I was first prescribed the anti-depressant Zoloft when I was 15 years, old by my GP. Over the next two years, as I went through a lot of family stress, an autoimmune condition and general strains that come with being a teenager, my doctor gradually increased the initial low dosage to 200mg a day. (That’s a fucking fair amount to whack a 15 year old girl on.)
Taking Zoloft definitely delayed my sexual development. I’d thought for many years that there was something wrong with me, and that perhaps I was asexual as I didn’t feel any enjoyment during sex, and throughout my mid to late teens I didn’t know what having “The Big O” actually felt like.
I may have still be taking this zombifying drug today if I hadn’t clued into its sexual side effects. During a heart to heart with a co-worker one lunchtime, she told me she had been prescribed the same anti-depressant, and for the whole time she was taking it she wasn’t able to orgasm.
I went to the doctor, and explained that I wasn’t able to orgasm when I had sex, and maybe it was the pills I was taking that were stopping me. He confirmed my concern as a legitimate condition: ‘Anorgasmia.’
Anorgasmia is the medical term given for regular difficulty reaching orgasm, even after ‘adequate’ sexual stimulation. (What does ‘adequate’ actually mean? I mean what’s sufficient for one person, isn’t for another. Such an annoying adjective – ‘adequate.’) Anorgasmia is said to be relatively common, and to affect an estimated 10%-15% of women. Similar to female ejaculation, and other areas of female sexual health, anorgasmia is under-researched and there isn’t a clear understanding of exactly what causes it, however, there are a number of factors attributed to it.
Physical factors attributed to anorgasmia include illness, gynecologic issues or past surgeries, alcohol and drugs, age or medications such as selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which I was taking a high dosage of.
Psychological factors can also be a key contributor, and include poor body image, guilt, shame, stress, or a lack of connection or trust in your sexual partner.
There are also different types of anorgasmia:
- Lifelong anorgasmia: Refers to never having experienced an orgasm.
- Generalised or Primary anorgasmia: Inability to orgasm in any situation or with any partner.
- Acquired or Secondary anorgasmia: This means you used to have orgasms, but now experience difficulty reaching climax.
- Situational anorgasmia: Refers to only bring able to orgasm in certain situations, i.e. oral sex.
(This ‘type’ of anorgasmia seems odd to me, as so many women can only experience orgasm through a specific type of stimulation, and many women are unable to orgasm through penetration alone.)
Around this time I had started dating a bohemian French guy. He was a good looking musician with a sexy accent, and despite these attractive qualities and enjoying his company, I didn’t want to fuck him. Mainly because any ounce of sexual feeling which I’d previously felt had been suppressed for so long, that I hadn’t worked out that I was actually batting for the other team. On a selfish level, I didn’t feel much of an incentive for me to have sex as I thought I wasn’t going to be able to come. I finally twigged that maybe if I went off the medication I was on, I could get rid of my inability to orgasm, and sex might actually be as awesome as everyone else seemed to think it was.
I gradually weened myself off Zoloft, and although the French guy ended up being a bit of a dick and I didn’t end up boning him after all, getting off Zoloft was the best thing I could have done for myself mentally, emotionally and sexually.
After I stopped taking the anti-depressant, and the effects of the drug were out out of my system, I remember hearing a song on the radio that I liked and for the first time in a long time, I felt a wave of euphoria. Euphoria. Just from a hearing a song I liked. I finally felt like I could actually feel things, and I wasn’t watching my life through a TV screen anymore.
It wasn’t until I was in my early twenties that I got myself off by ‘flicking the bean’. At such a late age (22) I was really behind the 8 ball on this! The first few times I had to work hard really at it to make it happen. In comparison to now-a-days (where I make can make myself come in 2 minutes flat using my index and middle finger on my right hand) back then, I had to stimulate myself for a solid 30 minutes or so to achieve what was initially a dismal excuse for an orgasm.
In my early twenties I (finally) realised I had sexual feelings towards women. At 25 years old I finally had my first orgasm during sex (what should have been a joyous moment, was overshadowed by the shock of discovering that I’m a squirter.)
Removing anti-depressants was a vital factor in overcoming my anorgasmia, however it didn’t wave a magic wand and cure me. It took several years to process and deal with the psychological causes that were attributed my anorgasmia: sexual shame (feeling like a freak who couldn’t climax), and the anxiety of letting my lover down by not being able to demonstrate the positive evidence of their sexual labours.
Anorgasmia isn’t a lifelong sentence, though. The vague (and under researched) figure of 10%-15% attributed to women who are currently unable to orgasm, does not indicate that this will always be the case. If you’re affected, you should never give up hope that you can achieve a thriving and fulfilling sex life.
I’m a huge advocate for regular self sexploration. Focusing on our own needs, experimenting with different sex toys and masturbation techniques, enables us to gain sexual confidence and awareness we might not be able to achieve through sexual intercourse alone.
An active and truly enjoyable and satisfying sex life can also be achieved with or without orgasms, and doesn’t make you any less of a lover or woman.
Disclaimer: Anti-depressants most definitely have their place, and are extremely helpful and even vital to many people managing their depression, anxiety and/or mental illness. In my case, I had been prescribed a drug that didn’t work for me at a young age, and it wasn’t properly managed. Being young and naive, I also took the doctor’s word as gospel and didn’t look into the side effects that this drug was having on me.