Surprising Sexual Side Effects of Depression and Antidepressants

Sexual Side Effects

Sexuality is an important part of life. Having depression or taking the medications used to treat major depressive disorder can get in the way of a healthy sex life. In some people, taking antidepressants can dampen sex drive and lower satisfaction, but in others, it can trigger hypersexuality or promiscuity. Here’s how.


Sexual thoughts, feelings, and behavior vary widely among people who suffer from clinical depression, however decades of research point to a strong connection between depressive disorder and sexual dysfunction. In general, sexual dysfunction is comprised of four main symptoms:

  • low sexual desire
  • an inability to become aroused during sex (such as erectile dysfunction)
  • absence of orgasm
  • pain during intercourse (often due to low lubrication)
It’s common to hear that antidepressants lower libido and other symptoms of sexual dysfunction, and research supports this claim. Another lesser-known side effect of depression medication is promiscuity, or hypersexuality. Click To Tweet

How common is it for people with depression to have trouble with their sex life? According to a 2022 meta-analysis of 12 studies, 83% of women and 63% of men with depression experience some form of sexual dysfunction. This relationship goes both ways too. Having a sexual dysfunction disorder raises the chances of depression by 130–200%, based on findings from a 2018 study in Psychopharmacology.


It’s common to hear that taking antidepressants leads to low libido and other symptoms of sexual dysfunction, and research supports this claim. Another lesser-known side effect of depression medication is promiscuity or hypersexuality. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are one of the most commonly prescribed medications used to treat depression as well as other psychiatric conditions such as anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Some SSRIs have a side effect of hypersexuality. When they do, they can catch the person off guard particularly if promiscuity is a behavior they normally do not exhibit.


An example of this out-of-the-ordinary side effect happened to a happily married woman. She had an appointment with a traditional psychiatrist, where she complained of depressive feelings and an inability to sleep. In less than 10 minutes, the woman was diagnosed with depression and anxiety and was prescribed an SSRI (fluoxetine/Prozac), anti-anxiety medication, and a strong sleep aid.

She was feeling much better within a few days of taking the medication when something unusual and alarming happened. She was at a stoplight in her car when a man in the car next to her winked at her. She smiled at him then unbuttoned her shirt and revealed her breasts to the man. Right after doing this, she was shocked and mortified by her behavior. That’s when she quit taking the medications and went to Amen Clinics to seek out answers to help her understand how she could have done something that was so out of character for her.


After a few weeks without taking the prescription drugs, the woman got a brain SPECT scan at Amen Clinics. SPECT is a brain-imaging tool that measures blood flow and activity in the brain and reveals 3 things: areas of the brain with healthy blood flow and activity, areas with too much, and areas with too little.

The woman’s SPECT scan revealed low overall activity, particularly in the prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain involved in judgment, forethought, and impulse control. When activity is low in this area, people are more likely to engage in risky behaviors.

The brain-imaging work at Amen Clinics—over 200,000 functional brain scans on tens of thousands of patients from over 150 countries—shows that all 3 of the medications she was taking decrease activity in the brain. This means the woman’s low activity was reduced even further, making her more apt to make rash decisions like unbuttoning her blouse.

Emerging research shows that brain imaging can be beneficial for people with depression by helping predict which types of antidepressants may work best depending on brain activity levels. For example, a 2019 study in Nature Human Behavior concluded that “our findings demonstrate that antidepressant response is predicted by brain activity.”

It might seem unusual that hypersexuality is a reaction to SSRIs, but data in The American Journal of Psychiatry support this. One case study showed that adding an SSRI (sertraline/Zoloft) to treatment with another type of antidepressant called bupropion (Wellbutrin) caused a man to become hypersexual. The same study in The American Journal of Psychiatry mentioned above states that other SSRIs, such as fluoxetine (Prozac) and paroxetine (Paxil), can also cause promiscuity or hypersexuality. The bottom line is, it’s not just one SSRI that can spike sexual drive, and you need to be aware of this possible side effect.


In addition to low libido and potential for hypersexuality, side effects associated with SSRIs include:

  • Digestive issues (nausea, constipation/diarrhea)
  • Blurred vision
  • Dry mouth
  • Fatigue
  • Increased anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Dizziness
  • Sleep problems, including insomnia
  • Weight gain
  • Blurry vision
  • Tremors
  • Headaches

All of these side effects can be debilitating and affect everyday life. Sexual dysfunction can negatively impact self-esteem and lead to frustration, anxiety, or anger. Hypersexuality, on the other hand, can cause psychological, relational, and even physical harm with a higher risk of sexually transmitted diseases. Self-awareness is helpful but not always possible when impulsivity takes over and causes unusual sexual behavior.

It is clear that SSRIs are not right for everyone. With major depression among the top five most common mental disorders in the world, receiving a comprehensive game plan targeted to your brain and investigating alternatives to SSRIs is imperative.


Saffron has been touted as a happiness spice in the Middle East for over 2 millennia, and research shows it is a potent mood booster. Saffron acts as an antidepressant, according to a growing body of double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials, but it doesn’t come with the sexual dysfunction side effects seen in SSRIs. In fact, it enhances sexual function without causing hypersexuality.

Take a look at some fascinating studies that have analyzed the effects of taking saffron compared with antidepressants. A 2019 study found that the degree of benefit from saffron was comparable to that seen in fluoxetine (Prozac). Other research points to improvements in male sexual problems, including erectile dysfunction due to fluoxetine.  Another study concluded that women with symptoms of sexual dysfunction while on fluoxetine who took saffron for 4 weeks experienced increased arousal and lubrication and decreased pain during intercourse.

This shows that sexual dysfunction doesn’t have to be a consequence of treating depression. With targeted treatments based on your brain along with natural mood-boosting solutions, you may be able to enhance your moods and your sex life.

Depression and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.


  1. Interesting. I sustained a severe TBI in 2009. With-in 3 months I seen a retiring psychiatrist, he immediately diagnosed depression and prescribed SSRI. As an active PA and secondary provider/ manager for the local Defense Organization was reluctant of the diagnosis. Eventually a SPEC Scan confirmed a TBI. By 2011 found to be unemployable and placed on permanent Federal Work-comp. After Neuro-psych care accepted diagnosis with understanding I be followed by VA Psychiatrist, THIS INVOLVED non-psychiatric counselors. No-one addressed sexuality ISSUE. Almost immediately I experienced low labido . considered as lack of privacy. 2018 wife sustain a diabetic hypo glycemic episode and stroke. She however doesn't use AD Rx., nor complain of decrease sexual activity. We are both Seniors she 65 and myself 71. This article seems relevant and I will address with my current Psychiatrist (my 4th) . She has me on Lexpro mainly for my emotional over reaction vs professional stoicism?? a self description.

    Comment by Nick — June 28, 2023 @ 8:20 PM

  2. It is unnecessary to pay $4400 and use personal time to see if OTC Saffron will be beneficial . That is the amount I paid Amen Clinic to receive the recommendation to take Saffron and another Supplement available in natural food stores.

    Comment by Bruce H Young — July 1, 2023 @ 6:54 AM

  3. I have saffron strands at home. Hoe do you take them for increased desire?

    Comment by Eleanor — September 11, 2023 @ 3:12 PM

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment

Contact Us