The SMSNA periodically receives and publishes ‘guest editorials.’ The current article was submitted by Mia Barnes, a freelance writer and researcher who specializes in women's health, wellness, and healthy living. She is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Body+Mind Magazine.
Depression is all-encompassing and multi-faceted. Although its symptoms are similar across the board, they can also vary by individual. The way depression manifests is unique and personal — much like sex. Depression can affect every aspect of your life, including your sexual function.
Sex is a natural mood booster, so it can help with depression symptoms. Orgasms flood your brain with oxytocin, dopamine, endorphins and endocannabinoids, which stimulate your nerves, boost your happiness and improve cognitive function. For some, depression can feel like a safety net because it’s what they know. Darkness can become a home after being depressed for so long. Choosing to stray from that can seem almost like a betrayal.
Depression is a genuine mental illness that often involves feelings of low self-esteem and deep sadness, making emotional regulation challenging. Some people living with depression find themselves quite sad or hopeless as they ruminate on negative thoughts, resulting in diminished motivation for change, which can make them avoid sex or anything promoting happiness. Although they want to be happy, they may find themselves reinforcing negative emotions with external elements like dysphoric music and movies. Regrettably, many living with depression believe they don’t deserve to experience joy, so they maintain their depression — perhaps even subconsciously.
Arousal and Emotion
Sex is an intimate and personal physical act highly related to one’s emotional state.It can heighten your feelings, which can be overwhelming whether positive or negative. Sex causes a rush of hormones that can help you feel liberated and release tension. Or, it can make you feel vulnerable and cause adverse reactions like guilt, shame or embarrassment. It can bring feelings to the surface that you may not want to experience.
You could be avoiding sex because you aren’t ready to tackle these challenging emotions yet or don’t want to deal with them at all. Or, you could be experiencing anhedonia, which is where you can’t experience interest or pleasure in anything. Experiencing these intense emotions can make you want to escape reality through any means necessary, from leaving relationships to self-medicating with recreational drugs.
Understanding and Communication
Treating depression can often help low libido and reinforces the connection between you and a healthier and happier lifestyle. While antidepressants may help some, unfortunately they can also decrease sex drive or interfere with arousal and orgasm. Your partner may not recognize or understand what’s happening, which can adversely affect their self-worth. They may wonder why you aren’t interested in sex any longer and think they’ve done something wrong.
Communication is essential to a healthy relationship. Sex therapists can help you understand and process what you’re going through, which can help you be honest with your partner. The sex therapist can also help both you and your partner reframe the experience so that both of you are able to recognize that your low sex drive is not a reflection on them. A sex therapist can also assist you in how to speak to your partner about how you’re feeling.
If medication is helping your depression symptoms but adversely affecting your sex drive, talk to your doctor and your partner. You can find a happy medium. With your partner, you can find ways to please one another and boost those feel-good endorphins together, like redefining intimacy through open and honest communication and exploration to find what works best for you.
Sex and Depression
Whatever living alongside depression looks like for you, you deserve to be happy and your partner deserves to understand what you’re going through. Resources are available that can help you maintain your sex drive and live a healthier and happier life.
Bamboo Health Treatment Blog. 4 Signs of Depression That Might Surprise You. Bamboo Health. https://bamboohealth.com/treatment-blog/4-signs-of-depression-that-might-surprise-you/
Bunch, E. (2020, December 9) This Is What Happens to Your Brain and Body When You Orgasm. Well+Good. https://www.wellandgood.com/what-happens-when-you-orgasm/
De Fruyt, J., Sabbe, B., Demyttenaere, K. (2020, December). Anhedonia in Depressive Disorder: A Narrative Review. https://www.karger.com/Article/FullText/508773
Pietrangelo, A. (2019, June 14). How Does Sex Affect Your Emotions? Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/healthy-sex/sex-emotions