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Dear Roe,

I’m a 31-year-old woman, and I have been on antidepressants for about a year now. After struggling with depression for years, they have been a lifesaver, I can’t remember being this strong and stable, emotionally. The bad news is that I’m pretty sure the medication has abolished my sex drive.

I’ve been in a relationship for three years, and we’ve gone from having sex about five times a week to three or four times a month – and those times, I’m not really into it, I’m mainly just doing it for my partner. I brought it up with my doctor, but he kind of brushed me off and said wasn’t it more important that my depression was being treated, and I couldn’t really argue with him.

My partner has been very understanding, but I can tell he’s getting increasingly frustrated. I am too. I want to get back to having a great sex life, but I am also scared of going off my medication because it’s been so good for me. Is there a way of increasing my sex drive while on antidepressants?

Dear Letter Writer,

There is indeed a way to enjoy a healthy and satisfying sex drive while on antidepressants, and it’s so easy. Just close your eyes, take a deep breath, and utter the three magic words: “Doc, you’re fired.”

I’m thrilled that you sought treatment for your depression and that you’ve found that the antidepressants you’re on are working to stabilise your moods. You deserve to be happy.

You also deserve to enjoy your libido. Both of these things are important, and they’re not mutually exclusive.

Antidepressants, like all medications, have side effects, and experiencing a decreased libido is a common one. That doesn’t mean you just have to put up with it. There are many different types and brands of antidepressants, and they will all interact with you differently – including the side effects.

From your letter and the amount of time you’ve been on medication, it doesn’t sound like you have tried different types of antidepressants – or that your doctor is taking your concerns seriously.

Going from having a robust sex drive to having none is not a minor inconvenience – it’s a major side effect that is now affecting your happiness, and it should thus be treated like the important issue that it is.

Many people sadly discontinue using antidepressants that work for their mood because they’re afraid the side effects will affect their lives or relationships, and that is a goddamn travesty. Knowing that, your doctor should be concerned with making sure that your treatment isn’t just working for your depression, but is also a sustainable treatment that works for you.

Your doctor should be happy to talk about the side effects of medication that you’re taking, and should take your concerns seriously. It’s not uncommon for people starting antidepressants to try a few different types before finding one that works for them, and your doctor should have let you know that, and offered it as an option when you brought up your libido issues.

If your doctor has an apathetic attitude towards side effects of medications and your sex drive, I’d find another doctor who is more comfortable discussing those issues, and makes you feel like you have the right to have your concerns taken seriously. They should work with you to find a medication that works for you, so that its positive effects on your mood aren’t cancelled out by the negative effects it has on your life.

In the meantime, try not to stress too much. This is an issue that may take a little bit of time to figure out, but you’re doing all the right things.

Keep communicating with your partner, and let him know what’s going on. He sounds like he’s supportive, and letting him know that you’re still madly attracted to him and it’s just the medication dampening things for the moment is important to keep you both feeling connected.

When you want to have sex, great. If you’re not in the mood, don’t withdraw from your partner, which could cause a bit of distance. Enjoy some other intimacies – give each other massages, have a great make-out session, and if you’re up for giving him a bit of attention without having full sex, do.

Just keep communicating and assuring each other that even during this bump, you’re still there for each other.

And remember: you deserve to be happy. You deserve a great sex life. They can coexist. Find a doctor who works to make that a reality.


Dear Roe,

I’m a 24-year-old queer woman, and I come from a family that isn’t exactly conservative, but we’re not great about speaking openly about things to do with sexuality. I only got the most bare-bones information about sex from my parents, and it was tinged with a bit of shame and misogyny, left-over from my parents’ Catholic upbringing, I’m guessing.

I’m out to my family, though we don’t really talk about my love life; I know my parents love me, I think they’re just a bit awkward about the whole thing. My question isn’t actually about me though, it’s about my 14-year-old sister. I want to make sure that she gets some great, empowering information about sex, and I just don’t trust my parents or her school to give her that – I know the sex ed I got in school was awful, and heteronormative, and nothing to do with pleasure or self-fulfilment.

I also want her to understand how rape culture operates, and give her some tools to deal with that. But I also know that few teenagers want to be lectured about sex and feminism and heteronormativity by their older siblings, and that one talk probably won’t be enough. Finally, I was toying with (pardon the pun) the idea of getting her a vibrator at some point down the line, maybe when she’s 16 or so, so that she doesn’t go through what I did, which was not realising I could actually enjoy sex until I was in my 20s.

