Depression And Sex: How Depression Affects Your Sex Life
Sex can be an intimate and vulnerable act. Due to the nature of sexuality and libido, various factors can impact whether sex is pleasurable or even possible for a person. One of these factors is mental health. Due to stigma, some people may not be aware of how mental health challenges and mental illness can impact sexual drive and pleasure. Understanding these connections may be valuable in helping you remain healthy and happy in your relationships.
Can Depression Impact Sexual Function?
Depression has an impact on many facets of daily life. Work, school, friendships, family relationships, and self-care can be adversely affected. However, for some, its impact is felt most significantly in sexuality and intimate relationships. Its effects can be felt twofold, as the symptoms of depression often decrease libido and drive. At the same time, sexual dysfunction is counted among the many side effects of common depression medications.
For some relationships, sexual intimacy may not be the primary factor in establishing and maintaining connections. However, for others, a healthy sexual connection is critical. Although depression often affects sexual relationships, it may also result in a loss of interest in any sexual activity, including masturbation and sexual fantasies.
Regardless of how low libido affects you, it may create a negative cycle of guilt and frustration that can contribute to depression. However, there are a few steps you can take to recover your sexual desire and build healthy sexual relationships despite these symptoms.
Depression Symptoms And Risk Factors
Understanding the relationship between sex and depression can begin with recognizing its most common symptoms. According to the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), major depressive disorder (MDD) involves five or more of the symptoms below that last for at least two weeks and have a marked impact on daily functioning. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and may include:
- Intense sadness and a low mood
- Excessive guilt or shame without cause
- Thoughts of hopelessness and worthlessness
- Loss of pleasure or interest in formerly enjoyed activities
- Fatigue or a loss of energy
- Changes in appetite
- Sleep disruptions
- Difficulty concentrating
- Persistent thoughts of death or suicidal ideation
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or urges, call the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or text 988 to talk to a crisis provider over SMS. They are available 24/7 to offer support. 988 also offers an online chat for those with an internet connection.
Risk Factors For Depression
Often, signs of depression appear in the late teens throughout the 20s. While there are many risk factors for depression, it is considered highly inherited from first-degree relatives like parents and siblings. In addition, women are more likely to experience depression. However, this may be because men are less likely to seek support due to stigmas.
Other risk factors for depression include the following:
- Past trauma
- Compulsive substance use
- Devastating loss or tragedy
- Chronic stress
- Chronic physical health conditions
If you are struggling with substance use, contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800) 662-4357 to receive support and resources.
Translating Symptoms Of Depression To Loss Of Libido
Every symptom of depression may impact sexual health in some way, with some having more impact than others. Below are a few of these impacts and how they can change sexual desire and intimacy.
From thoughts of hopelessness to body image challenges, many symptoms of depression can negatively affect self-esteem, which directly impacts libido. Low self-esteem can cause individuals to avoid sex or experience reluctance in initiating sex.
When one chooses to have sex, they may not enjoy it or achieve satisfaction. Part of the reason for this effect is chronic rumination during sex. Instead of being “in the moment,” the mind focuses on worries about sexual proficiency and physical appearance due to low self-esteem.
Sexual And Emotional Distance
Depression can cause emotional disconnection, which can often lead to sexual disconnection. The cause of this disconnect may be seeded in the symptoms of affect but also due to the loss of concentration often associated with depression. If your mind is elsewhere during sex, your partner might perceive it as detachment, potentially causing you both difficulties in achieving sexual satisfaction.
Guilt And Shame
Societal and familial stigma about sex may be difficult to cope with. However, when guilt and shame are added to the equation, it can interfere with the way individuals think about sex in general. When you feel guilty about having sex, it may feed the guilt associated with depression, causing a negative cycle. In addition, a hallmark of depression can be reliving past perceived “transgressions” and the negative feelings associated with them, causing problems for people who feel as if they’ve done something “wrong” in their past sexual relationships.
When an individual has developed depression because of a traumatic experience or alongside it, particularly related to physical or sexual abuse, it can have a negative impact on sexual desire and the ability to feel sexual pleasure. A 2018 study from the University of Texas, Austin, identified comorbid post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression as correlates of sexual dysfunction.
If you are facing or witnessing abuse of any kind, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7 for support. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or text “START” to 88788. You can also use the online chat.
Communication can be essential in any relationship, including communication about sex. Depression can result in fear of communicating with your partner, leading to avoidance. Depression can also cause individuals to feel that no one will understand their experiences and difficulties. For this reason, they may avoid discussing how depression has impacted their sexual desire with their partner.
Some people with depression experience physical symptoms like the following:
- High blood pressure
- Fluctuating hormone levels
- Physical discomfort
- Headaches and migraines
- Gastrointestinal distress
- Sleep disruptions
Depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions may also be causes of erectile dysfunction (ED). Some antidepressants and other prescription medications can contribute to ED and decrease sexual desire for women, as well.
How To Recover Your Sexual Desire
Although symptoms of depression may cause one to believe that change is hopeless, it may be possible to recover your libido and heal your relationship with sex. Below are a few steps to take.
