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May 8, 2009

The Surprising Pill That Saved My Sex Life

Dating was all about scoring, until a drug's surprising side effect made other things matter, too.

couple in bed

Photo Credit: Blend Images Photography/Veer.com

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A car horn outside somewhere woke me up. It was 3 a.m. The beautiful woman next to me was fast asleep, but I didn't sneak out the door or wake her up for "round two." Instead, I whispered, "Jenny?" and we stayed up all night talking about Project Runway. I'd never been happier in my life.

This could not have happened in my 20s. Back then, I was addicted to "love" — the kind that happened in a bathroom stall for six minutes. Or a motel for an afternoon. Or a beach house for a week straight. I spent years trying to make those minutes happen to the exclusion of everything else, and I called this servitude freedom. But it got harder and harder to lie to myself, and after one too many spins as a third wheel for coupled-up friends, I found a therapist and started taking medication for depression.

I was told that a reduced libido could be a side effect, but for me it was an active ingredient. Antidepressants turned down the volume on my master's voice, the one that kept screaming, "Bang!" As the lowering of my sex drive helped lift my depression, I saw that I'd been stuck in an endless loop: Meaningless trysts were depressing, and depression led to meaningless trysts. I'd let my libido start relationships in hopes my feelings would catch up later, or keep me in ones where the feelings had faded. And I'd rarely given them a chance to grow from anything other than first impressions. Sex was a distraction, a consolation, a reward. A sport, a snack, a sleep aid.

Then I got on the pills. And then I met Jenny. And I wanted to hear everything she had to say, in every language she knew. Sex changes when your ears are open.

Escaping the hound-dog years slows up the obsession for most men, as testosterone levels decrease. A few good ass-kicking breakups help, too. But for those of us who need one more push, who find ourselves always wondering who might be around the next corner on a block we've just circled, a little chemical wake-me-up is just the thing.

As Jenny and I blabbed on into the night, I thought, Thank God for loud car horns and antidepressants. I asked her to marry me three months later, and we still haven't had a good night's sleep.

Peter Birkenhead lives in Los Angeles. His memoir, Gonville (Free Press), is due out next year.

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