Depression and sex?
Very funny. Just trying to get in the mood can feel like lifting a huge stone slab onto your back with your knees ready to crumble at any moment. Depression can make your entire body feel lifeless, heavy and unattractive, so sex probably feels like a bit of a leap at this point.
But, what if sex is a natural way to lower your depression symptom levels? Maybe part of the puzzle to feeling better is hidden away beneath the clouds of your despair.
Could there be some way to boost yourself past the fog for just long enough to experience the natural powerful benefits that your body’s sexuality has to offer?
The Depression Experience
Maybe you’re too tired to do the things you once enjoyed, like going on walks or interacting with people. You never get out of bed or you don’t sleep enough at all. Perhaps you wake up every day, go to work with a fake smile on your face, and drive home in tears. Depression has many faces.
Often, those with depression experience spiraling thoughts of defeat, guilt and the desire to escape their illness, or even the world. They often feel all alone or full of anger. Negative thoughts and feelings even lead some people to lose their lives.
The technical terms for diagnosed depression are major depressive disorder and clinical depression. There are more specific branches of the disorder, like seasonal affective disorder or postpartum depression, as well. The one symptom all forms of depression seem to have in common is intense, overbearing sadness or loss of all motivation and will.
Here are more of depression’s main symptoms:
- A seemingly endless sad, lonely or “numb” mood
- Difficulty sleeping or sleeping way too much
- Lack of energy or always feeling tired
- Loss of interest in typical hobbies and activities
- Thoughts of death
- Feeling full of guilt and hopelessness
You need to see a professional doctor, such as a psychiatrist, to be diagnosed with depression. The sooner you see a professional, the sooner you can be on the road to recovery.
The Chemicals at Play
Most people who experience clinical depression have an imbalance of neurotransmitters within the part of the brain that regulates moods. Everyone has a different genetic makeup, so the ideal levels and balance of neurotransmitters in one person’s body are completely different from those in another.
When neurotransmitters aren’t present at the correct levels, for whatever reason, the brain has difficulty regulating emotions. The imbalance often results in depression. Depression can and is often triggered by events, such as the birth of a child or trauma. However, it can also pop up out of nowhere—just a feeling that comes on gradually, for no reason at all.
Depression vs. Sex
One of the last things on the mind of a depressed person is sex. I’m sure this isn’t true for everyone. But, sex has some great ways of boosting natural chemicals in your body that can help regulate the neurotransmitters your brain so badly needs. If there’s a way to make it happen, sex can probably help you on the road to recovery.
In depression, three key neurotransmitters are known to play a large role in mood regulation: dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin. When these neurotransmitters are out of balance, an individual may become depressed, and their sexual function is likely to suffer from those imbalances as well.
How Sex Helps With Depression
The benefits of a healthy sex life are multifaceted and can help fight depression in multiple ways.
First, the chemical release. When humans interact sexually and intimately, their brains release a surge of the chemical dopamine, which causes feelings of pleasure, relaxation and motivation. Orgasms release even more feel-good hormones: oxytocin and prolactin. Commonly found in breastfeeding women, oxytocin encourages feelings of love and bonding. Prolactin adds the bonus feeling of satisfaction after orgasm.
Sex is also a great form of exercise, but it’s more fun. Besides the chemicals your brain releases when you climax during sex, the physical movement gets your heart pumping. The physical aspect of sex can also aid your depression, as exercise is an excellent depression combatant.
Going beyond the physical, sexual and intimate relations between partners seem to strengthen their bond as couples, too. According to a 2015 study published in The Annals of Family Medicine, older women who were sexually active reported higher relationship satisfaction and better communication with their partners than those who weren’t sexually active.
The Depression and Medication Problem
A big chunk of the depression-sexual dysfunction problem comes down to medications, which play a huge role in the sexual dysfunction of depression patients.
Psychiatrists in a 2017 Psychiatric Annals published study concluded that 63 percent of treated depression patients experienced sexual dysfunction. Forty-five percent of untreated depression patients experienced sexual dysfunction. Comparatively, 26 percent of non-depressed people experienced sexual dysfunction. Therefore, the most medicated people in the study were the most impacted by sexual dysfunction, suggesting medication was the cause. Does that mean you should swap your mental health medication for sex?
Slow down. Please speak with your doctor about switching the dosages, timing and types of medication you take. If done with safety and medical care, changing medications may eliminate some or all of your current sexual dysfunction.
Ways to Ease Back into Sex When You’re Depressed
It’s much easier said than done. And it shouldn’t feel pressured, or that will defeat the purpose. But when you finally feel up to it, inch closer to rediscovering your sexual side with these tips:
1. Try Therapy
If you’re already in therapy, talk to your therapist about your sex life (or lack thereof). It may seem uncomfortable at first, but most therapists are trained to handle these types of conversations and want to help you take care of your whole self, including your sexuality.
If you’re not in therapy, sometimes confiding in a close friend can help. However, an important of depression treatment is therapy.
2. Just snuggle
You don’t have to push yourself into a situation where you’ll be uncomfortable. Just snuggling and kissing your partner is a good way to break down the intimacy wall you’ve guarded for so long.
3. Talk to your partner
It might be scary at first, but opening up to your partner about why you don’t want to have sex can be a helpful step. Shed your fears and anxieties, which will leave you feeling lighter and eager. Over time, talking this way with your partner will feel intimate and… sexual. You might even find that it gets you in the mood.
4. Get to Know Yourself
An important part to anyone’s sex life is a healthy masturbation habit. We’re always too busy, too weirded out or too uninterested. But if you start making self-play a habit, you’ll find that it feels good. You’ll be able to find all the right ways to climax so you can teach your partner what to do.
Sometimes masturbation is the key to what’s missing in your sex life. You need to feel in control of your own body and its sexual capabilities before you can truly let go with a partner. And it’s a good way to take care of yourself.
5. One Step at a Time
If you choose to re-explore your sexuality, it should go without saying that nobody should be rushing you through this vulnerable experience. Talk to your partner about whether you want to take the lead or if you want to be led. Keep open communication and slowly increase sexual relationship with time and trust.
6. Discover New Ways
Sex doesn’t have to mean traditional penetration. Some people experience pain or other problems from traditional penetrative sex. There are other ways to experience the same brain chemicals without going that route.
Perhaps you’re comfortable with trying oral sex or mutual masturbation. Maybe you watch each other masturbate. All are ways to open up and build your relationship.
Fight That Depression
If you have depression, you’re probably not in the mood, even after reading this article. That’s understandable. Depression is a complex mental illness that can make life feel unbearable. At least now you know that sex just might be a glimmer of relief.
Sex is just one way to brighten the dreary painting of depression. When you’re feeling low, keep the idea of sex or masturbation in your toolbox with other self-care ideas like:
Be real though, what better way is there to take care of yourself than sex, which benefits you physically, mentally and emotionally?