Questions about love and sex in the Iowa City-Cedar Rapids area can be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org, or anonymously using this form. Questions may be edited for clarity and length, and may appear either in print or online.
I’m a relatively happily married 36-year-old artist, and my partner is also an artist and 38. We’ve been together for 10 years this spring, and we’re about as normal as two artists can be. Two years ago, both of us were prescribed medication that really helped our depression and anxiety. Seriously, these drugs have changed our lives for the much-better, and at this time, we can’t imagine life without them. Unfortunately, as with most drugs of their kind, what we’re taking has killed our libidos. We thought it would just be temporary, so we’ve stuck it out, but we’re two years in, and still nothing. Both of us are willing to try almost anything to “get the spark back.” I think we just need someone else to tell us what to do, so I thought I would ask you before we see a therapist (flattered?). Thanks for your awesomeness.
–Happy Dry Limp
Dear Happy Dry Limp,
Congratulations on seeking and finding successful treatment for your depression and anxiety! That’s huge, Happy, and I’m so proud of you both for taking that step to improve your lives and selves. And, as I’m sure you both have realized, treating yourselves with care and kindness is the best thing you can do for your relationship with each other, as well.
That diminished libido is one hell of a kicker, though, isn’t it? Many SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, a common form of antidepressant) have that side effect, so the good news is that you’re in well explored territory. Although I’m mos def flattered that you would seek out my advice, my first piece of advice is going to be that yes, talking with a sex or couples therapist is a great next step for you.
I’m going to beat once again my drum of normalcy: Therapy isn’t necessarily to fix what’s broken. You (and I, and all of us, as a society) should think of it more as a gym for your self-awareness than a hospital. It’s a wisdom workout. There’s never a bad reason for going, and it doesn’t mean that anything is wrong. Alternative magazine advice columnists might be more fun (I like to think so!) but therapy shouldn’t be a last resort.
That said, there’s always barriers. Not all therapies are covered by insurance; not all people who seek therapy have insurance. And aside from money, therapy takes time that not all schedules can accommodate. So I’ll give my advice column answer, with the caveat that if you are able, you should use it in conjunction with therapy.
My take? Do it anyway. Not feeling that massive rush of adrenaline that makes you want to tear each other’s clothes off? That’s cool. That’s kid stuff anyway. When you’re 90 — maybe even when you’re 50—you find what you thought of as a spark is more like an ember that has to be coaxed into flame. While it’s disappointing to lose that instant fire at such a young age (and yep, you guessed it: therapy can help you process the emotions surrounding that loss), the fact is it was never going to last forever anyway. So you have an opportunity to start early getting to know each other and each other’s bodies in new ways that will remain useful to you.
Plan your physical intimacy together. I know, right? How boring! Except that’s what people with kids do. And that’s what fancy jet-setting movie star couples who only get to see each other fleetingly between projects do. Pick a time and place and forget about the spark: Coax the embers. You can find a new sensuality, a new intimacy that maybe wasn’t available to you before. Go slow. Re-learn each other. And don’t be afraid of toys, props, lotions, etc. Experiment. Explore. Discover what you like. Doing so together with someone you love and trust is a wonderful gift. Revel in it!
This article was originally published in Little Village issue 293.