Depression And Sex: How Depression Affects Your Sex Life
Depression has an impact on many facets of daily life. Work, school, friendships, family relationships, and more. But for many, its impact is felt most significantly in matters of sexuality and intimate relationships. Its effects can be felt twofold: not only do the symptoms of depression often decrease libido and drive, but sexual dysfunction is counted among the many side effects of common depression medications (particularly SSRIs).
For some relationships, sexual intimacy isn’t as important for establishing and maintaining connection- but for many, a healthy sexual connection is critical. Although depression often affects sexual relationships, it’s prudent to note that it can also result in loss of interest in any type of sexual activity, including masturbation and sexual fantasies.
Regardless of how low libido affects you, it can create a negative cycle of feelings of guilt and frustration that feed depression. In this post, we’ll examine the symptoms of depression, how they affect sexual libido, and what you can do to recover your sexual desire and build healthy sexual relationships again.
Depression Symptoms And Risk Factors
Understanding the relationship between sex and depression begins with recognizing its most common symptoms. According to the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), major depression disorder diagnosis is concluded when five or more of the symptoms below last for two weeks or more and have a marked impact on daily functioning. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and may include:
Intense feelings of sadness and low mood
Feelings of excessive guilt or shame without cause
Feelings of hopelessness, unworthiness
Loss of pleasure or interest in formerly enjoyed activities
Fatigue, loss of energy
Changes in appetite leading to weight fluctuations
Persistent thoughts of death, suicidal ideation
If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts, reach out for help immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: can be reached at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and is available 24/7.
In most cases, signs of depression appear in the late teens throughout the 20s. While there are many risk factors for depression, it appears to be highly inheritable from first-degree relatives (parents, siblings). Also, studies suggest that women are more likely to experience depression.
Other Risk Factors Include, But Aren’t Limited To-
Compulsive drug and alcohol use
Devastating loss or tragedy
Chronic physical health conditions, particularly involving frequent or constant pain
Translating Symptoms Of Depression To Loss Of Libido
Every symptom of depression impacts sexual health in some way, some more than others (the inability to find pleasure or happiness in things you once enjoyed is a big one). Here are some common ways that depression symptoms cause issues of sexual desire and intimacy:
Depression Impacts Self-Esteem
From feelings of hopelessness to body image issues potentially resulting from weight fluctuations, almost every symptom of depression can negatively affect our self-esteem, which directly impacts our libido. It can make people frequently avoid sex and/or have reluctance initiating sex. When sex does occur, many people experiencing low self-esteem are less likely to enjoy it or help their partner achieve satisfaction. Part of the reason for this is chronic rumination during sex- where instead of being “in the moment,” the mind focuses on worries over sexual proficiency and physical appearance.
Feeling Sexually And Emotionally Distant
Often depression causes feelings of emotional disconnection, which can often lead to sexual disconnection. Again, the reason for these feelings may be seeded in the symptoms of affect, but also because of the loss of concentration often associated with depression. If your mind is elsewhere during sex, your partner will likely register this as detachment, potentially causing you both difficulties achieving sexual satisfaction.
Feelings Of Guilt And Shame
Societal and familial stigma about sex may be difficult to cope with, but when we add baseless feelings of guilt and shame to the equation, it can interfere with the way we think about sex in general. When we feel guilty about having sex, it feeds the symptoms of guilt associated with depression, causing a negative cycle. Also, a hallmark of depression is 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.
Impact Of Past Trauma
When an individual has depression as a result of a traumatic experience, particularly related to physical and/or sexual abuse, it can have a seriously negative impact on sexual desire and the ability to feel sexual pleasure- with one 2018 study from the University of Texas, Austin identifying “comorbid PTSD and depression as correlates of sexual dysfunction.”
Communication is key in any relationship, including communicating about sex. Depression can result in anxiety about communicating with your partner, leading to avoidance. Depression is also an isolating disorder, causing many who have it to feel as if no one will understand their experiences and difficulties.
Many people experiencing physical disorders report comorbidity with depression that may negatively impact sexual function. For example, high blood pressure, fluctuating hormone levels, physical discomfort due to headache and gastrointestinal distress, and more. In addition, sleep disruptions and drug and alcohol use commonly associated with depression can have a biological influence on sexual desire. Research also cites depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues as potential causes of erectile dysfunction (ED). Some anti-depressants such as SSRIs and other prescription medications can contribute to ED and decreased sexual desire for women, too.
Recovering Your Sex Life
Although symptoms of depression can often make people feel hopeless to fix the problems in their lives- it is possible to recover your libido and heal your relationship with your partner:
Visit Your Doctor First
While depression is a common cause of sexual dysfunction, it’s important to visit your primary care physician (PCP) to address and/or eliminate any 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 a course of treatment.
Many find it difficult to talk openly about sex, particularly on topics of sexual dysfunction, but it’s important to remember that your doctor is there to help. Whether they find a physical condition causing your lack of sex drive, or they eliminate physiological reasons all together, they’ll likely recommend open communication with your therapist, especially before changing any medications you might be taking.
