Post-SSRI Sexual Dysfunction: A Literature Review
Areeg Bala, MD, Hoang Minh Tue Nguyen, BA, and Wayne J. G. Hellstrom, MD, FACS
Introduction: Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are a widely used class of drug. Post-SSRI sexual
dysfunction (PSSD) is a condition in which patients continue to have sexual side effects after discontinuation of
SSRI use. The prevalence of persistent sexual side effects after discontinuing SSRIs is unknown. The recognition
and study of PSSD will increase our knowledge base of this underreported and distressing condition.
Aim: To provide coverage of the current literature on PSSD, update information on the pathophysiology of
PSSD, and discuss potential management options.
Methods: Comprehensive review of literature pertaining to PSSD.
Main Outcome Measures: The symptoms, classiﬁcation, pathophysiology, diagnostic considerations, and
management of PSSD were reviewed.
Results: Common PSSD symptoms include genital anesthesia, pleasure-less or weak orgasm, decreased sex drive,
erectile dysfunction, and premature ejaculation. Different theories have been proposed to explain the patho-
physiology of PSSD: epigenetic gene expression theory, cytochrome actions, dopamine-serotonin interactions,
proopiomelanocortin and melanocortin effects, serotonin neurotoxicity, downregulation of 5-hydroxytryptamine
receptor 1A, and hormonal changes in the central and peripheral nervous systems. The diagnosis of PSSD is
achieved by excluding all other etiologies of sexual dysfunction. Treating PSSD is challenging, and many stra-
tegies have been suggested and tried, including serotonergic antagonists and dopaminergic agonists. There is still
no deﬁnitive treatment for PSSD. Low-power laser irradiation and phototherapy have shown some promising
Conclusion: PSSD is a debilitating condition that adversely affects quality of life. Further studies are warranted
to investigate the prevalence, pathophysiology, and treatment of PSSD. Bala A, Nguyen HMT, Hellstrom
WJG. Post-SSRI Sexual Dysfunction: A Literature Review. Sex Med Rev 2017;X:XXXeXXX.
Copyright 2017, International Society for Sexual Medicine. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Key Words: Post-SSRI Sexual Dysfunction; Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are a widely
used class of drug that is prescribed for the management of
different disorders, including major depression, obsessive-
compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress, generalized anxiety,
and social anxiety.
In addition, SSRIs are used to treat pre- and
postmenopausal syndromes, hot ﬂashes, chronic pain, and
chronic fatigue syndromes.
In the United States, one in eight
people have used SSRIs in the past 10 years.
SSRIs, because of the reversible sexual side effects, are prescribed
intentionally to treat cases of paraphilia and premature
Post-SSRI sexual dysfunction (PSSD) is a condition
that arises after the use of SSRIs, in which patients continue to
have sexual side effects after the discontinuation of SSRIs. These
persistent side effects include decreased libido, genital anesthesia,
erectile dysfunction, delayed ejaculation, loss of lubrication in
women, and anorgasmia.
estimated that 1% to 10% of
patients with SSRI sexual side effects will experience resolution of
these side effects while still on medication, yet the remaining
cohort will still exhibit these side effects as long as SSRIs are used.
One post-market research study reported that 5% to 15% of
patients developed impairment of sexual function after the use of
SSRIs and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors.
prevalence of persistent sexual side effects after discontinuing
SSRIs is not well known.
With the wide use of SSRIs, psychi-
atrists and mental health practitioners must be well informed
about the medication side effects, because these drugs affect the
welfare of their patients. Sufﬁciently informing the patients of
these potential side effects before initiating treatment and
Received June 2, 2017. Accepted July 4, 2017.
Department of Urology, Tulane University School of Medicine, New Orleans,
Copyright ª2017, International Society for Sexual Medicine. Published by
Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Sex Med Rev 2017;-:1e61
questioning for the occurrence of these effects while undergoing
treatment are of clinical importance.
Waldinger et al
that PSSD should be identiﬁed as a true syndrome in the liter-
ature, rather than as a side effect of SSRIs.
From 2006 to 2008, eight cases of treatment-emergent sexual
dysfunction persisting after SSRI discontinuation were reported,
leading to what Csoka et al
described as PSSD.
In 2012, the
database of the Netherlands Pharmacovigilance Centre (Lareb)
received 19 reports of persistent sexual dysfunction in patients who
had stopped using SSRIs for 2 months to 3 years previously and
had not yet regained normal sexual functioning.
