antidepressants side effects
Sarah Biren
Sarah Biren
January 2, 2024 ·  5 min read

Antidepressants Make it Harder to Empathize, Harder to Climax, and Harder to Cry

Women are often sensitive and moody — and that’s a good thing, according to Dr. Julie Holland. Yet many women choose to medicate themselves to get rid of their moodiness, because they are told it’s an issue that must be fixed. However, overprescribed medications create many consequences for its users in matters of sleep, sex, relationships, and more.

About SSRIs

SSRIs are the most popularly prescribed antidepressant. It stands for “selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor” and this antidepressant works by increasing the serotonin levels in the brain by blocking its reabsorption, keeping the chemical active. Serotonin is a chemical the nerve cells produce to naturally stabilize one’s mood, and help with sleeping, eating, digesting, and affects sexual function. Common brand names for SSRIs include Prozac and Zoloft. [1]

However, this drug can be accompanied by side effects. Some people don’t experience any, while other’s effects may go away after a few weeks, and some effects persist until the user switches drugs. There are many kinds of SSRIs with differing potencies and individuals have differing reactions to them.

These side effects may include:

  • Nausea, diarrhea, or vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Dry mouth
  • Drowsiness
  • Insomnia
  • Nervousness
  • Dizziness
  • Reduced sex drive, difficulty reaching orgasm, and erectile dysfunction
  • Impacts appetite [2]

“You can lose some quintessential feminine things”

However, Dr. Julie Holland expands on these side effects for particularly women in an interview with Big Think. “When you start to push on the doses of these SSRIs, you start to lose some sort of quintessential feminine things. First of all, it becomes much harder to climax and it becomes much, much harder to cry. But you also see decreases in empathy, in sensitivity, in passion.”

Dr. Julie Holland is a board-certified psychiatrist who has ran a private practice in New York since 1996. She has also run the psychiatric emergency room of Bellevue Hospital on weekend nights, while being a liaison to their medical emergency and toxicology departments, and an expert on street drugs and intoxication states. She has published a paper in the Jornal of Psychoactive Drugs, as well as many books, including Ecstasy: The Complete Guide, The Pot Book: A Complete Guide to Cannabis, Weekends at Bellevue: Nine Years on the Night Shift at the Psych ER, and Moody Bitches: The Truth About the Drugs You’re Taking, the Sleep You’re Missing, the Sex You’re Not Having, and What’s Really Making You Crazy.

She explains the function of an SSRI and summarizes it with: “…the simplistic way to think about it is that if you have higher levels of serotonin, if your transmission is better, you will be more relaxed and more happy. It’s a little easier to smile. It’s a little harder to cry.”

Dr. Holland describes patients who came to her office saying that they have tried antidepressants and they made them feel like zombies and “not like myself.” Or they were in situations where they felt like they should cry but they couldn’t and felt terribly guilty about it. “Or I had a patient who said like I cut my finger and I looked down and I saw that it was bleeding and I saw that it was my blood, but I didn’t really feel like connected to my finger or the blood.” And similar worrying stories.

That’s not to say Dr. Holland is against antidepressants; on the contrary. For those who are depressed and can’t get out of bed or function well, antidepressants are helpful and necessary. She’s concerned about women who take antidepressants for another purpose.

What I’m worried about is more and more women deciding to go on antidepressants because their friends are doing it… more and more women who are at work are taking these SSRIs so that they cannot cry, not get flustered, keep going forward,” she explains.

“You know I think it jives with this sort of forward-momentum agenda that so many of us have and especially in the workplace. But, you know, I would say at what cost?

Taking antidepressants to get ahead has its disadvantages, such as “missing out on knowing what’s right emotionally,” and feeling hurt and therefore keeping perpetrators accountable for their misbehavior. 

Dr. Holland continues, “When you think about risks, you know, if you’re really being thorough, you want to look down both tunnels. You know if this really works out well, how is that. If this works out badly, how is that and how would that be for me.”

When people make high-stakes decisions, they need to tap into emotions like fear and vulnerability, but taking medications like SSRIs to feel more invulnerable and anxious-free can lead to making risky choices with little to no qualms about them. 

Dr. Holland compares this mindset to someone in a hypomanic state: “If you think about somebody who’s manic depressive and they have ups and downs; when they’re in this hypomanic up they get some bad ideas that seem like pretty reasonable ideas to them. Somebody who’s in a hypomanic episode may be more promiscuous and make bad choices sexually, spend money that they don’t have… There’s this overinflated sense of self and invulnerability.” [3]

Alternatives to Prescription Medicine

Dr. Holland suggests that people looking into antidepressants should look into their lifestyle first:

  1. What is their sleep schedule?
  2. What is their diet like?
  3. Are they having exercise regularly?
  4. Are they outside in the sunshine on a regular basis? [4]
  5. Are they social or isolated?

She also recommends looking into herbal medicines like St. John’s Wort, SAMe, the amino acid 5HTP, or cannabis to treat symptoms of insomnia, depression, and anxiety. 

So you do have other options,” she concludes.

Before you begin any form of treatment or medicine speak to your doctor about the healthiest option for you. If you go the medicated route, know that there are many types of antidepressant drugs and it may take some trial and error to find the right prescription for you. 

Seeking help for mental illnesses like anxiety or depression is never a sign of weakness; it’s the highest form of self-care, since everyone deserves to feel good and function at their best.

  1. Annamarya Scaccia Serotonin: What You Need to Know Healthline. May 18, 2017
  2. Mayoclinic. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) September 17, 2019
  3. Dr. Julie Holland. Antidepressants Make it Harder to Empathize, Harder to Climax, and Harder to Cry. Big Think. April 6, 2016
  4. Simon N. Young. How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs. Jornal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience. November 2007