Talk To Your Therapist
After potential physical causes have been addressed, you should speak candidly with your therapist about your libido issues. Again, it may be difficult, but healthy sexuality is holistic and both physical and mental variables must be addressed for proper treatment of sexual problems. (If you aren’t seeing a therapist, now is a good time to seek help.) Your therapist will likely address your decrease in sexual desire using psychotherapy, most commonly cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) with the goal of changing the way you think about sex and your relationship with your own sexuality. If necessary, your mental health professional will also partner with your PCP or psychiatrist to adjust any medications you may be taking if they establish that it’s contributing to your low libido.
Consider Couples Therapy
Couples therapy is an effective way to address and resolve issues of sexual intimacy, with research indicating a positive impact on roughly 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 perspective, and learn how to understand them in a nurturing way.
Therapists who specialize 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), a method of treatment that focuses on helping the patient recognize “thought distortions,” or the unhealthy thoughts the individual has that lead to troubles with behavior and emotional processing. Once thought distortions are identified, the patient and therapist work together to reframe them in a way more aligned with outside reality. Changing these perspectives changes the individual’s relationship to their thoughts, improving overall mental well-being.
If you have symptoms of depression, including waning sex drive, you’re not alone- research indicates that one in six people will experience depression at some point in their lives. Despite its pervasiveness, it’s estimated that only 66.0% of adults in the U.S. seek treatment. The reasons for this are varied, ranging from familial/societal stigma, inaccessibility to a therapist in the area, difficulty scheduling and keeping appointments, and more. In the case of couple’s therapy- coordinating busy schedules around sessions, discomfort over talking to a therapist in person, and worries over the affordability of therapy provide unique boundaries.
Online therapy through platforms like BetterHelp offers an effective solution to such obstacles, providing people with convenient, affordable therapy that’s as effective as traditional therapy. For example, one study measuring the self-reported experiences of 318 individuals with depression found that “Users of BetterHelp 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 and move beyond relationship difficulties.
You can speak to a BetterHelp therapist online at your convenience, from the comfort of home via text, phone, online messaging, and video chat- and if you need assistance between appointments, you can message your therapist any time 24/7. Online therapy is also often more affordable than traditional therapy without insurance.
If you’re ready to renew your connection with your partner and your sexuality, help is available. Contact a BetterHelp therapist to get started.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Does lack of sex cause depression?
Sex is a personal choice and natural desire that every individual approaches differently. There is no health information that alludes to a link to abstinence, celibacy, or a decrease in sexual activity and the onset of depression. Many adults live satisfying lives while choosing not to enjoy sex for reasons ranging from age, relationship status, physical health, or cultural traditions. However, there are certain physical and psychological benefits a person may not experience, if they do not engage in sexual activity for an extended period. Medical News Today states that regular sex can help improve the immune system, lower stress, avert heart disease, and reduce blood pressure. Lack of sex may leave you feeling blue, but the expected dissatisfaction would not be classified as depression unless you have been experiencing signs and symptoms for two or more consecutive weeks. In which case, you should find a psychiatrist to speak to for further evaluation.
Can mental health affect sex?
A person with mental health issues can experience residual effects that impact their sexual experiences. Dealing with depression can pose significant challenges and distractions that make sex less of a desirable or pleasurable experience. People with mental health challenges may endure fluctuations in their mood, communication issues, and unclear thoughts, all of which can affect their sex lives. Curbed libido, sexual dysfunction, and associated hormonal imbalances are a common side effect of mental health issues and certain treatment strategies. If you find that your mental health has affected your sex life, speak with your doctor to determine how to safely treat your concerns. Be open with your therapist about the sexual side effects you are experiencing without fear or embarrassment. The key to receiving the health treatment you need is being honest with your care providers and speaking up about your concerns as soon as you notice them. You may also wish to find a sex therapist who specializes in remedying sexual problems and depression. By successfully managing the diagnosis, many people see a natural resurrection in their sexual function and desire, with time. Be sure to follow the medical advice of your doctor without attempting to adjust your treatment on your own. Caring for mental illness will always take precedence over sex.
Does depression cause erectile dysfunction?
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a natural event that all men will experience at some point in their lives. A decrease in sexual desire or performance is usually a residual effect that can be linked to other issues. Psychological influences, including depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder, can account for up to 20% of all instances of erectile dysfunction. Erectile dysfunction is often associated with non-physical causes such as stress, anxiety, guilt, childhood abuse, or sexual trauma, or a vice diagnosis like drug addiction. In some cases, antidepressant drugs or other prescription medication may present side effects that cause erectile dysfunction as well. The health treatment for remedying the way depression can affect your sex life varies for each person and relationship. You and your partner may need to consult the help of a sex therapist or search for medical advice from your primary care physician. If you are experiencing sexual side effects that you believe may be linked to depression, talk with your therapist about adjusting your treatment plan. Mental illness should be taken seriously, even when it presents unfortunate sexual challenges. You may also find help through local or online support groups specializing in ED, relationship challenges, substance abuse, or mental health. There are many options available to help you retain adequate mental health treatment while simultaneously addressing your sexual relationships. Find a doctor you trust and ask them about your options.
