Taking selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants during during childhood or adolescence is linked to lower sexual desire in adult women, according to a new study published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine.
The use of antidepressants is known to lower sexual desire in both men and women beyond what can be attributed to poor mental health alone. This side effect of antidepressants is especially harmful to women because it is more likely to reduce desire and pleasure. Previous research demonstrated that the negative effects of antidepressants on sexual life can last even after the treatment ceases.
In the present study, Tierney K. Lorenz of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln sought to examine the effect of antidepressant treatment during development on sexual function in adulthood. Taking into account the existing evidence of significant changes in reward-associated regions of the brain after taking antidepressants in adults and in animals, this study focused on investigating how exposure to antidepressants during childhood and adolescence may affect sexual function in adulthood.
The study surveyed 610 young adults. The survey instrument was designed to measure participants’ mental health during childhood and development, the history of psychiatric medication use as well as sexual desire and behavior.
Lorenz found that women with a history of taking SSRIs antidepressants during development years had lower solitary sexual desire. Exposure to antidepressants during youth did not affect partnered sexual desire and interest in close relationships in the surveyed young women. The negative effect of SSRIs antidepressants on female solitary sexual desire may be due to SSRIs effects on brain regions related to sexual motivation and reward in women while the desires for intimacy and closeness remain unaffected.
“In women, solitary sexual desire is thought to more closely reflect the physiologic underpinnings of sexual reward, separate from a desire for intimacy or emotional closeness. As such, these findings may reflect a specific effect of SSRI use on the development of sexual motivation systems, but not circuits related to interest in close relationships,” the researchers said.
Importantly, the study did not find any substantial links between the use of antidepressants during development and sexual function in men. No effects on sexual desire and behavior were associated with the use of non-SSRIs antidepressants and other psychiatric medication.
The study is titled “Antidepressant Use During Development May Impair Women’s Sexual Desire in Adulthood.”