Depression and sex are closely linked. In addition to feelings of low self-esteem and fatigue, a defining feature of depression is no longer finding pleasure in things that used to be pleasurable. That may mean experiencing a lower sex drive and even sexual dysfunction. But therapy and certain lifestyle changes, like exercise and proper sleep, can significantly improve depression symptoms, including those negatively impacting your sex life.
How Does Depression Impact Sex?
Many people struggle with their sexual functioning when they have depression. Sexual desire starts in the brain’s neurotransmitters, and when you experience depression, the brain doesn’t work properly and sometimes makes people feel much less sexual desire.1 Fatigue is also a common symptom of depression, and this can further reduce the desire for intimacy.
If you’re on antidepressants, you may find that your sex drive is reduced.2 Antidepressants may cause changes in sexual functioning, and your ability to reach orgasm may be different than when you’re not taking antidepressants.
Common sex-related issues associated with depression include:
- Inability to achieve orgasm (anorgasmia) – This is characterized by changes in how long it takes to achieve orgasm, such as needing more time to achieve orgasm or needing different stimulation than what used to be required.3
- Erectile dysfunction and/or delayed ejaculation – Many men experience erectile dysfunction or delayed ejaculation at various points in their lives. This situation occurs when a man has difficulty achieving an orgasm and/or ejaculation. If this happens occasionally, it’s not a cause for concern, but when it becomes chronic, it becomes more frustrating for the man and/or partner.
- Premature ejaculation – Premature ejaculation occurs when a man can’t control his urge to have an orgasm during sex with his partner.4 An orgasm may often happen within one minute of penetration. Premature ejaculation is a common situation for men.
- Decreased sex drive – When people have little interest in sex and few spontaneous thoughts about sex during the day it is considered a decreased sex drive (sometimes even hypoactive sexual desire disorder). They don’t fantasize much about sex and aren’t easily aroused to be intimate with a partner.
Can Sex-Related Issues Cause Depression?
While depression can contribute to sexual issues, it’s important to note that sexual issues can also worsen depression and increase feelings of worthlessness and despondence. Our sexual lives are tied in with our sense of value, desirability, and attractiveness, so when things aren’t going well sexually, our mood can certainly take a hit.
How Do Antidepressants Affect Sex?
Antidepressant medication can help counteract some of the symptoms of depression by altering the functioning of neurotransmitters in the brain, but side effects of SSRIs (a common antidepressant) may include sexual side effects, including sexual dysfunction.
Be sure to speak with your medical provider to determine if reduced interest in sex is due to depression or antidepressant medication. In that case, your prescriber may try a different antidepressant that is less likely to impact libido and sexual functioning.
Is it Possible to Enjoy Sex with Depression?
With the right treatment, most people can manage their depression while still enjoying a healthy sex life. The first focus of treatment should be on treating depression. Once the depression is managed and your mood is improved, your sexual concerns will likely improve. If not, talk with your provider or a therapist.
5 Tips for Coping with Depression & Sex-Related Issues
There are many effective treatments for depression including several types of therapy for depression and antidepressants. If you take an antidepressant that negatively affects your sexual functioning or desire, talk with your medical provider about other options. There are many medication options, so it’s well worth trying a different medicine.
Five strategies to cope with depression’s impact on your sex life are:
1. Get More Exercise
Increasing aerobic and non-aerobic activity can improve your physical fitness and positively affect sex-related symptoms of depression. Exercise is beneficial for mental health generally and can positively impact mood and self-esteem. Aerobic exercise increases blood flow, which is the key for arousal for men and women.
2. Break the Pattern of Not Having Sex
Sometimes you can get into a routine of not having sex, and it can be tough to break out of that habit. People can consider having sex or being intimate even if they don’t really feel the desire to do so. Cuddling and non-sexual touch can help increase the feel-good chemicals in the brain and eventually increase sex drive.
3. Limit Your Use of Alcohol, Drugs & Tobacco
Using alcohol, drugs, or tobacco substances can all affect sexual performance and sexual satisfaction, so it’s a good idea to monitor your use when trying to increase your libido. Chronic use of these substances can cause low sex drive, sexual dysfunction, premature ejaculation, erectile dysfunction, and trouble reaching orgasm.
4. Get Good Sleep
Fatigue and sleep deprivation can contribute to a loss of libido. Insomnia is a risk factor for sexual dysfunction, and a lack of sleep or having disrupted sleep patterns has been linked to having a higher risk of erectile dysfunction. Prioritize good, refreshing sleep, and you’ll likely see improvement in your sexual life.
5. Talk With Your Medical Provider
Your physician, nurse practitioner, or physician assistant can help adjust your medication doses, change your prescription, or try new medications if you’re taking an antidepressant or other medication that is contributing to your sexual issues.
When to Seek Professional Help
You may notice that even though you’ve done things that you hoped would help, you are still struggling. If this is the case, it’s certainly a good idea to talk with your medical provider. Talking to a therapist can also be a huge help. Therapists are trained to help people improve their sexual and relationship satisfaction, so don’t hesitate to reach out. You can consider sex therapy with a sex therapist. If you need help finding a professional therapist who can help, try searching an online therapist directory.
Final Thoughts on Sex & Depression
It is possible to have a satisfying sex life even if you struggle with depression. And, if you have a frustrating sex life, it doesn’t have to get so bad that it contributes to depression. Effective depression treatments bring hope for an improved mood and a more fulfilling sex life.