addyi (flibanserin) is in the news again. This time, Sprout Pharmaceuticals, the drug’s manufacturer, is being called out by the FDA for making “false or misleading claims about the risks associated with Addyi.”

OBOS has previously written about how the health risks of the drug outweigh its benefits. The FDA approved Addyi in 2015, after Sprout Pharmaceuticals, the drug’s manufacturer, engaged in an aggressive marketing campaign designed to convince people that it was only fair … More

Persistent and Pervasive: Feminists Take on Toxics

By Judy Norsigian |

For a variety of reasons, including gendered work and home experiences, women face different environmental health risks than men. Women are more likely to use personal care products, cosmetics, and cleaning products, and therefore more likely to face daily exposure to the toxic chemicals in many consumer products. As awareness of toxic chemicals has increased, feminist scientists and activists are drawing attention to the real adverse health risks they pose and have mobilized to work toward creative and radical solutions.

Sally Edwards, an environmental health scientist, … More

Diana Abwoye receiving an award for academic excellence in her Family Nurse Practitioner program.Diana Abwoye receiving an award for academic excellence in her Family Nurse Practitioner program.

Addressing Institutional Racism & Health Inequality: My Perspective

By Guest Contributor |

by Diana Namumbejja Abwoye

Diana Namumbejja Abwoye is a family nurse practitioner and a member of the Board of Directors of Our Bodies Ourselves who translated and adapted “Our Bodies, Ourselves” into Luganda.

Covid-19 has affected all aspects of our lives. It has exposed how much the United States is an unequal place for people of color. I will speak here from my own experience. It may not be a reflection of all people of color, but I hope it will help us get the … More

Adapting “Our Bodies, Ourselves” to Brazilian Portuguese: The Translators’ Experiences

By OBOS |

“[H]aving the opportunity of translating … “Our Bodies, Ourselves” to Brazilian Portuguese … brings me a profound sense of accomplishment, since there is not such a complete book on women’s health in Portuguese with so much information and so many references…. When we translate, we must consider the cultural identity of the women we are talking to, the means of reaching them, which information they need to have safer and more conscient lives. Each translation choice is also a political choice, inspired by reflections on … More

My Body, My Choice: Aesthetic Flat Closure after Mastectomy

By Guest Contributor |

by Kim Bowles

In 2016, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a double mastectomy. After careful consideration and lots of research, I decided against getting breast implants or other conventional reconstructive surgery, because I wanted to get back to my normal life as quickly as possible. I told my surgeon that I wanted to “go flat” and put my request in writing, providing him photos of the kind of flat chest I was hoping for. 

When I woke up from surgery, I was horrified … More

Women with Breast Implants Should Not Need to Wait for Safety Information They Urgently Need

By Guest Contributor |

by Rose Weitz and Diana Zuckerman

Although breast implants have been sold since the 1960s, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) first approved the use of silicone gel breast implants in 2006. By then, many women with implants had already reported a range of problems, which result in many women seeking additional surgery within just a few years of implantation. 

And the problems have become more serious. Last year, for example, Allergan did a worldwide recall of their textured Biocell breast implants and … More

Free the Pill!

By Guest Contributor |

by Carrie Baker

Sixty years ago this month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the birth control pill for distribution in the United States — a game changer for women’s lives. Before approval of the pill, most women were married by age 19, and more than half of them were pregnant within the first seven months.

Once the pill became available, women for the first time in history had a reliable form of contraception that freed them from the unrelenting fear of unwanted pregnancies. With a … More

group shot of young reproductive justice advocatesgroup shot of young reproductive justice advocates

Please Support Civil Liberties and Public Policy During the Covid-19 Crisis: An Appeal from Judy Norsigian

By Judy Norsigian |

These challenging times require fierce, broad, and intersectional activism – which is just what Civil Liberties and Public Policy (CLPP) has been doing for the past four decades. This now-independent nonprofit, which used to be affiliated with Hampshire College, continues its unique movement-building work preparing younger activists to work on the front lines of today’s struggle for reproductive justice. Please consider supporting CLPP today with a generous donation. 

As we know, the Covid-19 pandemic is disproportionately harming those in our communities who were already facing … More