In the reports, 13
patients were men and 6 were women. The SSRIs prescribed were
paroxetine, sertraline, venlafaxine, citalopram, ﬂuoxetine, ﬂuvox-
amine, and escitalopram.
Some patients reported multiple
symptoms of PSSD.
Hogan et al
reported 90 cases of PSSD
based on reports on RxISK.org, a portal for reporting adverse
events by patients or doctors or, ideally, patients and doctors;
RxISK is maintained by a group of high-proﬁle medical experts
with international renown in early detection of drug side effects
and risk mitigation. Of the 90 cases, 75 were men and 15 were
Ben-Sheetrit et al
conducted an internet survey of
sexual adverse effects in patients on antidepressants using a struc-
tured self-report questionnaire and well-deﬁned case-deﬁnition
criteria; of 532 subjects, they found 183 possible cases, including
23 high-probability cases of PSSD. Several medications have
been associated with sexual dysfunction side effects after discon-
tinuation of use. The use of ﬁnasteride and dutasteride
(5a-reductase inhibitors) showed persistent erectile dysfunction in
some patients treated with these drugs.
Sexual dysfunction was
reported to persist longer than 3 months after discontinuation of
the a-reductase inhibitors in male rats, which can continue for
months and even years.
Moreover, isotretinoin was linked to
anejaculation and decreased fertility.
Drugs that increase sero-
tonin levels have been associated with similar sexual side effects;
tricyclic antidepressants such as clomipramine, amitriptyline,
imipramine, and doxepin showed the highest incidence of sexual
However, a lack of sexual drive, decreased sexual desire, and
low libido are already established symptoms of depression.
Mathew and Weinman
stated that decreased arousal was pre-
sent in 40% to 50% of depressive patients, and 15% to 20% of
patients reported problems with orgasm and ejaculation. These
can superimpose the sexual dysfunction caused by SSRIs.
Although the PSSD literature is sparse, it continues to increase.
In this communication, we aim to provide an updated review of
the current literature on PSSD, possible pathogenesis, and the
latest management options.
A literature review was performed on PubMed (www.ncbi.
nlm.nih.gov) using the search strings post-SSRI sexual dysfunc-
tion and persistent sexual dysfunction SSRI. We examined
74 articles and included 33 articles that were relevant to PSSD.
Articles that evaluated sexual dysfunction by SSRI instead of
PSSD were excluded. Based on reading the included results and
examining their references, we added peer-reviewed articles on
PSSD to our review (Figure 1).
Common PSSD symptoms include genital anesthesia
(decrease in sensation and numbness in the genital area),
pleasure-less or weak orgasm, decreased sex drive, erectile
dysfunction, and premature ejaculation (Table 1). In addition,
women can experience vaginal lubrication issues and nipple
Of these symptoms, the most characteristic triad
consists of genital anesthesia, loss of libido, and erectile
The symptoms of PSSD can start days or weeks
after beginning SSRIs and can persist after discontinuing SSRIs.
PSSD also can present after a single dose of an antidepressant.
Genital anesthesia, which is the most common symptom of
PSSD, can appear within 30 minutes of the ﬁrst dose of an
Hogan et al
reported additional PSSD symptoms,
including decreased penile size, smaller seminal volume, testic-
ular atrophy and pain, and irregular menstruation for women.
The symptoms of PSSD are very distressing to patients, which
negatively affect their lives.
Waldinger et al
classiﬁed PSSD into two categories based on
the onset of the symptoms: (i) PSSD that is characterized by early
onset, that is, sexual dysfunction occurring while SSRIs are being
used and persisting after discontinuing treatments, and (ii) PSSD
Figure 1. Literature review methodology. PSSD ¼sexual
dysfunction after selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor use;
SSRI ¼selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor.
Ta b l e 1 . Common symptoms of sexual dysfunction after selective
serotonin reuptake inhibitor use
Pleasure-less or weak orgasm
Vaginal lubrication problems
Sex Med Rev 2017;-:1e6
2Bala et al
that occurs after the discontinuation of SSRIs as an aggravation
of SSRI-induced sexual side effects. In their case report,
Waldinger et al also reported continued anejaculation and erec-
tile dysfunction, despite improved penile sensitivity in their
patients, suggesting the involvement of a central pathway in
PSSD. Waldinger et al also reported other rare sexual side effects
that might start with SSRI treatment and continue after stopping
the medication; these include restless genital syndrome and
persistent genital arousal disorder. Persistent genital arousal dis-
order is a disorder in which genital arousal persists for hours or
days after the cessation of the sexual stimulation, despite the
experience of at least one orgasm.
