What Happened to My Sex Life? (cont.)

To jump-start their sex life, Claire and her husband started using a vibrator, and now routinely rely on it whenever they get intimate. "It was taking a long, long time, and I would get frustrated. So this [the vibrator] seems to work. It's very participatory on the part of my husband, and it's made my orgasms very intense. I used to define myself by my sexuality, and I don't any more. Nowadays, all my orgasms are vibrator-orgasms," Claire says in a wistful tone.

Still, she says that going off Celexa would be too much of a gamble. "Now, when I snag myself, I can untangle myself quickly and move on."

Another friend of mine, Holly, a self-described divorced Atlanta housewife with two teenage children, started taking Prozac in 1989 when her gynecologist prescribed it for anxiety. "I had two small children at the time, was working full time, and I had just too much to juggle. I noticed a slow but very dramatic change in everything once I was on the Prozac. In one sense, nothing changes, but your reaction to everything changes. I could be stopped in traffic, late to pick up my kids from day care, and in the past, that would cause me a lot of stress; but with the Prozac, I'd just accept the reality and was much, much calmer. You roll with everything. You observe things differently. I'd have a peaceful response to things that in the past would cause me to freak."

But as with Claire, the drug nailed her sex life. "I remember initially on Prozac I had little interest in sex. It really was a nasty side effect. But it was a trade-off: Everything functioned so much more smoothly that I never got too concerned about what it was doing to my sex drive."

With Holly -- who is 48, works out with a personal trainer every week, and is engaged to remarry in the fall -- her libido gradually returned after about a year on the drug. Psychiatrists say some people neutralize the effect the drug has on their sex drive, but it can take months, sometimes years.

Holly noticed something else about the Prozac, something commonly known as "Prozac poop-out." The longer she took the drug, the less effective it seemed to become. In 1992, her gynecologist switched her to Paxil, but that seemed to deaden her much more than the Prozac did -- and not just her sex drive. "My emotions, reactions, feelings, were numbed with the Paxil. Again, though, my sex drive came back but it took time, maybe a year."

Finally, two years ago, Holly went to a psychiatrist who prescribed Celexa. "For the first three weeks, I felt euphoric, almost giddy. Then I came down a little, but I don't feel deadened. I have my emotions back. It still has a negative effect on my sex drive, but at least it's the least of the three drugs."

Everywhere I turned, I heard the same story. The drugs were great, so great that they were worth giving up great sex for. Cassie, a pixieish, freckle-faced, 33-year-old web site developer from San Francisco, told me that a crushing, traumatic divorce two years ago sent her crashing into a downward spiral, and Prozac was the only way out. She credits Prozac with saving her life. For the first year on the drug, her sex drive was minimal, but "who wants to have sex when you're trying to climb back to being yourself again?" In the last year, she said, her body seems to have compensated for the Prozac and her libido appears to be coming back, although she can't say for sure because she's not currently in a relationship.