How do I get my sex drive back?
Sexual appetites can remain healthy and thriving well into your golden years. Recent health information confirms that many people still find sex to be an integral part of their lives well into their 60s and 70s. However, increased age commonly affects people’s sexual function, resulting in lower hormone levels and decreased sexual pleasure. Testosterone levels drop approximately 1% each year after a man enters his late 30s. Testosterone therapy has helped some men increase their sexual arousal by an estimated 50%. Women’s health can also inhibit their sexual engagement, stemming from causes ranging from infertility, reproductive health, lack of sleep, rapid weight loss/gain, and childbirth. For help exploring any physical issues that could be affecting your sex drive, visit your doctor or a medical center that specializes in hormone or reproductive care.
Remedying a decline in sexual interest that is not due to age begins with surveying your mental, emotional, and physical wellness. Working with a sex therapist, you can explore and underlying issues that could be responsible for your sexual decline. Harvard Health suggests some valuable health information on resurrecting your drive and libido, including increased exercise, a change in diet, and effectively treating pre-existing mental health illness. Some challenges like drug addiction or eating disorders may require more time to correct, as well as additional therapy on the way these issues can impact your sexual comfort levels.
The signs of depression can directly counter the comfort, clarity of mind, and communication required to maintain healthy sexual relationships. Taking care of your body and mind, while being sure to remind yourself that managing your mental health is the key to making sure you enjoy sex for as long as you desire.
Why do men lose interest in sex?
There is no general explanation for the common decline in sexual desire experienced by men. As they age, it is natural for some men to lose interest in sex but studies have shown there is no difference in the way men and women process sexual feelings and emotions, which means any lost desire should be evaluated on a personal level. Recent sexual health information suggests that hormonal decline, stress, alcoholism, drug addiction, and depression could all be responsible for a person’s loss in sexual interest. In other instances, restricted desire may be the result of communication issues within that person’s relationship. If the decreased interest in sex is a result of depression or other mood disorders, find a doctor to discuss potential treatment options. Modifying prescriptions or recommending the help of couple’s therapy or related support groups may be the key to salvaging your sex life and relationship. Men’s health treatment includes monitoring their emotional, mental, and physical wellness. If a loss in interest in sex is negatively impactiing your life, seek the help of the proper mental and men’s healt services to help you restore that balance.
What foods make you horny?
Nature is filled with libido raising aphrodisiacs, some of which may already be in your kitchen. People interested in raising their sexual appetite without exploring expensive interventions and health treatment may decide to make a few small adjustments to their diet. Many foods, herbs, and spices are praised for their ability to improve your sex life including ginger, dark chocolate, maca root, spinach, and oysters. Foods like tribulus have reportedly increased sexual hormones at rates arguably close to more scientific health treatment. At the proper dosage, men have reported an increase in testosterone levels and erectile function, while 88% of women who previously reported low sexual pleasure experienced noticeable improvement at the end of a 90-day study. Red ginseng is believed to improve the sexual desire and function of menopausal women. Many people also claim aphrodisiacs like fenugreek and ginkgo biloba have also increased their sexual appetites.
Why do I not want sex?
Sex is as much of a personal choice as it is a natural human desire. When a person experiences an aversion to sex, it can be traced to various underlying issues, some of which can be fixed through open communication and others that require more engaged health treatment. The answer to the reason why you aren’t interested in having sex, and the steps you should take to solve that problem, vary with each individual’s circumstances. Some people choose not to have sex for religious or cultural reasons. Others may commit to abstinence or celibacy on a personal quest to better understand themselves or heal from childhood or sexual trauma. On a physical level, some people may undergo various health treatment procedures that require abstaining from sex, or other health-related issues that affect the way they perceive their body image. As people age, they may experience changes in their personal, professional, and social lives that impact their interest in sex to the point of avoidance. Depression is among a common cause for sexual avoidance, often caused by some combination of hormonal imbalance and the side effects of mental health treatment.
Symptoms of depression can detract from your sexual self-esteem, causing thoughts that may make people with depression feel less desirable, attractive, or open to intimacy. Depression can also affect your ability to communicate with sexual partners about your comfort levels or needs. Feelings of guilt, dissatisfaction, anxiety, and overwhelm may make it difficult to focus on enjoying sexual experiences as well. Before allowing depression to continue to impede on your sex life, speak with your doctor about your concerns. These issues are common, which means many health treatment options are available. Your doctor can work with you to develop a treatment strategy that prioritizes your mental health while assisting you with restoring your sexual experiences. Supplemental therapy like joining support groups for people experiencing sexual or relationship issues can help you develop the tools and coping skills needed to be comfortable with sex again.
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