Feel good by contributing – help others to gain clarity on their sexual health. Note: TBD Health Inc. is not a non-profit.
By Emma Akpan
Last year, I confronted my fear and saw a psychiatrist about my depression. After our initial discussion, he prescribed me with medication and rattled off a list of side effects. “You may experience a decreased appetite, and you’ll sleep a little more.” Leaning on his hands, he glanced at me briefly and said, “there is also a decreased libido associated, so make sure you tell your boyfriend.”
My mind went blank. The assumption that I had a partner, and my partner would be male was problematic itself. Why was the mention of a boyfriend his first thought when my libido is decreased? What about the effect of my decreased libido on my body and confidence? My mind and my body used to be in sync.
Before this particular bout of depression, my mind and body agreed that I needed exercise. Now, my mind tells me to stay in bed even if my legs are aching for movement. Before, when my stomach grumbled, I made a beautiful breakfast of pears, arugula and almond butter toast. Now my mind told me it was better for me to let the hunger pass so I could rest more.
And although my body craved connection through touch and a sexual relationship, my mind shut my sexuality off. Now he was telling me the medication could make it worse, without any guidance on how to navigate this change.
I’ve prided myself on a high libido. Growing up as a sexually-repressed Christian, I was happy to learn in my early twenties that God made sex, and a healthy sexuality was normal. Besides welcoming sexual feelings and interactions I had with people I was attracted to, I dressed in a way that showed I loved my body. Not only because I was having sex, but because I was uninhibited and free. Knowing that my body is not a source of shame boosted my confidence. I spoke with authority at work, I unabashedly introduced myself and joked with strangers in social settings.
Relinquishing the shame also allowed me to take pleasure in adorning my body with colored hair, jewelry, luxury creams and serums, and occasional treatments. In contrast, during my teenage years, I rarely paid attention to how I was dressed, and added no personal style to my daily garb. In my twenties, I recognized that my body is my luxury, and having sex was just one way I decided to love it.
So, when the doctor told me to “tell my boyfriend,” I ignored him because he framed it around another person, instead of what I would experience for myself. I was single. I was celibate. My glazed eyes were a plea, just make me better. With his nonchalant remark, we lost an opportunity for a comprehensive care plan that included my sexual health.
And my sexual health certainly suffered with the depression and the medication. While lethargy and lack of motivation were revolving actors before the medication, afterwards, my body locked in a constant supine position. My grooming was the first to go. My fingernails were overgrown and bare, forgoing regular manicures and pedicures. My hair fell matted from skipped hair appointments and ignoring the combs on my dresser. Whereas before I eschewed leaving the house in nothing less than dress pants, a fancy coat and heels, now I ran out in stale sweatpants plucked from the bottom of my hamper and the t-shirt I slept in. I used to sleep in silk. Showers were optional, and glass makeup and perfume bottles grew opaque with dust.
The impact of both the medication and the depression brought back the former shame that perhaps my body isn’t deserving of the pleasures of luxuries. My beauty practices were unimportant, because my brain was fighting to survive. My body couldn’t keep up.
It did affect my sexual interactions too, or caused me to lose the potential for them. I grew shyer, more anxious, and refused to interact with potential partners, for fear that I would be a disappointment. While I don’t necessarily socialize to encounter a potential sexual partner, my loss of confidence stopped me from socializing all together.
And since the energy from my libido fuels my confidence and motivation, I find myself reverting back to my teenage self who was self-conscious and fatigued and who didn’t know her body was immaculate and expansive and deserving of pleasure.
And it makes sense. Depression triggers a section of your brain that convinces the brain that it doesn’t deserve happiness or pleasure. The Cleveland Clinic cites that “low self-esteem, feelings of hopelessness and physical fatigue can lower your libido (sex drive). Depression can also lead to: anorgasmia, or trouble having an orgasm and erectile dysfunction, or problems getting an erection.” I went from sleeping longer in hopes that I will bounce back to realizing that I have not left my apartment in weeks to ignoring social outings because I no longer felt attracted or desirable. With depression, neurotransmitters in the brain are unbalanced, and it can affect desire.
The loss of my desire to be desired led to the loss of motivation in my typical beauty routines. And when I did not feel desired or desirable, my body became my prison, my mind, my captor.
Instead of offhandedly associating my libido to a phantom partner, the doctor could have discussed my decreased libido to the disconnect I feel with my body and self. Without my libido, my body went through the motions of living, cooking, getting dressed, connecting with friends, and connecting with strangers without any feeling or soul behind it.
I hope doctors are having more conversations about decreased libido and depression, medication and life circumstances in a more holistic manner. Because it is much more than what my partner thinks.