In a society that seems to be hyper-focused on sex, it’s normal to feel like something’s wrong with you if you have a low libido—but a disappearing sex drive is more common than you might think. There’s no need to feel frustrated or embarrassed by this issue: According to a recent General Social Survey (GSS), Americans are having less sex than ever lately, with 26 percent of U.S. adults reporting having no sex at all in 2021. Reasons for this lack of intimacy abound—stress caused by a global pandemic doesn’t help—and certain medications can contribute to the problem. Read on for five commonly prescribed medications that could be behind your dwindling sex drive.
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According to the Winston-Salem Journal, more than 37 million Americans take antidepressants, such as sertralinen (Zoloft), escitalopram (Lexapro), bupropion (Wellbutrin), and fluoxetine (Prozac). Unfortunately, while these drugs serve an important, and potentially life-saving, role for many, they often come with side effects, including low libido. The experts at Healthline report that certain antidepressants raise levels of serotonin (the “feel good” chemical) in your body, which induces feelings of tranquility and reduced anxiety. While this is helpful for managing depression, those same calming side effects can take the edge off your sex drive by preventing sex hormones from transmitting their messages to your brain.
“Antidepressants impact the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems,” Laura Purdy, MD, MBA, a board-certified family physician in Fort Benning, Georgia, tells Best Life. “Higher levels of serotonin at the area where neurons connect results in a downregulation of the sympathetic nervous system and an upregulation of the parasympathetic nervous system, which impairs the sexual response cycle.”
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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that half of U.S. adults have high blood pressure, and nearly 92 million of them take blood pressure medication to protect their heart health. So it makes sense that beta-blockers, which help regulate blood pressure, are among America’s most commonly prescribed drugs. Unfortunately, they’re also associated with fatigue, reduced blood flow, and sexual dysfunction, according to a 2021 study published in Frontiers in Cardiovascular Medicine. Water pills (diuretics), another common type of blood pressure medication, can also decrease blood flow and deplete your body of zinc, a mineral necessary for the production of the sex hormone testosterone, reports the Mayo Clinic. Healthy blood flow and circulation are essential for maintaining libido in both men and women.
Benzodiazepines (BZDs), which have a sedative effect on the brain and body, are often used to treat anxiety and insomnia. (Commonly prescribed brand names include Valium, Xanax, and Halcion.) These drugs increase the effects of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)—a neurotransmitter that blocks impulses between nerve cells in the brain. However, they can also lower your libido by increasing drowsiness and promoting muscle relaxation. A 2020 meta-review found that participants taking BZDs experienced unwanted sexual side effects, including decreased libido and erectile dysfunction (ED). “Anti-anxiety medication lowers libido because they interact with the parasympathetic nervous system, which is part of the nervous system that results in feelings of relaxation,” says Purdy.
Opioids such as oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), codeine, and morphine are widely used to address chronic pain issues by inducing a calming effect on your brain and body. However, while this class of drugs is extremely effective for pain relief, FHE Health reports that they can also alter brain functions that kill your libido and cause sexual dysfunction, such as ED and an inability to achieve orgasm. That’s because opioid pain relievers decrease the production of sex hormones like testosterone, resulting in a diminished (or non-existent) sex drive.
“Opiates can cause a depression at the level of the brain, so even basic functions such as breathing can be diminished if someone is using opiates,” explains Purdy. “Because of the overall sedative and suppressive effects of opiates, they can result in decreased libido.”
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These drugs are used to treat various conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, rashes, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), asthma, and allergies. Common steroid medications such as cortisone, hydrocortisone, and prednisone are helpful for many chronic inflammatory disorders, but often cause low testosterone levels, which can extinguish sex drive and inhibit sexual performance by causing ED.
If you have concerns about medications impairing your sex life, talk to your doctor about ways to reduce sexual side effects, or whether there are alternative medications you can take.
Best Life offers the most up-to-date information from top experts, new research, and health agencies, but our content is not meant to be a substitute for professional guidance. Always consult your healthcare provider directly when it comes to the medication you’re taking or any other health questions you have.