How Can Psychiatric Disorders Impact a Person’s Sexual Health?

How Can Psychiatric Disorders Impact a Person’s Sexual Health?

Mental health and sexual health are closely tied to one another, so perhaps it is not surprising that psychiatric disorders can have an impact on a person’s sexual health. Multiple studies that have addressed psychiatric disorders and sexual dysfunction have unearthed higher rates of sexual dysfunction in people with depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and schizophrenia.

There are several factors associated with these conditions that may contribute to sexual dysfunction, but generally they are thought to have to do with the psychological symptoms people experience and/or the medications they take for their condition, though there is no evidence that one type of condition causes the other.


Neurotransmitters, the chemical substances that carry messages from one nerve cell to another in the body, are heavily involved in sexual processes. The neurotransmitters that play a role in sexual functioning, mainly dopamine, serotonin, and epinephrine, are also very involved in the symptoms and treatment of psychiatric disorders.

For example, serotonin levels are lower in people who have depression or OCD than the general population. Also, abnormalities in dopamine levels have been found in individuals with schizophrenia, and dopamine, serotonin, and other neurotransmitters have been linked to anxiety disorders.

Drugs such as antidepressants like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), antipsychotics, antianxiety medications can affect levels of neurotransmitters and impair sexual functioning as a result.

Interpersonal Factors

Psychiatric disorders can also have a big impact on a person’s interpersonal relationships, which may adversely affect their sexual health. Individuals with depression may experience increased negative interactions and fewer social supports. Interpersonal difficulties are also prevalent in people with schizophrenia, who may experience difficulties with emotional regulation, confrontational conduct, and few close interpersonal relationships.

Since close interpersonal relationships play a big role in a person’s sexual health and satisfaction, difficulties in this area of life can translate to difficulties in one’s sexual life.

Mental Health Symptoms

The symptoms of psychiatric disorders themselves can interfere with one’s sexual health. Anxiety can lead to intrusive thoughts, catastrophizing, distraction from external stimuli, and feelings of extreme worry or fearfulness. Depression can cause symptoms such as fatigue, feelings of low self-worth, feelings of sadness or hopelessness, and a loss of interest in sex. Schizophrenia can cause delusions, hallucinations, and disorganized thinking and speech that makes communication difficult. All of these symptoms can negatively affect sexual experiences for people with psychiatric disorders.

Treatment for Psychiatric Disorders

The treatment of a psychiatric disorder depends on the disorder in question, but standard treatment options include psychotherapy, behavioral therapy, cognitive therapy, interpersonal therapy, support groups, and when appropriate, prescription medications. If you or a loved one are struggling with symptoms of a psychiatric disorder, talk to your health care provider about possible treatment options.

For more information on this topic, please read these publications from The Journal of Sexual Medicine:

Sexual Dysfunction in Male Iraq and Afghanistan War Veterans: Association with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Other Combat-Related Mental Health Disorders: A Population-Based Cohort Study

Relationship Between Female Sexual Difficulties and Mental Health in Patients Referred to Two Public and Private Settings in Tehran, Iran


Herder, T., Spoelstra, S. K., Peters, A. W. M., & Knegtering, H. (2023). Sexual dysfunction related to psychiatric disorders: a systematic review. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 20(7), 965-976.

King-Casas, B., & Chiu, P. H. (2012). Understanding interpersonal function in psychiatric illness through multiplayer economic games. Biological psychiatry72(2), 119–125.

Montejo A. L. (2019). Sexuality and Mental Health: The Need for Mutual Development and Research. Journal of clinical medicine8(11), 1794.

Zemishlany, Z., & Weizman, A. (2008). The impact of mental illness on sexual dysfunction. Advances in psychosomatic medicine29, 89–106.