How do I better deal with my partners medically induced loss of libido?
March 23, 2011 8:59 AM   Subscribe

MentalHealthFilter: Anyone personally dealing with bipolar partners sexual issues? Mildly NWS, and long as heck.

My amazing, wonderful boyfriend is under treatment for bipolar disorder. He’s very careful about taking care of himself (normally) and is pretty on top of his medications. While the medications mostly take care of a lot of the issues, for the last four months we’ve been dealing with a drastic drop in libido on his side.

At first we just thought it was the winter blues, so we added more time under the seasonal depression lamp. Switching doses of his pills helped for two weeks and then stresses came up and we ended up back where we started. He is still very affectionate and responsive to my non-sexy needs, tells me that he loves me and finds me attractive, but just “doesn’t want to have sex right now… maybe tomorrow. “

I’m hoping some of you can give me some idea of how you’ve dealt with it, because I don’t feel like I am doing very well. I feel awful, like I’m a nag, unattractive, unwanted. We focus on trying to get him in the mood, so I’ve also been feeling neglected in just the wooing that happens when the other partner initiates things.

It’s taking its toll. Constantly thinking “maybe tonight” is draining as it stretches into weeks. For a little while we tried just saying “not for a few weeks” but he thought that was a bad idea because it stops us from being able to take advantage when the mood does strike.

I am becoming oversensitive to things, such as becoming very angry that he had a physical reaction to a magazine photo. I came to tears upon finding out that he’s masturbated that day, but was still unwilling to have sex that night. While we aren’t fighting about these things (I’m not flipping out, I know logically that both of those things are normal). We used to talk about stuff like that and enjoy our private sexuality by sharing it with each other. Now all I can do is ask him to hide it if he must so I don’t go girl-crazy and cry in the bathroom for a half hour.

He’s afraid of changing medication, and I am beginning to think that me asking him to do that just so I can feel wanted is pretty shallow. So what I’m asking for is maybe some hope? I know we are looking at some time before things totally get better, but how long did it take you? What can we do to take some of the pressure off of him and me? Even maybe a better explanation as to how this works? We’re in our late twenties and in the New York City metro- are there any support groups for partners? Is it still possible that it could turn around without changing medication?

Other info that might help-
We live together and have been dating seriously for a year.
He is not gay, I don’t want an open relationship and I don’t plan to break up. Also, we had a very robust romantic life before this.

thanks for any help you can toss at me.

Throwaway email:
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

Re: support groups, NAMI NYC runs a Family and Friends of Individuals with Mood Disorders group that might be helpful to you.

Good luck.
posted by keever at 9:19 AM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

This must be incredibly frustrating for you both. On the one hand, he wants to stay healthy and not rock the boat because he feels this medication is helping the mood swings, impulsivity, etc. and on the other hand, you are a healthy, loving young woman who wants to have sex with her guy and the constant rejection must be tearing away at your own happiness.

Many, many mood-altering drugs, sadly, have a terrible effect on libido. Also, there is a feeling of distance, sometimes (I'm on anti-depressants, and that's the best way I can describe it), which can take away from the emotional intimacy with your partner. In a weird way, you find yourself watching your own physical reaction, like a spectator instead of a participantThat could be why masturbation has become an outlet for him: that distance doesn't bother him when he feels no emotional attachment to the object that's arousing him anyway. With you, he would notice the lost, and it would sadden him, affect his performance, and probably be apparent to you that something was missing. I probably haven't explained that well, but most importantly, even though you know this rationally, I hope that emotionally you understand it isn't anything lacking in you.

That said, I think there are things that can be done to help!

I wonder, could you schedule an appointment with your partner's doctor and BOTH go to talk about alternative solutions? Maybe your partner would not be so afraid to try a change if he knew that you were also watching out for him and knew what to look for in case the new medication isn't working so well (it's hard for patients to be objective about their own mental health). A good doctor might help you attack this problem aggressively once he/she grasps the significance of the issues you are having.

I think sometimes doctors need to see the people involved to really *get* how seriously they are affected by the medications they are prescribing to their patients. I know, just anecdotally, that my spouse has been helpful in keeping me on a stable path with my depression, and that my wonderful therapist will often remind me to keep my spouse in the loop when I am changing meds and get his feedback, too.