Leiblum and Goldmeier
reported several cases of persistent genital arousal disorder that
was caused by antidepressant usage or withdrawal; SSRIs were
found to predispose to the vast majority of cases.
Uncovering the exact cause of PSSD is challenging; however,
several etiologies have been proposed. Moreover, a combination
of these potential theories might be operational to the patho-
physiology of PSSD.
Epigenetic Change and Receptor Downregulation
Csoka and Szyf
observed that increased binding and stimu-
lation of 5-hydroxytryptamine receptor 1A (5HT1A) by seroto-
nin caused downregulation of these receptors and potentiated
serotonin transmission. Long-term usage of SSRIs is hypothesized
to cause persistent downregulation of 5HT1A (even after
discontinuation of SSRIs) by epigenetic changes in the form of
increased expression of methyl binding proteins MeCP2 and
MBD1. This leads to more production of HDAC2 mRNA and
lowers the production of histone H3 deacetylase.
netic changes were observed in three areas of the brain: the frontal
cortex, the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus, and the caudate-
putamen. MDB1, MeCP2, and HDAC2 expression was noted
to be induced by ﬂuoxetine.
Popova and Amstislavskaya
indicated that this downregulation and desensitization of
5HT1A are involved in the regulation of sexual motivation, and
thus proposed this as a theory for PSSD.
Different hormones are proposed to play a role in PSSD in
the central and peripheral nervous systems and cause neurochem-
ical changes, including an increase in serotonin and prolactin,
blockage of a
-adrenergic receptors, a decrease in dopamine,
testosterone, and oxytocin, and a decrease in nitric oxide synthesis.
Moreover, some neurochemical changes have been noticed in the
peripheral nervous system of patients with PSSD. This is note-
worthy because 95% of serotonin receptors are located outside the
brain. It was postulated that SSRIs cause PSSD by affecting
serotonin levels in peripheral nerves.
Ben-Sheetrit et al
lated that serotonergic neurotoxicity also might play a role in PSSD
in a similar mechanism to 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine,
which stimulates the release and inhibits the uptake of serotonin.
3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine causes persistent sexual
dysfunction long after its discontinuation, with axonal damage as
the proposed mechanism.
Ben-Sheetrit et al
there might be a role for individual vulnerability to serotonin,
because most patients on SSRIs do not develop PSSD.
Damsa et al
pointed out the role of serotonin-dopamine inter-
action in causing PSSD. SSRIs cause inhibition of dopamine
transmission in the ventral tegmental area; dopamine is essential in
sexual arousal. In addition, serotonin regulates proopiomelano-
cortin neuron output and inhibits melanocortin MC4 receptors
through 5HT2C and 5HT2A action. Not only are proopiomela-
nocortin and melanocortin responsible for skin coloration, they
also play major roles in sexual behavior. As such, disturbances in
proopiomelanocortin and melanocortin caused by SSRIs can result
in persistent sexual dysfunction.
Furthermore, 5HT receptors
play a major role in the hypothalamic-pituitary-testicular axis, and
dysregulation of any of these receptors results in dysregulation of
the axis, which produces lower free testosterone levels.
Waldinger et al
postulated that PSSD is linked to transient
receptor potential ion channel transduction, which is responsible
for skin sensitivity to temperature, touch, taste, and smell.
Disturbances to these transient receptor potentials could mani-
fest as PSSD.
A few animal studies have been conducted to determine the
long-term effect of SSRIs on sexual function. In their research on
rats, Raap et al
found that treatment with ﬂuoxetine resulted in
persistent desensitization of 5HT1A, even after discontinuation
of the drug. Sukoff-Rizzo et al
noted that 5HT1A antagonists
treated and prevented the sexual dysfunction in rats that had
been administered ﬂuoxetine. Further studies suggested that
administering SSRIs in young rats resulted in persistent sexual
side effects into adulthood.
Gouvêa et al
ﬂuoxetine in pregnant mice and observed an impairment of
sexual motivation in the adult offspring of these pregnant mice.
