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Reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
If you’ve looked into the side effects of antidepressant medications, you may have come across mentions of sexual side effects, such as a low sexual desire or difficulty reaching orgasm.
Celexa®, which contains the active ingredient citalopram, is one of several medications used to treat depression. Like with other antidepressants, a small percentage of people who use Celexa experience sexual side effects.
The good news is that sexual side effects from Celexa are uncommon, and they can usually be treatable by making changes to the way you use your medication.
Below, we’ve explained what Celexa is, as well as the potential side effects you may experience while using Celexa to treat depression.
We’ve also explained what you can do if you notice changes in your sexual functioning after you start treatment with Celexa.
As an antidepressant, Celexa works by increasing the amount of serotonin that’s active in your brain and body.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter — a type of natural chemical that carries signals between nerve cells. It’s responsible for managing aspects of your mood and mental health, including feelings of happiness, anxiety and general emotional stability.
Research suggests that low levels of serotonin contribute to some symptoms of depression, as well as anxiety disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
By increasing serotonin levels, Celexa can help to promote mental balance and make anxiety or depression symptoms less severe.
Celexa is available as a tablet and as a liquid solution for oral use. It’s normally taken once daily, in either the morning or evening. If you’re prescribed Celexa, your mental health provider will let you know how and when to take your medication, as well as what dosage of Celexa to take.
Celexa is generally a safe and effective medication. However, like other antidepressants, it may cause adverse effects. Many of the side effects of Celexa are mild and transient, although some may be persistent and bothersome.
Common side effects of Celexa include:
Muscle and/or joint pain
Heavy menstrual periods
Many antidepressants, including Celexa, can potentially cause or contribute to changes in your sexual desire and sexual dysfunctions. These could affect your interest in sex, or your ability to have pleasurable or satisfying sex with your partner.
In women, Celexa can cause the following sexual side effects:
Reduced sex drive. While using citalopram, you may feel like your desire for sex isn’t as strong as normal. You might have fewer sexual thoughts and feel less motivated to have sex than before you started taking medication.
Delayed orgasm. You may notice that it takes longer than normal for you to have an orgasm during sex or masturbation, or that you require more intense or longer-lasting stimulation to feel satisfied during sexual activity.
Inability to have an orgasm. In some cases, citalopram can cause anorgasmia — an inability to achieve orgasm. You may find it impossible to have an orgasm, even with significant amounts of sexual stimulation.
In men, Celexa can cause a reduced sex drive, delayed or absent orgasm and ejaculation, as well as erectile dysfunction (ED).
These side effects sound alarming, but it’s important to keep in mind that they only occur in a small percentage of people who use Celexa.
For example, clinical trials of Celexa show that approximately two percent of people who use this medication experience a reduced level of interest in sex. In other words, the majority of people who use Celexa don’t report any decline in sex drive after starting treatment.
If you’re currently prescribed Celexa and notice that you have a weaker sex drive than usual or find it difficult to reach orgasm, your first step should be to talk to your healthcare provider.
Many side effects of Celexa are transient, meaning they only last for a short time after you start using your medication. If you’ve recently started to take Celexa for depression, your healthcare provider may suggest waiting to see if your sex drive or sexual function improves on its own.
If you have more persistent severe sexual side effects from Celexa, your healthcare provider may recommend:
Taking your medication at a different time of day. If you normally take Celexa in the morning, switching to a pre-sleep dosage schedule that lets you to take your medication before sex may help to improve your sexual function.
Adjusting your dosage of Celexa. Celexa is prescribed at a dosage of either 20mg or 40mg per day. Your healthcare provider may suggest reducing your Celexa dosage if you have sexual side effects or other issues that don’t improve on their own.
Changing to a different antidepressant. If changing the time that you take Celexa or adjusting your dosage don’t work, your healthcare provider may suggest switching to a different antidepressant.
Switching antidepressants is common and normal. In fact, many people with depression try several medications before finding one that offers the right mix of health benefits and tolerable side effects.
There’s no one-size-fits-all way to deal with side effects from Celexa, meaning your healthcare may try one or several of the above options. Make sure to follow their instructions as closely as possible and inform them if your side effects don’t improve.
It’s important not to abruptly stop taking Celexa, even if you start to develop sexual side effects or other issues.
Stopping Celexa abruptly may cause you to develop antidepressant discontinuation syndrome, or antidepressant withdrawal. This is a common issue that affects about 20 percent of people after suddenly stopping treatment with antidepressants.
Withdrawal symptoms that can occur when Celexa is stopped abruptly include:
Flu-like symptoms, such as fatigue, headaches, lethargy, aches and sweating
Balance issues, including dizziness, light-headedness and vertigo
Insomnia, including with vivid dreams or nightmares
Hyperarousal, including anxiety, agitation, irritability, mania and aggression
Nausea, vomiting and other stomach and digestive system issues
Sensory disturbances, including burning, tingling or shock-like sensations
If you have a reduced sex drive, sexual satisfaction or sexual function from Celexa and want to stop taking your medication, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider before making any changes.
Your healthcare provider will instruct you to gradually taper your dosage of Celexa so that your risk of withdrawal syndrome is minimized. You may need to slowly stop taking your medication over the course of several weeks.
In some cases, your healthcare provider may recommend changing to a different medication to treat your depression. Certain antidepressant drugs, such as Wellbutrin® (bupropion), are less likely to cause sexual side effects than Celexa.
Switching medications, rather than simply stopping Celexa, may help to reduce the severity of your sexual side effects while minimizing your risk of having your depression return.
All antidepressants have the potential to cause side effects, including some that may affect your sexual health and function. Celexa is no exception, and a small percentage of women who take this medication report experiencing a weak sex drive and/or difficulty reaching orgasm.
If you start to notice sexual side effects after starting treatment with Celexa, it’s important to tell your healthcare provider as soon as possible.
They may suggest adjusting your dosage of Celexa, using your medication at a different time of day, or switching to a different type of medication that’s less likely to affect your sexual health.
Interested in using Celexa to treat depression? We offer generic citalopram as part of our range of depression and anxiety medications, which are available following an online consultation with a licensed psychiatry provider.
Kate Hagerty is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over a decade of healthcare experience. She has worked in critical care, community health, and as a retail health provider.
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