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Depression and Sex – How Depression Affects Your Sex Life

depression and sex

Depression and Sex – How Depression Affects Your Sex Life

Depression affects all aspects of life, including your sex life. Not only does it dampen your sex drive, but it also affects your sexual function and libido. Read along to learn more about depression and sex. 

Depression and Sex – Overview

Individuals may all have difficulties initiating and enjoying intimacy because of depression—many people with untreated depression experience erectile dysfunction and anorgasmia (difficulty reaching orgasm).

Various symptoms of depression like anxiety, stress, low mood, and guilt lead to decreased libido. It affects your ability to be aroused, maintain arousal and reach orgasm. The process of sexual arousal starts with the ability to anticipate pleasure, which is affected by depression.

Depression also affects sex because of biology. It starts with neurotransmitters (chemicals messengers in the brain) that communicate between your brain and your sexual organs. When the body anticipates pleasure, the body responds by pumping blood to the sex organs. Increased blood flow in your sex organs triggers arousal through vaginal lubrication and erection.

The sex-related chemicals are out of balance in a person with depression; thus, sexual desire is low or missing. 

Depression and Sex – Ways Depression Cause Sexual Dysfunction

The common problems that depression causes include:

  • Increased emotional sensitivity – when things go a miss in a sexual relationship, as issues never lack, a person who is depressed might misinterpret these temporary issues because of mental health problems. This often leads to them avoiding sex further. 
  • Lack of pleasure – when you’re depressed, you no longer enjoy the things you liked doing, including sexual relationships that you might have previously really enjoyed.
  • Low energy – fatigue is a symptom of depression that can rob one’s sexual energy. Depression can cause too much or too little sleep, and even a long rest doesn’t revive a person’s energy. In this case, fatigue compromises sexual desire and pleasure. The energy to pleasure your partner may feel absent.
  • Difficulty with bonding – depressed people often struggle to feel worthy of love. This is because of reduced self-esteem and mood swings. Furthermore, their sexual partners may feel frustrated because of abuse and isolation by their depressed partners.

Depression Medicines Play A Role Too

Antidepressants are the most common forms of medical treatment for depression. However, many of these drugs have sexual side effects. The most common antidepressants include:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
  • Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
  • Tetracyclic and tricyclic medications

SSRIs work increasing levels of brain chemical serotonin. While increased serotonin boosts your mood, it also hinders normal communication between brain chemicals and sex organs. SSRIs bring difficulty in getting an erection or ejaculate in men. In women, it hinders orgasm.

According to a study by Drug Healthcare and Patient Safety, the commonly reported side effects of antidepressants include:

  • Loss of sensation
  • Loss of sexual excitement
  • Decreased sexual desire
  • Diminished or delayed orgasm
  • Persistent genital arousal 

If you are living with depression, below are some steps to improve your sex life:

Treat Depression First

Whatever sexual side effects you have, it’s important to treat the depression first and address the sexual side effects later. Depression is the main cause of disability for people aged 15 – 44 in the U.S.

People with depression are locked in the suffering moment. So unless you treat the depression first, it’s almost impossible to treat its sexual side effects.

It’s advisable to see a psychotherapist to heal and understand the roots of your depression.

Check out LGBTQ and ALL Mental Health Resources to find a suitable professional near you.

You can treat depression by taking antidepressants that have low sexual side effects. Drugs that increase norepinephrine or dopamine are less likely to have sexual side effects.

You can also treat depression by making positive lifestyle changes, including healthy eating, exercise, quality sleep, and meditation.

Consider Medication Change

Ironically, the drugs most prescribed to alleviate depression belong to a class of drugs with adverse sexual side effects. A good example is selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) which reduce sexual desire and inhibit orgasm.

If you’re on medication and it’s affecting your sexual health, it’s not advisable to go off medication without the doctor’s supervision. Consult your doctor for alternative medication.

Studies also show that adding buspirone in people on SSRIs relieves sexual side effects by 58%. 

Alternative medications with fewer sexual side effects include bupropion (Wellbutrin), mirtazapine, nefazodone, and vilazodone.

Avoid antidepressants like citalopram, fluoxetine, escitalopram, paroxetine, sertraline, and venlafaxine.

Include Your Partner in Finding a Solution

It’s crucial to include your partner in discussions concerning your depression and its side effects on your sex life.

This can be done informally, or see a therapist if you two need help guiding the conversation. Open partners who talk about these problems and how to solve them help ease pressure on the depressed partner. The support leads to sexual function improvement as the situation becomes less stressful.

If you suffer from low libido in a closed relationship and your partner has high expectations about performance, it can be hard to live to those expectations. In such a case, people often drop their medication, which can be a mistake.

Regular Exercise 

People suffering from depression should incorporate exercise into their routine. Exercise helps reduce stress by producing endorphins, hormones that reduce stress and relieve pain, making you feel happy. And if you’re happy, your sex life is sure to benefit.

Regular exercise boosts blood circulation into your sex organs, thus reducing the risk of erectile dysfunction.

Exercise helps boost self-esteem. It makes you feel good about yourself, which is also reflected in the bedroom.

Regular exercise strengthens your core, leg muscles, and pelvic floor. The stronger the muscles, the more frequent and intense your orgasms can be.

Exercises that help increase stamina and sensation include; kegel (pelvic floor exercises), bridge (glutes and pelvic floor exercises), pushups, lunges, plunk, and squats.

Depression and Sex – The Bottom Line

Your mental health and physical health go hand in hand. Depression affects not only your sexual health but also your ability to be in open and intimate relationships.

If you’re are experiencing sexual side effects of depression, talk to your therapist, partner, friends, and family. A strong support system is key in mental health treatment.

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Kaitlen Knowles, Clinical Social Work/Therapist, LCSW (she, her), Rochester, NY

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