A systematic review of animal studies documented evidence of
persistent sexual behavioral changes in rats that had been exposed
to SSRIs at a young age.
Almost all patients who have used SSRIs develop some type of
sexual side effect.
The exact prevalence of PSSD is undeter-
mined owing to a paucity of studies. Ben-Sheetrit et al
cautioned that PSSD could be challenging to diagnose. For
example, a patient visits a doctor for a mental illness, where the
patient is prescribed an SSRI. The patient might experience a
Sex Med Rev 2017;-:1e6
Post-SSRI Sexual Dysfunction 3
sexual side effect(s) with administration of the SSRI. The patient
discontinues the medication because of these effects, but the
sexual dysfunction could persist, which leads to another visit to
the doctor. At this point, there will be confusion as to whether
the persistent sexual dysfunction is caused by the mental illness
or the SSRI. If the patient resumes the SSRI, the drug will be
blamed for the sexual side effects. Either way, conﬁrming a PSSD
diagnosis is problematic.
also suggested that the
overlapping between PSSD symptoms and the actual mental
illness symptoms renders the diagnosis of PSSD to be slightly
challenging. PSSD is diagnosed by reviewing all elements of a
patient’s clinical presentation, such as history of drug use, onset
of symptoms, and premorbid conditions. Furthermore,
excluding other possible causes of sexual dysfunction helps in
diagnosing PSSD. Some authorities have used genital anesthesia
as an indicator of the severity of sexual dysfunction caused by
SSRIs in PSSD.
According to Higgins et al,
a full detailed
evaluation is the ﬁrst step in evaluating PSSD to ensure that the
sexual side effects are indeed an outcome of SSRI use. This
evaluation ranges from physical assessment to a formal sexual
health inquiry. In general, the clinician should exclude con-
founding elements such as age, smoking, alcohol, and substance
abuse, because they are recognized to cause sexual dysfunction
symptoms. Similarly, the physicians must consider other diseases
that can affect sexual functions, such as diabetes, hypertension,
MANAGEMENT AND PREVENTION
There is still no deﬁnitive treatment for PSSD. The treatments
described in the literature were meant for sexual dysfunction
induced by SSRI. Although there is no actual treatment for
PSSD, Waldinger et al
reported the effect of low-power laser
irradiation, or phototherapy, directed toward the scrotal skin and
the shaft of the penis in a male patient with PSSD and penile
anesthesia. Low-power laser irradiation improved the function of
transient receptor potentials, which is proposed as one of the
PSSD etiologies. In this patient, penile sensitivity improved by
40%. Nonetheless, despite the partial relief of penile anesthesia
and penile temperature sensitivity, low-power laser irradiation
failed to alleviate anejaculation and erectile dysfunction symp-
toms of PSSD in the same patient.
Hogan et al
focusing on serotonergic and dopaminergic systems by adding
5HT1 agonists and 5HT2 and 5HT3 antagonists could
accomplish the management of PSSD. The drugs used were
buspirone, trazodone, and mirtazapine, respectively. The latter
two drugs can induce priapism and increase libido in normal
people, but has little to no effect in patients with PSSD. For the
dopamine agonists, pramipexole and cabergoline have been tried
for treatment of PSSD, with little beneﬁt reported.
5HT1A antagonist has been tested in rats and documented a
70% improvement in penile erection that had been impaired by
Montejo et al
reported on a Spanish
case-control study that evaluated a switch from SSRIs to a
dopaminergic antidepressant (amineptine) in patients with sexual
dysfunction and observed that 55% of these patients using SSRIs
had persistent sexual dysfunction 6 months after treatment
cessation, whereas only 4% of patients who had switched to
amineptine had these complaints at 6 months. Patients also
tried sildenaﬁl, vardenaﬁl, and other phosphodiesterase type 5
inhibitors and testosterone, but no improvement was docu-
An additional treatment option might be for patients to
switch to bupropion or nefazodone, antidepressants that are not
known to cause any sexual adverse effects.
