April 16, 2003
It's funny in Kansas
Arts and Entertainment
DEAR ANDREA: I was prescribed Paxil and Wellbutrin about a year ago. I expected my libido to go down, but I think it's worse than that. He usually only lasts 30 seconds to a minute (that's a whole lot of rubbing for a little bit of warmth!), which alone makes me feel like sex is kind of a waste of time. I know there are other things you can do (oral sex), but even that gets old after a while. My point is that I don't really have sexual feelings toward my husband, but I have had feelings toward other men. My mother is a nurse, and she said this is common with the antidepressants. Do you think it may be more than that?
Love, Going Nuts
Dear Nuts: It seems like we're on a real "Worse Living Through Chemistry" kick around here lately. "Pharmaceuticals are your friends!" "Pharmaceuticals are the tools of the patriarcho-industrial complex!" They are, of course, neither. Drugs can help, drugs can hurt, know what you're taking before you take it, and don't expect miracles.
Next? Let's look at your particular situation. Your mother the nurse may be full of useful advice, but did she really mean that a lack of sexual attraction to your husband in particular is a common side effect of antidepressants? Surely not. If you are still having sexual feelings for coworkers, movie stars, or random guys walking by on the street, you are not suffering from a global desire disorder. This is between you and your husband.
Performance problems like your husband's could dishearten any couple, but any couple who actually wanted to solve them would have tried something by now. There are exercises a man can do alone and then with a willing partner; sometimes they even work. There is coming fast and then starting again or delaying orgasm by having one earlier in the day. None of these solutions are as much fun as not having any problems to begin with, but they're still worth trying, provided you both want to fix this.
I'm sending you back to your psychiatrist for a sex-therapy referral (for you and hubby together) and to get your meds adjusted. Wellbutrin is famous for its lack of sexual side effects, but Paxil is infamous for causing loss of libido, lack of orgasm, and retarded orgasm/ejaculation. Yes, I said "retarded orgasm." Some people actually take SSRIs for the side effects. No, I'm not suggesting he should start pilfering your Paxil, but if he wanted to try it, he could call a doctor. There are lots of tricks worth trying, but only if you're both willing to put some effort into it. Otherwise, what's the point?
Dear Andrea: Can you be affectionate with someone you have no chemistry with?
Love, Oil and Water
Dear Oil: Boy, I sure hope so, or else my family, my friends, and the cat are in for a big letdown ... Oh. OK. Yes. You can have sex with people you're fond of but not attracted to, if that's what you meant. If you have a good enough time, sometimes it even turns into attraction along the way. Give it a try.
Dear Andrea: Like "Mismatched," I've struggled with incompatibility regarding frequency of desire for sex in my relationships for years, sometimes wanting more, sometimes less, than my partner of the moment. Eventually I got it and the only thing worse than not having sex was having sex when my partner clearly wasn't in the mood but was willing to do so "for me." Grudgingly. Limply. Bleah. Anyway, I'd like to recommend Anne Stirling Hastings's Discovering Sexuality That Will Satisfy You Both: When Couples Want Differing Amounts and Different Kinds of Sex. Not quite "sex positive" in the usual sense, but it's made a profound difference in how satisfying my sex life actually is.
Dear Re: It happens to almost everybody, everybody hates it, and it isn't difficult to see why. There's the rejection, obviously, and nobody likes rejection (except a few very specialized fetishists). There's feeling like a filthy beast or just plain pathetic, as you paw hopefully at a bored or disgusted partner. On the other side, there's hating yourself for being a cold bitch (or bastard, whatever). And there's a version of the simultaneous-orgasm problem, where people expect to be a perfect match isn't that the way it works in the movies? and are deeply shaken when it doesn't work out that way. And yet, as you demonstrate, levels of desire fluctuate over time and vary by partner and even by event. It's just another damned inconvenient thing we have to learn to roll with on the way to being grown-ups. I'm glad you got there. I'll check out the book, thanks.
E-mail Andrea Nemerson at email@example.com.