Dr. Liesel Sharabi, an assistant professor at the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication at Arizona State University, described in one of her studies a depressed man who claimed: “I want to be left alone so I don’t get moody”. His depression made it difficult for him to be around anyone, including his partner. Another man in the study points out that anything he does, requires him to make a great effort, including having sex.
In order to make this subject clear, we will go back to detailing the symptoms of depression, which, according to mental health experts, include the loss of joy for things that usually bring pleasure, including sex.
A study to measure the impact of depression on sexual life showed that more than 33% of males and 42% of females who were depressed, reported having experienced reduced sexual desire. This reflected on their relationship with their partners, with new challenges like feeling less attractive or not connected to the partner anymore.
Scientifically: How can depression affect sexual health?
In principle, the impact of depression extends to all aspects of the patient’s life, including sexual health. According to the American psychiatrist, Rachel Frishnes, up to 50% of patients proved that untreated depression is associated with sexual dysfunction.
As a fact, stress, anxiety and guilt are considered as common symptoms of depression, that lead to a reduced desire for sex. In addition, they can have an influence physiologically and result in the inability to reach orgasm.
A tactile response is an important part of sexual practice, but when a patient is depressed, it is difficult for them to be sufficiently vigilant and present with their partner. The negative thoughts and feelings prevent the body from responding in a natural way in order for the patient to enjoy and share sex.
Here, things may move to the next level. The sexual disability resulting from depression may generate a sense of low self-esteem and lack of value. In parallel, it may lead to an increased level of anxiety and contribute to more symptoms of depression.
In addition, depressed patients have a low level of energy, and since sex needs a slightly high energy level, it would be less interesting for them to practice this activity, when they would choose to save their limited energy for other priorities.
On the other hand, depression affects famous neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, which play a central role in mood regulations and sexual desire. Therefore when the brain is struggling to use these chemicals properly and maintain them, the aspiration to have sex will automatically decrease.
During a review of scientific studies on the relationship of depression to reduced sexual desire, we found an interesting study, which linked sexual abuse in childhood to depression and hence, to lack of attention to sex. The study found that people who had experienced sexual abuse in childhood tend to grow up avoiding sexual connections, which will lead to increase their feelings of depression, thereby creating a vicious cycle that will make their mental health worse.
My partner is depressed, how can I support them?
The partner’s attitude affects the treatment of the sexual vulnerability associated with depression. Receptiveness and being open to discussion about this mental illness and the impact of symptoms is very important. In addition, acceptance and support contribute to reducing the stress of the depressed patient. On the contrary, non-acceptance and high expectations can negatively affect the patient’s mental and sexual health.
- Be patient: Don’t say that you understand what your partner is suffering from. Instead, tell them that you can’t understand exactly what they’re suffering from, but you would do your best to help them.
- Do not take the situation personally: Always remember that the loss of interest in sex does not stem from your partner’s personal will but it is related to their pathological status. Depressed people usually lose their sexual desire.
- Do not despair: There will be days where your partner will not feel your love. At this time, don’t give up, de patient. Over time, the situation will change and your love and support for your partner will help them feel valued.
- Do not rush the results: Treat your partner’s illness like they’re recovering from a serious physical illness. Give them a lot of pure love and don’t expect them to recover quickly.
- Get involved with them in physical activities: Exercise with your partner. Depressed people feel better when they are physically active.
- Do not forget to take care of yourself: Being with a depressed person is very stressful. Make sure you take care of yourself by spending time alone or going out to see a movie with your friends.
For depressed people: tips to save your sex life from collapsing
- Start by treating depression: At this stage, your sexual condition does not actually matter, your top priority is to treat depression and later to treat the sexual side effects. Depression does not only affect your sexual life, but it affects in all aspects of your life. Therefore, its effects can be described as making the patients trapped in their immediate suffering and unable to see the good side of things.
- Follow up with your doctor on an ongoing basis: As we have explained earlier, medication for treating depression affects sexual health. It is important to discuss sex-related symptoms with your doctor at each session, to work towards the best dose of medication that may not harm your sexual health.
- Try other sexual patterns and practices: According to doctors who treat depressed patients, the biggest challenge they face with their patients is the fact that patients still think in the same way when they were healthy, while the most effective way is to think of exploring new ways of sexual enjoyment and bonding with their loved ones in different exciting ways.
- Talk to your partner: Sexual life has infinite choices. Therefore, it will be necessary to talk to your partner about what you want sexually, in order to reduce negative feelings and make the sexual activity more comfortable and exciting.