Bupropion does not
have serotonergic activity and, hence, does not affect sexual
function in patients. In a placebo-controlled comparison study of
bupropion and sertraline treatment in patients, it was noted that
sexual dysfunction symptoms were present in sertraline-treated
patients; however, sexual desire and orgasm dysfunction were
reported much less in patients with bupropion. Overall, the
patients treated with bupropion reported satisfaction with their
Adjunct therapy with bupropion demon-
strated promising results in treating SSRI-related sexual
Another double-blinded study conducted by
Clayton et al
with bupropion added as an adjunct drug to
SSRI-induced sexual dysfunction showed that bupropion was
a successful antidote. Patients treated with bupropion docu-
mented a recovery from their sexual dysfunction in desire and
frequency of sexual activity. This highlights the difﬁculty of
managing patients with PSSD and the importance of PSSD
Cognitive-behavioral therapy also has been used by psychia-
trists to help patients reach a better understanding of their
condition and cope better with their situation. Cognitive-
behavioral therapy is useful for dealing with the negative
thoughts that develop in many patients, such as sexual
inadequacy and low self-esteem.
Partners need to be involved
in this approach, because they are collaterally affected by PSSD.
Sex therapy and couples counseling should aim to educate the
partners that the sexual dysfunction is a side effect of the
medication and not a lack of interest. In addition, such behav-
ioral therapies can provide emotional and psychological support
for patients and partners.
These encouraging results suggest more research into the
management of PSSD could provide further breakthroughs.
With that in mind, it is crucial that all mental health practi-
tioners counsel their patients about PSSD before initiating
Clinicians need to record baselines in these patients
and perform regular follow-ups for sexual function before, dur-
ing, and after SSRI administration.
Kashani et al
reported that saffron exhibited some beneﬁt in improving sexual
arousal and lubrication and might improve the sexual side effects
created by SSRI use. Physicians need to instruct patients to
report any loss of taste or smell, skin sensitivity, or genital
numbness, so that the physician can titrate the SSRI dose or
discontinue or change the medication. Whether a dose reduction
Sex Med Rev 2017;-:1e6
4Bala et al
will avert the possibility of PSSD is uncertain.
informed consent and the right to choose SSRIs as a treatment
option should be required before starting SSRIs.
PSSD is a persistent sexual dysfunction that occurs after
discontinuation of SSRI use. Commonly reported symptoms
include genital anesthesia, erectile dysfunction, pleasure-less
orgasm, decreased sex drive, decrease or absence of erection,
premature ejaculation, vaginal lubrication issues, and nipple
insensitivity in women. PSSD can result in patient non-
compliance to SSRIs.
Different theories have been proposed to
explain the pathophysiology of PSSD: epigenetic gene expression,
cytochrome actions, dopamine-serotonin interactions, proopio-
melanocortin and melanocortin effects, serotonin neurotoxicity,
downregulation of 5HT1A, and hormonal changes in the central
and peripheral nervous systems. Diagnosing PSSD is challenging
and should be done by reviewing the patient’s drug history, onset
of symptoms, and the patient’s sexual condition before starting
such a medication. Furthermore, excluding other comorbid dis-
eases and conditions that can cause PSSD is mandatory.
There is no deﬁnitive treatment for PSSD; however, there are
some proposed management options. Lowering SSRI dosage
could decrease the sexual side effects but weaken the drug’s
initial treatment strategy. Adjunct therapy such as adding sil-
denaﬁl and bupropion did not show statistical beneﬁt.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy might help with PSSD. Buspirone,
trazodone, donepezil, ketamine, metformin, and mirtazapine
have been tested as PSSD treatments, with varying degrees of
success. Clinicians and mental health practitioners need to
counsel their patients about PSSD. All patients need to be
educated about the possibility of persistent impairment of sexual
dysfunction with SSRI usage. There are still many unknowns
about PSSD. It is important to investigate PSSD further to
elucidate its pathogenesis and to discover effective treatments for
Corresponding Author: Wayne J. G. Hellstrom, MD, FACS,
Department of Urology, Tulane University School of Medicine,
New Orleans, LA, USA; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Conﬂicts of Interest: The authors report no conﬂicts of interest.
STATEMENT OF AUTHORSHIP
(a) Conception and Design
Areeg Bala; Wayne J. G. Hellstrom
(b) Acquisition of Data
Areeg Bala; Hoang Minh Tue Nguyen
(c) Analysis and Interpretation of Data
Areeg Bala; Hoang Minh Tue Nguyen
(a) Drafting the Article
(b) Revising It for Intellectual Content
Hoang Minh Tue Nguyen; Wayne J. G. Hellstrom
(a) Final Approval of the Completed Article
Areeg Bala; Hoang Minh Tue Nguyen; Wayne J. G. Hellstrom
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