By: JoEllen Notte, The Redhead Bedhead“Sexual side effects.” It’s a term that anyone who has ever sat through a commercial for a prescription medication has probably heard but one that frequently goes undefined. Additionally the dreaded “sexual side effects” are often regarded as an insurmountable necessary evil, as if giving up sexual pleasure is the trade off one must make for health. This is so not the case!
So, what are sexual side effects?Usually when we talk about sexual side effects we are talking about these things:
- Loss of libido
- Erectile Dysfunction
- Vaginal Dryness
- Genital Numbness
- Delayed Orgasm
- Anorgasmia (Inability to orgasm)
What drugs can cause them?
How much time do you have? Seriously though, my research is in the area of depression and its treatment and while antidepressants certainly have quite the reputation for messing with sexual function, they are FAR from the only meds to do so. The list includes (but is not limited to):
- Antidepressants (SSRIs, MAOIs, Tricyclics)
- Anti-hypertensive medications
- Anti-manic medications
- Anti-psychotic medications
- Birth control
- Opioid pain killers
What can we do?
So, what if you are experiencing one or more of these side effects? What can you do about that? Well, a couple of things - and most of them are fun! You can always talk to your doctor about it and try to find a different medication that works for you. But sometimes we find a medication works for us, we’re happy with its benefits and don’t want to change meds, but it also comes with this huge downside. So, how do we navigate this stuff? That’s what we’ll be talking about today.
First off I’m going to invite you to throw out your playbook. I often say that one of the biggest hindrances for people trying to recover their sex lives while dealing with depression is expectations. Often it’s simply wanting everything to go back to “how it was” that can keep you from getting anywhere. The path from sexual side effects to enjoyable sex may not be a short, straight road through a familiar landscape but that’s not a bad thing! Think of this as a time to explore! My friend and colleague Stephen Biggs, RP talks about treating it as a “second adolescence.” Get ready to learn some stuff, try some things, and hopefully find some new favorites.
Here are some of my recommended products and strategies for keeping your sex life alive when you’re coping with sexual side effects.
First up I recommend anyone dealing with any kind of sexual side effect (and really everyone who has sex) read Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski Ph.D. Nagoski beautifully explains the body, and the mind, and why they do what they do when it comes to sex.
It is particularly helpful when navigating the “loss of libido” waters because while the medical world lumps all decreased interest in sex together under this same umbrella term, the situation is a lot more nuanced than that. Nagoski discusses how “sex is not a drive,” how, when it comes to sex, we all have a gas pedal and a brake, and what that means, and the all-important idea of responsive desire. This book did wonders for me in terms of learning to differentiate between actually not wanting sex (loss of libido) and just not wanting to do anything (which comes with depression and can be worked with).
Lube. Seriously. ALL THE LUBE.
Why? Well, clearly, if you or your partner has a vulva and is experiencing changes in lubrication it’s just a necessity. Seriously, necessity. Beyond that lube just makes everything feel better.
Sliquid Organics Natural Gel - I can’t think of this stuff without thinking the word “comfy.” It’s an incredibly thick gel that creates a thick (and slick) cushion and keeps everything moving smoothly.
Sliquid Silver - Silicone lube is great because it never dries out, it just goes and goes! This may damage silicone toys so be aware.
Sliquid Organics Silk - Water based with a little bit of silicone, hybrid lubes have the versatility of water-based lubes with the staying power of silicone. I like this one because it’s gentle on the body and just feels lovely.
The Butters - Rich and creamy, this stuff is downright decadent. Because of the oil, it’s not suitable for use with latex or polyisoprene condoms, but it is my #1 go-to lube for hand jobs. I also use it as a moisturizer.
When coping with genital numbness, delayed orgasm, or anorgasmia, a large, strong, wand-style massager can be a powerful tool. As far as I’m concerned, the biggest reason for this is their ability to deliver incredibly strong vibration to large areas. Why is this important? Well, maybe the stimulation you’re used to isn’t working, but maybe stimulating a different area would. Or maybe the whole area needs to be stimulated all at once, by something extremely strong. The upshot is, the internal clitoris is huge (external link), the CUV region is expansive, and the perineal sponge is usually completely neglected.
A large powerful tool will help you get down to business and find pleasurable sensation anywhere it might be. Additionally the sheer power can be enough to get you past the hurdle of your meds.
Note: Be aware that orgasms may feel different under these circumstances. In my research I’ve seen them described as “in my body but not my brain,” “more subtle,” and simply “not the same.” Remember, you’re exploring what is happening for your body now. Don’t get hung up on what you think “should” happen.
Doxy Extra Powerful Massage Wand - The vibrations of the Doxy are very intense and have a bit of a thuddy rumble to them - I think if the Doxy had a voice it would be a bass. It’s strong and powerful and also comes in a bad ass Die Cast version with a silicone head.
Magic Wand Rechargeable Cordless Vibrator - If the Doxy is a bass, the Magic Wand is a tenor. Still strong and powerful but with more of a deep high-speed buzz.
When dealing with erectile dysfunction, anorgasmia, or genital numbness, nothing compares to the Pulse by Hot Octopuss. The open design and 9 speed oscillator are not just cool - they are revolutionary. The Pulse delivers uniquely intense sensations and it does not require the user be erect to use it. What’s more, it is capable of eliciting ejaculation without an erection. The Pulse is kind of a rock star.
Pulse III Solo is designed to be used for solo masturbation
Pulse III Duo can be used alone or with a partner as it features independent controllable vibrations on both sides and a remote control.
Try Some Texture!
Textured dildos can be fantastic because they produce so much sensation! Especially if you’re like me and don’t often use insertable toys, they can feel like a wake up call to your genitals! These are some favorites:
Tantus Goddess Handle - The texture here feels subtle, curvy, sensuous and really just lovely and the handle makes use super-easy.
Tantus Tsunami - With very pronounce ridges and a curved body the Tsunami is excellent for targeting the G-spot.
My reasons for suggesting playing with sensation are several-fold: First, let’s take the pressure off “sex is these things we do in the bed” and maybe find some other fun playing. Secondly, several of the meds that can cause sexual side effects can cause an overall dulling of sensation - everything feels kind of “meh,” sensation play is a great way to break through that, to feel something when your body seems to not be feeling stuff. Finally, we’re exploring, so why not?!
Tantus paddles - Available in a variety of shapes and sizes, made of silicone for easy clean up, and packing some serious punch, Tantus paddles are fabulous.
Nipple clamps - I like nipple clamps as an unobtrusive way to add sensation to whatever else you happen to be doing.
Honestly, e-stim is something I’ve gotten really into as part of my own “coping with side effects” exploration and it has been fantastic. For those who are brand new, check out the Jimmyjane Hello Touch X, it allows you to transmit vibration and electricity from the tips of your fingers. If you want a bit more of a commitment, I’m currently curious about the Mystim Tension Lover Digital Electric Stimulation Kit which can be paired with fun stuff like the Mystim Magic E-Stim Gloves or the Mystim Barry Bite E-Stim Nipple Clamps, and more giving you all sorts of fun things to try.
So, if you are coping with sexual side effects don’t assume they are insurmountable. With a little exploration you might find a whole new sex life that’s better than you expected!
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