It's a frustrating fact that the very medications people take to help lift their mood and feel better often create distress by causing sexual difficulties. People who previously enjoyed a satisfying sex life may suddenly experience problems, or sexual problems that were considered minor before now are major ones. The good news is that there are ways to combat antidepressant-induced sexual dysfunction so it doesn't permanently impair people's love lives.

Does everyone on antidepressants suffer from sexual dysfunction? No. A study conducted a few years ago at the University of Virginia surveyed almost 6,300 antidepressant users and found that 37 percent of them suffered from some form of sexual dysfunction. The rates ranged from a low of 22 percent on one particular medication to 43 percent on another. According to reports from Johns Hopkins University, people most likely to suffer sexual problems are over 50, married, smokers, uneducated or underemployed, have other health conditions, and don't place a high priority on sex.

What are some common problems caused by antidepressants? Both men and women can suffer sexual dysfunction as a result of depression medication. In men, antidepressants most frequently cause erectile dysfunction, or the inability to achieve or sustain an erection. Women may report dryness in the vagina, low desire, or an inability to achieve sexual satisfaction. While it's true that in many cases people experience a reduced desire for sex as a direct result of their depression, the medications can intensify this problem.

How can sexual function be restored? One way is by switching to an antidepressant with a lower rate of reported problems. If that's not feasible, a doctor may lower a patient's dosage. This can cause withdrawal side effects, however. Some antidepressants lend themselves to "drug holidays," during which patients take their prescriptions during the week but don't take them on weekends. This can sometimes restore sexual desire and functioning without reducing the overall effectiveness of the drug. In some cases, additional medications, such as Viagra, may be prescribed. Another approach is simply to wait it out. Sometimes sexual problems brought on by antidepressants improve after a few months, although they rarely disappear completely. Or patients may be counseled to take their medication at a different time--say, after sexual activity instead of before it.