Antidepressant Use During Development May Impair Women's Sexual Desire in Adulthood

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Introduction: Although antidepressants are well known to cause sexual side effects in adults, the long-term effects of antidepressant use during development on adult sexual function is unknown. Aim: To explore differences in sexual desire and sexual behavior between adults who did vs did not use antidepressants during childhood or adolescence. Methods: An online survey of 610 young adults (66% women) assessed childhood and current mental health and use of antidepressants and other psychiatric medications before the age of 16 years and currently, partnered and solitary sexual desire, and frequency of masturbation and partnered sexual activity. Antidepressants were coded into either selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or non-SSRI antidepressants. Main Outcome Measure: Scores on the Sexual Desire Inventory, and self-reported frequency of masturbation and partnered sexual activity. Results: For women, childhood SSRI use was associated with significantly lower solitary sexual desire, desire for an attractive other, and frequency of masturbation. This was true even when controlling for childhood mental health concerns, current mental health, and current antidepressant use. However, there was no effect of childhood SSRI use on women's partnered sexual desire or partnered sexual activity. There was no significant effect of childhood antidepressant use on men's sexual desire or masturbation. However, in men, childhood use of non-SSRI antidepressants was associated with significantly higher frequency of partnered sexual activity. Childhood use of non-SSRI antidepressants, or nonantidepressant psychiatric medication, was not associated with adult sexual desire or behavior in either women or men. Clinical Implications: It is possible that SSRI use during childhood interrupts the normal development of sexual reward systems, which may be a risk factor for sexual desire dysfunction in adult women. Strengths & Limitations: Strengths include a large sample, use of attention checks and validated measures, and careful assessment of childhood mental health history; however, generalizability is limited by a predominantly white, young adult sample. These data are cross-sectional, and therefore, causal explanations for the association between childhood SSRI use and adult sexual well-being should be considered preliminary, warranting replication. Conclusion: These findings point to a critical need for well-controlled, prospective research on possible long-term effects of antidepressant use, particularly SSRI use, on the development of adult sexual well-being. Lorenz TK. Antidepressant Use During Development May Impair Women's Sexual Desire in Adulthood. J Sex Med 2020;17:470–476.




Lorenz, T. K. (2020). Antidepressant Use During Development May Impair Women’s Sexual Desire in Adulthood. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 17(3), 470–476.

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