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Depression can have a profound impact on the quality of a sexual relationship. It can hamper our ability to feel emotionally secure with our partner, and it can rob us of our desire for and enjoyment of sexual connection.
Depression causes low self-esteem, despair, and physical exhaustion, all of which can reduce your sexual urges. When it comes to having an orgasm, depression can block your ability to reach that state of release.
Depressed people stop finding pleasure in things they used to. They may no longer enjoy engaging in the physical act of sex. They may no longer find pleasure or comfort in the intimacy it can create, so they feel little incentive to engage in the act.
Depression tends to create a higher sensitivity to the external world. This means depressed individuals can experience more intense positive and negative feelings, as well as tending to withdraw due to overwhelm after too much stimulation.
When things go wrong in a sexual relationship (as they are bound to do from time to time), depressed people may blame themselves for these temporary changes because of their sensitivity. This can lead to withdrawing and closing down, which often means avoiding sexual encounters.
Fatigue can be a major symptom of depression, which quickly drains sexual energy. No matter how much sleep someone experiencing depression gets, no amount revives their vitality. Desire and sexual functions can both be compromised by exhaustion. The energy to pleasure a partner may feel impossible to muster.
People living with depression often struggle to connect with others because they don’t feel worthy of love. Intimate partners may feel frustrated that their efforts to show love, including sexual invitations, aren’t received by someone who’s depressed. Depression creates interpersonal distance, resulting in a sexual disconnect.
Being depressed doesn’t mean you need to give up on sex (or your partner’s needs) altogether. There are a number of actions you can take that may gradually reignite your passion.
The medication most frequently prescribed for depression is in a class of drugs that are known to severely impact sex drive. These drugs, called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), can reduce sexual desire and inhibit orgasm for both men and women. For men, SSRIs are even known to prevent getting and maintaining an erection.
While no one should quit medication without a doctor’s supervision, you may want to talk to your doctor about alternatives if your sex drive is suffering. A psychiatrist may be able to tell you whether or not other drugs are possible.
If an SSRI is affecting your sex life, speak to your psychiatrist or treating physician about adding buspirone, which studies show relieved some sexual side effects in 58% of individuals taking SSRIs(1). You could also ask about switching to a different sort of antidepressant such as buproprion (Wellbutrin), which has the “least sexual side effects of all antidepressants”(2).
To help you understand and heal the roots of your depression, it may be helpful to work with a psychotherapist. Doing psychological work can stabilize your mood and may assist with an eventual reduction in medication.
Therapy helps to organize the complex and confusing feelings that are part of depression, allowing a person to understand that concrete action can help. The empathy and understanding of a qualified psychotherapist cultivate feelings of comfort, which lay a new foundation for mood stability. The steadfast relational experience of therapy can also become the basis from which to form more secure attachments in additional life relationships.
While not an immediate cure for depression, going to sex therapy with your partner may help to reinstate your bond. Therapy can resolve misunderstandings about depression and the sexual process, as well as increase confidence, which is an essential ingredient for good sex.
Sex therapists know that the physical act of sex enhances a person’s attachment to their partner; they can often suggest ways to increase the sexual intimacy in a relationship, even when depression is present. Most often, sex therapists help couples resolve power struggles that are played out in the sexual realm. This kind of resolution increases security in the partnership, eliminating the insecurity that can contribute to depression.
We’ve established that chronic depression impacts all aspects of everyday life, including sex. It reduces sex drive, which is ironic because sex may improve your mood and is necessary for intimacy in partnerships. Some depression medications might also reduce your libido.
While breaking the depression cycle may be difficult, it’s important to take small steps as often as you can, knowing that each step keeps you from spiraling in the other direction. While you may suddenly be “in the mood,” you’ll be gradually strengthening your relationship with your partner, and ensuring their understanding and support while you move towards a solution.