A subsequent letter to the NYRB examines the adverse effects of anti-depressants on sexual performance. As is well-known seratonin-enhancing antidepressants such as Prozac cause sexual dysfunction and restrict people’s ability to fall in love but I was struck by a description of the function of orgasm in women that was developed as part of this argument:
‘... female orgasm has many functions. Among them, it aids sperm retention and enables women to discriminate between self-centered as opposed to dedicated partners—partners who might be more likely to help them rear their young. Female orgasm may also help women choose men with better genes, as women are more orgasmic with men who are healthy and symmetrical, markers of good testosterone load. Female orgasm may also enhance feelings of attachment, because it stimulates the release of oxytocin and prolactin. As these drugs [the antidepressants] impair or eliminate female orgasm, they interfere with delicate biological mechanisms designed to aid mate choice and partner attachment....
In short, the sex drive operates in conjunction with many other neural systems that govern desire, mate choice, romantic love, and attachment, perhaps even mechanisms that detect facial attractiveness, immune system compatibility, and other neural systems we unconsciously use to mate, breed, and rear our young.....’
Of course men don’t get off without direct effects either when they consume anti-depressants – they reduce the capacity to court, inseminate and attach to a potential partner but the description of the function of a female orgasm – the way it sorts out caring males from non-carers - I had not seen before.
I am interested in factors which increase and decrease libido. Of course the snigger factor and a residual prudery towards the explicit examination of sexual matters provide obstacles to discussion.