And, also anecdotally, but I have been very pro-active in keeping that libido going, so I know it IS possible, okay? Don't lose hope!
posted by misha at 9:25 AM on March 23, 2011

Ugh, my apologies for all the typos. I really feel for you, and probably typed way too fast out of empathy.
posted by misha at 9:27 AM on March 23, 2011

I am currently on a mood stabilizer and an anti-depressant and I can totally relate to the decreased libido thing and it SUCKS. I can also 100% relate to the fear of changing meds. The libido issues aside, I am happy with my meds currently. I cringe at the mere *mention* of changing them. I know the pain of trying new medications and what that entails and to be honest this mix has been the best I have tried so far. Except for that one little, huge thing called libido! I realize that I am dealing with this from a female side and therefore there are the physical differences. Being that I am the one who could care less whether I have sex right now and my partner (male if it matters) has a healthy sex drive, I decided that I would go above and beyond in this area. I have made it important to try to meet that need, even if I don't 'feel like it.' And yes, he can tell sometimes that I dont feel like it. But a lot of the time, when I try and get into it, eventually I do enjoy it. I don't always er climax, but I will enjoy it. Because even if I'm not that into the sex, I still love him so much and I love being with him and he really tries to help me feel good. Anyway, I think your partner can do a lot to meet more of your needs and that the continual putting it off thing is a cop out. When I am with someone I compromise and if this relationship is going to work, he is going to have to get creative and help you get your needs met too!
posted by heatherly at 9:36 AM on March 23, 2011

This is really tough. I have been (and sometimes still am) in your position. I know the kind of negative feedback loops that can go through your head when you're in this position - it can get to the point where even when it works out the prior negative thoughts can color the experience. The first thing to address is these downward-spiraling internal monologues. It's a pretty ferocious intellectual battle, but try to remind yourself as much as you can that you ARE attractive, loved, and wanted, and believe him as much as you can when he says so.

One of the things you mentioned is the neglect in wooing you feel. It has helped us to agree that I would not be the one to do the initiating - if he is feeling up to it, he comes to me. That broke a lot of the anxiety about trying and failing, and helped me feel wanted rather than tolerated. It will likely still be less often than you'd like, but it might help with the unhappiness surrounding the circumstance.

Sometimes I've found I have difficulty letting the possibility of sex-right-now go because I'm just straight up turned on and it's hard to turn off. It's helped in those circumstances to take a time out and handle the issue myself, so to speak. I enjoy having him around for that, and we've found it to be a pretty good compromise; it helps reduce my frustration and his guilt, and we can get on with our night.

Finally, your boyfriend should bring this up with his psychiatrist. A frustrating, difficult, disappointing sex life that is making one of his main sources of support unhappy is not a necessary side effect. My guy brought this up with his psychiatrist when it got bad enough and was put on another medication on top of the one that was already working for him. It helped a lot. This is a really common issue, and there may be medical solutions that neither of you is aware of. Know that you're far from alone in this, and memail me if you want to talk about it more.
posted by rabbitbookworm at 9:54 AM on March 23, 2011

I am becoming oversensitive to things, such as becoming very angry that he had a physical reaction to a magazine photo. I came to tears upon finding out that he’s masturbated that day, but was still unwilling to have sex that night.

I'll leave the rest of your question to other people, since I have no direct experience in that arena. But I did want to offer you some perspective on this, which may help. I think that because of the different ways that men and women are socialized to think about masturbation, a lot of women end up thinking of masturbation as something pretty closely related to sex, where, for many guys, the two actually have very little to do with each other. That sounds weird, I know, but it's been my experience. It's a sexual act, obviously, but it's such a low-level one. What this means is that, for lots of guys, having sex with another person requires an order of magnitude more libido than masturbating does. It's sort of like the way you can still drive to the store if your gas tank is on "E."

You described yourself as "oversensitive," so I know you basically know this. But sometimes it helps to hear an outside perspective as well.
posted by Ragged Richard at 10:23 AM on March 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

I know he tends to get short shrift around these parts, but you really should read and/or listen to Dan Savage talking about this. He gets variants on this question all the time. In a nutshell (but I really recommend going to actual answers he's given for more specifics) his advice is that you should try to work together to find ways that your partner can get you off, in a loving, giving way, without doing anything he doesn't feel physically ready to do. That might just be holding you and talking to you while you masturbate, it might be doing a whole bunch of other things. As you say yourself, at the moment you are focused on getting him 'in the mood', and that puts too much pressure on both of you. You need to let his not being 'in the mood' become a signal to shift the focus onto you and what you are in the mood for. At the same time, you need to be reasonable and forgiving towards him, and appreciate that there will be things he can't do, and that his not feeling up to them doesn't mean anything about you and your relationship. I'm sure this will be a lot easier to do once you've worked out ways to get some of your needs met too. Good luck!
posted by Acheman at 10:59 AM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

What makes you think this has anything to do with his being bipolar? If he's been on the same meds for a long time and this is a recent issue I'd look at other causes.

There are some drugs that definitely impact libido but is he even taking one if those? In a long term relationship libido ebbs and flows. I can sympathize with your frustration but it sounds like you see this as his problem and are putting a lot of pressure on him to 'fix it" by changing meds when who knows if that is even the issue. Did he change the dose at your urging?

I can guarantee you one thing: the more you pressure him for sex the less you will get in the long run.
posted by fshgrl at 11:00 AM on March 23, 2011

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