Kristen Bryant-Winky Face With Pills

Sacrificing Sex for SSRIs

Two months before he would become my first kiss, Donnie and I sat curled up together on a beach towel. We were listening to John Denver and trying to shield ourselves from the wind that blew in from the ocean and the sand that battered our salt-soaked skin. He had just broken up with his girlfriend of two years, but strangely enough, he seemed more at ease than I had ever seen him before.

“She drained me,” he told me. “And as much as I loved her, I don’t think that I can date somebody with those kinds of mental issues again.”

I was silent, but I knew what he was talking about. His ex-girlfriend had been severely depressed and often made Donnie feel like his feelings weren’t valid. He had spent the second year of their relationship walking on eggshells around her, feeling like a failure when he wasn’t able to make her happy. It wasn’t really her fault, or his. The worst part about mental illness is how difficult it becomes to see how your actions affect the people you care about. I understood it well.

I always used to roll my eyes at the idea that I couldn’t love somebody until I loved myself, but in high school, I realized that it was less about me and more about the person I would be dating. I’m not supposed to spend the rest of my life hating myself and refusing to get help while my partner hangs on for dear life. I decided my junior year of high school that I wasn’t going to stay where I was and continue pitying myself. I began to look up therapists and finally became more open about my eating disorder, and there’s something so powerful about a professional finally labeling the warring emotions in my head. I had Major Depressive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Anorexia Athletica and I had a choice to make.

I chose to see a therapist and take SSRIs. I chose recovery

For the first eighteen years of my life, sex was not exactly a common occurrence. Scratch that, it just wasn’t an occurrence. Ever. Sure, I may have based 90% of my self-worth off of the fact that I was still a virgin when I graduated high school, but other than that, sex had very little impact on the decisions that I made. So when I was prescribed Prozac halfway through my senior year, the fact that it may cause sexual problems didn’t sway me.

I lost my virginity two weeks before I turned 18 and a month before I moved away to college. I knew that I wasn’t ready mentally for an actual relationship yet, so I turned to college hookup culture. The second that I finished unpacked my dorm room, I was setting up a TinderU account and was ready to rock and roll. Or so I thought.

The first time I went home with somebody in college, I blamed the alcohol I’d had earlier in the night for my lack of success. The second time was the same, but with less certainty. The guy had done everything right, so why wasn’t I feeling anything? It wasn’t until the third time I hooked up with somebody in college that I realized something was up with me. In my defense though, Chernobyl is a great show. Not my fault that I wanted to get back to it.

For people like me who are put on SSRIs for treatment against eating disorders, the main side effect that comes to mind is weight gain. It was that side effect that prevented me from going on the medications for so long and was really the only one that I cared about. It wasn’t until I was in recovery and was mentally ready for physical intimacy that I realized how imperative the sexual side effects would be in my own life.

“It’s fine. I usually don’t finish from sex. I’m on psychiatric medications.” 

It was a speech that I’d long since grown tired of giving, but it was better than the alternative. “Sorry, I’m on psychiatric medications and I know you thought we were going to have sex, but my body won’t fucking cooperate.”

Most guys are nice about it. They stop what we’re doing and offer to cuddle and put on Netflix. For the other ones, I usually just grit my teeth and deal with it. Part of me knows that it would be different if I were in a relationship; if I spent real time with somebody and let them truly know my body. But I know that I’m still not ready yet. There was a time when I refused to take my shirt off in front of a guy out of insecurity, and most other times involved alcohol in some way or another to shut my brain up. The way that I approach sex and love isn’t healthy, and it wouldn’t be fair of me to pull somebody else into that.

But that doesn’t stop the frustration. That doesn’t stop me from wishing that I actually enjoyed sex, that I didn’t just put up with it for the sake of the men that I’m with. There’s always a piece of my mind that whispers “what if you just stopped taking your meds?”

Of course, the actual question I’m asking there is “Do you value your sex life and pleasing your partners over your mental health?”

The answer is no. It has to be no. 

I don’t know how to describe how far I’ve come in the year since I started taking Prozac. Not that the medications did all of the work; recovery takes a lot more than a few pills. Sure, maybe I’ll miss out on relationship milestones for the next few years and won’t be able to enjoy sex as much, but I would take that any day over falling back into my old mindsets.