I said this to a friend, and she thought it was creepy. What do you think?

Dear Letter Writer,

All the gold stars to you for looking out for your little sister, she’s a lucky one.

Let’s get the vibrator question out of the way first; seeing as you’re not even thinking about doing it for a couple of years, I’d park it.

The sentiment behind it is real, but it’s not pressing. She can make do herself for another while (hell, we did) – and hey, in such a supportive environment, by the time she starts thinking about buying sex toys, she’ll be well able to march into a store and buy one herself without needing anyone’s help.

You’re right that sex education (formal or informal) shouldn’t be like a lecture. For one, lectures are one-way, and one of the most vital things kids and teens can know is that they’re allowed to ask questions.

Sex ed should be about having conversations – plural. It’s a constantly evolving dialogue series that change as people get older and learn more about relationships, and others, and themselves.

As an older sister, you’re in a great position to be a major influence in her life – you don’t face the resistance she might feel about being spoken to by a parent or teacher, and you also probably have a wealth of pre-existing resources that she can tap into.

You can use conversations about her school life and social life and even your life to talk to her about what’s affecting her now. Listen to how her world operates – how do her school and peer group and online mates talk about sexuality and gender?

Talk to her about what you were dealing with at her age, whether it was slut shaming or homophobia or peer pressure or being objectified. Ask her how she feels. Tell her how you felt. Let her real concerns and questions drive the conversation.

But you can also introduce to her ideas and experiences outside of yours and hers, and show her how to find and build communities of great people her own age sharing ideas and information.

Figure out what her interests are and cater to that. Is she a book hoarder? Comic nerd? Sports fanatic? Fashion lover? Pop-culture junkie? Artist? Practical thinker?

There are outlets that address everything and anything she’s passionate about in insightful and empowering ways.

As a 14-year-old now, she’s already part of the most computer-literate generation ever, so use that. Introduce her to Tumblr, Instagram and Twitter accounts that promote body positivity and sex positivity and feminism and LGBTQ equality and different life experiences.

Send her links to websites like Scarleteen, TeenSource, and Sex Etc, which specifically write about sex and empowerment for teenagers – but also introduce her to more culture-based magazines and websites like Rookie, The FBomb, Teen Vogue, Bust, Ultraviolet, Ms. Magazine, Feministing, SparkSummit, and Bitch.

All of these outlets have great articles on how sexism, classism, racism, ableism etc. effect all of us, while also looking at pop culture and making these ideas accessible, engaging, whip-smart and fun. Sharing links to articles that discuss feminism and sexuality and gender in relation to her favourite music and TV shows as well as broader ideas will mean that you two can talk about these things together, while giving her a wealth of resources to draw from.

Websites like these, and great accounts on Tumblr etc. are fantastic because they don’t just show adults talking to teenagers – they show engaged, activist teenagers doing it for themselves. They are built and supported and critiqued by teenagers who are passionate and creative and full of ambition and self-esteem.

Seeing people her own age thinking critically and being celebrated for it will also give your sister such a fantastic image of what she can be, what she has to offer, as well as hearing from peers who think and live differently than she does.

I hate how patronising the world can be to teenagers. Teenagers today are fucking incredible. I am consistently blown away by the awareness and insight they have about sexuality, sexism, gender discrimination, race and ableism, and how much they have to offer.

All of those sites I just mentioned? I still love them, and I’m genuinely jealous they didn’t exist when I was a teen. We have so much to learn from them.

Which is a concept you can also start introducing to your parents. I don’t know if you still live in the family home, but how about talking about pop culture and gender and sexuality with you sister in front of your parents?

Invite them into the conversation, or at least show them the types of ideas you and your sister are grappling with. They might be relieved to have a way of discussing sexuality and gender and the pressures facing young women that’s wrapped in the safety net of ideas, rather than their child’s body.

As with all great young women, the aim is to let them think and discover ideas for themselves, while pointing to great resources and answering their questions along the way. Teenage girls, they have so much potential, so much power.

Your job is to give them tools and resources that let them harness that, and protect themselves – and then stand back and be awed.

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Roe McDermott

Roe McDermott is a journalist, arts critic, Fulbright awardee and sex columnist from Dublin. She lives in San Francisco, where she's completing an MA in Sexuality Studies.

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