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.

Other Popular Articles

What Is Jelqing, and Does It Actually Work?

The term “jelqing” refers to a set of penis stretching exercises that some believe can make the penis bigger. Although the practice has gained attention and popularity in blogs and internet forums in recent years, there is no scientific evidence that it is an effective way to permanently increase the size of one’s penis. In fact, in some cases, jelqing may actually cause damage to the penis, so it is a good idea to get all the facts before setting off to try it.

What Is Sensate Focus and How Does It Work?

Sensate focus is a technique used to improve intimacy and communication between partners around sex, reduce sexual performance anxiety, and shift away from ingrained, goal-oriented sexual patterns that may not be serving a couple.

What Is the Average Penis Size?

If you have ever wondered how your penis compares to others in terms of size, you are not alone. Many men are curious to know how their penises stack up compared to the average. Unfortunately, general curiosity can sometimes give way to full-on obsession and anxiety about penis size. This can be an unhealthy and often unnecessary fixation, especially because most men who think their penises are too small have perfectly normal-sized penises.

What Is Edging and Why Do People Do It?

Edging is the practice of stopping sexual stimulation before reaching orgasm to prolong a sexual experience. The term stems from the concept of approaching the metaphorical “edge” of orgasm but stopping before going over the edge.

Can Sex Reduce Menstrual Cramps?

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.

Having sex while you experience menstrual cramps is healthy and can provide significant benefits. While it might not be the first activity that comes to mind when your PMS or period cramping begins, many people enjoy sex to reduce menstrual cramps, experience increased pleasure and benefit from other advantages. Learn more about having sex while menstrual cramps are happening and how it can help your body.

Can Sex Throw off Your Vaginal pH Balance?

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.

Your vagina is a pretty powerful organ. It is a pathway for menstrual blood and babies. It also is a main player in sexual intercourse. You might hear about your vagina’s pH and worry that yours is at risk. Here’s what to know about vaginal pH, including the impacts sex could have.

Find a Provider

Find a provider who specializes in sexual medicine in your area.