Women's Experiences Negotiating Sexual Scripts in the Face of Sexual Difficulties

By Darrouzet-Nardi, Jaclyn; Hatch, Alison | Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, Annual 2014 | Go to article overview

Women's Experiences Negotiating Sexual Scripts in the Face of Sexual Difficulties


Darrouzet-Nardi, Jaclyn, Hatch, Alison, Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality


Introduction

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that the rate of antidepressant use among Americans has increased almost 400 percent over the last two decades (2011). According to the CDC's U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, antidepressants are the most common prescription drug taken by Americans aged 18-44 and are the third most common prescription drug taken by Americans of all ages (2011). The popularity of these drugs is arguably a reflection of the pervasiveness of depression in our culture. An estimated 17% of Americans will suffer from a depressive disorder at some point in their lives (Kessler et al., 1994; Cockerham, 2003). At face value, these statistics obscure the gendered dimension of depression. In the U.S., women are twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with depression (Stoppard, 2000; Cockerham, 2003; Emslie, Ridge, Ziebald, & Hunt, 2005), and findings from epidemiological studies, community mental health surveys, and ethnographic research consistently reveal that women are more likely than men to experience depression across the lifespan (Stoppard, 2000). The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that women are 70% more likely to experience depression during their lifetime in comparison to men (2011). It is therefore no surprise that women are also more likely than men to be prescribed antidepressant medications. Additionally, two-thirds of all prescriptions for antidepressant drugs in the U.S. went to women (Stoppard, 2000) and according to the CDC, women are 2.5 times more likely than men to take antidepressants (2011).

Antidepressants have a variety of potential side effects, including fatigue, insomnia, nausea, weight gain, constipation, blurred vision, dry mouth, and problems with sexual functioning (Mayo Clinic, 2013). These unpleasant side effects are believed to be a major factor in many patients' decisions to stop taking antidepressants (Bull et al., 2002). In fact, despite being commonly prescribed, patient compliance with antidepressant treatment regimens is remarkably low. The American Medical Association estimates that 50% of people who begin taking antidepressants stop taking them during the first six months of treatment (Bull et al., 2002).

Despite the high percentage of women prescribed antidepressants, very little is known about women's experiences with antidepressants and their side effects. The small body of sociological scholarship on women's experiences with depression has yet to specifically address women's experiences with prescribed medication. Of specific interest to us is how little is known about how women experience the sexual side effects of these medications. Indeed, with regard to both depression and sexual functioning, women have been understudied relative to men (Stoppard & McMullen, 2003; Tiefer, 2004). Research indicates that the prevalence of sexual side effects among people who take antidepressants may be seriously underestimated by both pharmaceutical companies and physicians (Clayton et al., 2002; Hensley & Nurnberg, 2002). Thus the original intent of this research was to investigate the disjuncture between physicians' estimates of antidepressant drug- induced sexual dysfunction and women's self-reports of the same. However, over the course of this study, what became most interesting from a sociological standpoint was how the sexual side effects experienced by women who took antidepressants were experienced and negotiated in the daily lives of female patients. What was especially illuminating was how the respondents discussed their experiences with sexual side effects and how those experiences impacted their perceptions of their romantic relationships and their sexuality.

This study is based on qualitative interviews with 28 young women who identified themselves as having experienced sexual side effects while taking medication for depression or anxiety. Some of the respondents took a single medication to treat either depression or anxiety; some took a single medication to treat both disorders. …

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