Visit Your Doctor
While depression is a common cause of sexual dysfunction, visit your primary care physician (PCP) to address or eliminate physical causes. Consider getting a complete physical examination, including lab work and an evaluation of your family medical history. Communicate with your doctor about your symptoms and depression, and partner with them on the course of treatment.
Some may find it difficult to talk openly about sex, particularly on topics of sexual dysfunction. However, your doctor is there to help. Whether they find a physical condition causing your lack of sex drive or eliminate physiological reasons altogether, they may recommend open communication with your therapist.
Talk To Your Therapist
After addressing potential physical causes, speak candidly with your therapist about your libido. It may be challenging to open up at first, but treatment cannot be applied without a therapist understanding your needs. In addition, therapists are trained to be non-judgmental and non-biased and deal with sexual topics often. If you’re not currently seeing a therapist, it may be beneficial to sign up for therapy.
Your therapist may address your decrease in sexual desire using psychotherapy practices like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) with the goal of changing how you think about sex and your relationship with your sexuality or helping you work through experiences that may have changed your views of sex. If applicable, your mental health professional may partner with your primary care provider or psychiatrist to provide information to help your doctors manage your medication.
Consider Couples Therapy
Couples therapy can effectively address and resolve sexual intimacy challenges, with research indicating a positive impact on around 70% of couples who adhere to treatment. Couples often find it easier to communicate openly with the mediation of a mental health professional, not only about thoughts and feelings but sexual desire and interaction. A relationship therapist can help the couple uncover the root causes of their relationship difficulties, actively listen to each other’s perspectives, and learn how to understand them in a nurturing way.
Therapists specializing in helping couples often use the same or similar methods of treatment that individual therapists employ. One of the most common is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). However, couples can also use modalities tailored explicitly to relationship dynamics, such as emotionally focused therapy (EFT) or sex therapy, which involves discussing sex openly regarding mental health.
Consider Online Support
If you have symptoms of depression, including a waning sex drive, you’re not alone—research indicates that one in six people experience depression at some point in their lives. Of these individuals, 34% of adults seek treatment for depression. However, some may avoid seeking help due to social stigma, inaccessibility, difficulty scheduling and keeping appointments, and finances. In the case of couples therapy, coordinating busy schedules around sessions, discomfort about talking to a therapist in person, and worries over the affordability of therapy provide unique boundaries.
Online therapy through platforms like BetterHelp for individuals and Regain for couples offers an effective solution to such obstacles, providing people with convenient, affordable therapy as effective as traditional therapy.
One study measuring the self-reported experiences of 318 individuals with depression found that users of an online platform experienced significantly reduced depression symptom severity after engaging with the platform. Online couples therapy is also as effective as traditional therapy for helping partners resolve challenges like sexual libido changes.
What impact does depression have on sex?
Depression may cause an individual to have less of an interest in sex, according to a study from American Family Physician. Those who are clinically depressed may also experience symptoms like low self-esteem and low energy, which can contribute to a person having less sex or not enjoying sex as much as usual.
Other potential sexual problems that could arise from depression include premature ejaculation and delayed ejaculation. These sexual challenges often resolve when you treat depression.
However, some forms of antidepressant medication, like serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), can also have sexual side effects. For some people, the blood flow to their sex organs may be impacted by medication, potentially causing difficulties with their usual sexual response and making it harder to enjoy sex. Be sure to inform your doctor if you’re experiencing any medication side effects.
Is depression linked to a lack of sex?
According to a 2017 study, “Sexless Americans reported very similar happiness levels as their sexually active counterparts.” Still, those experiencing sexual frustration may also experience symptoms of depression in some cases. Whether depression can be linked to a lack of sex may vary depending on the individual.
Does depression cause high sex drive?
In most cases, depression can cause a person to lose interest in having sex. This may differ for some people, and they may find that their sexual desire starts to increase during periods of depression.
However, this can be more common in mood disorders involving mania. Mental health disorders like bipolar disorder and depression affect people differently in many cases.
How do you deal with depression and sex?
It can be best to seek professional help if you’re living with depression and struggling to maintain a healthy sex life. Therapy, lifestyle changes, and medication (such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) may all be helpful tools in restoring your mental health. Always talk to your doctor before starting or stopping any form of medication.
Can depression make sex uncomfortable?
It’s possible that depression may contribute to uncomfortable sex. If you’re experiencing uncomfortable sex, it can be best to talk to your doctor and a therapist to address the root of the problem.
Is there a sex difference in depression?
In general, women tend to develop depression more often than men.
What are the mental effects of sex?
Sex usually boosts the levels of serotonin in the brain, which can improve mood and relieve stress.
Is sex good during depression?
While sex can release feel-good hormones, it may not always be an appropriate way to cope with depression.
Which sex is more depressed?
Women tend to develop depression more often than men.
Why did I get depressed during sex?
If you weren’t physically or emotionally ready to have sex, it’s possible to experience symptoms of depression during or afterward. In addition, a condition called postcoital dysphoria may leave individuals feeling depressed, anxious, or agitated after sexual activity.
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