sex and depression

Finding Sexual Fulfilment While Living with Depression

Luckily, we’re living in a time where mental illness is being recognised and treated more humanely. 

In fact, the earliest written accounts of depression were in the second millennium, and meant that one was possessed by demons and evil spirits. The treatment? Being Beaten, physically restrained, and/or starved in an attempt to drive the demons out. 

Today, there’s compassion for those living with depression. There’s medication, professionals to consult, and other behavioral and lifestyle techniques that are offered to help those in need. 

And because so much more research has been (and continues to be) done in the realm of depression, we’ve come to learn the different ways to treat it, and the dreaded side effect that is a low sex drive during depression.

Sexual Fulfilment During Depression

Depression can be so debilitating, it can have a strong effect on multiple spheres in one’s life—their sexual drive included. One may experience low sexual desire or diminished satisfaction, which ultimately results in disinterest and/or a lack of pleasure in things they once enjoyed (in the bedroom). 

This is often because of the depression itself or because of medication taken to treat depression, such as SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors).

But not all is lost, and there are ways to work towards and find sexual fulfilment while living with depression.

Sexual Dissatisfaction During Depression

Why is sex tied to depression? Well, it starts with the chemicals in the brain called “neurotransmitters”. 

These neurotransmitters are used as communicators between your body and your brain, where sexual desire starts. But for those living with depression, these sex-related chemicals are out of balance, sometimes resulting in low sexual desire and, sometimes, dull pleasurable feelings.

“In depression, the chemical soup often isn’t right,” says sex therapist, Russell Stambaugh, PhD. “The brain is important for sexuality because of the chemistry, but it’s also important for ideas. It helps how you experience pleasure and how you define it,” he continued.

And as Frederick K. Goodwin, MD, says, “People who are depressed are locked in the moment of their suffering. The whole process of sexual arousal starts with the ability to anticipate pleasure, which is lost with depression.” 

How can one focus on sexual pleasure when they feel imprisoned by their current state? First, it’s important to treat the depression first and address sexual concerns later. This means either consulting and working with your doctor or psychiatrist who can recommend medication or alternatives to relieve symptoms of depression. 

By alternatives, we mean herbal remedies. St. John’s wort, for example, has been studied as a treatment for mild to moderate depression. Some patients found that it helped their depression without hindering their libido. We do however recommend that you talk with your professional before taking any medication.

The thing about treating depression is that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ so it really is about working together with your professional to find the right kind of approach.

Then, once you’ve taken the steps towards treating your depression, you may also need to go through a process of “unlearning” some things. 

You may have preconceived notions that your depression will always affect your sexual functioning, and this is not the case. When you unlearn certain things with psychotherapy, there’s an opportunity for couples to bond in new and exciting ways. For that reason, communication is essential (more on that later).

Another way depression can affect one’s sex life is the fact that it can induce low energy levels, mood swings, and reduced self-esteem. When low energy levels and mood swings are experienced, sex isn’t exactly the first thing on someone’s mind, regardless of if they’re experiencing depression or not. 

And when it comes to self-esteem, this can sincerely hinder one’s ability to feel confident, sexual, and desired in the bedroom. 

All of these factors can contribute to a loss of sexual fulfilment during depression.

Sexual Dissatisfaction Due to Medication for Depression

It’s been shown that medication for depression, such as SSRIs, are highly effective. But they can come with their side effects. In fact, many SSRIs do have sexual side effects.

SSRIs work by boosting levels of serotonin in the brain, which can improve one’s mood. At the same time, it could also prevent regular communication between the brain and the sex organs. For example, it may result in difficulty achieving an erection or experiencing an orgasm.

If you’re currently taking an SSRI and feel sexual unfulfilment because of them, talking with your doctor and lowering the dose or changing medications could be the key to experiencing sexual satisfaction once again. 

As a side note, it may be interesting to know that, around 35 to 50 percent of people with untreated major depression experience some type of sexual dysfunction prior to treatment. 

In this case, it may not be the SSRI that is causing sexual difficulties but rather, the underlying depression. 

The good news is, sexual dysfunction often subsides with time when SSRIs are to blame. It is worth the wait, especially if it helps treat your depression.

7 Ways to Find Sexual Fulfilment with Your Partner During Depression

Whether you’re feeling sexually dissatisfied or a loss of libido due to depression itself or the taking of medication such as SSRIs, there are some things that may help you gain sexual fulfilment (some of which we’ve already mentioned).

1. Communication

“Just having the conversation about what you want sexually reduces the negative feelings that are folded into depression,” says Stambaugh. And when couples have this candid, open, and honest conversation, it’s important to know that there’s no standard for how or how often you should be intimate. Removing yourself from the pressures of society can also be freeing, and finding a rhythm and lifestyle that works for both partners is an excellent way to help relieve sexual dissatisfaction during depression. But in order to get there, communication is a must. “The dynamics of sexual communication in couples living with depression are meaningful for partners’ outcomes,” says Amy Delaney.

2. Lowering the Dose of Medication

By lowering the dose of your SSRI, you could be relieving the negative side effects while still benefiting from its therapeutic attributes. It’s important to talk with your doctor before making adjustments to your medication, however.

3. Changing Medication

Certain SSRI antidepressants are more likely to cause sexual problems than others. Not just that, but everyone will react differently to different kinds of medication. By talking with a professional, you could try switching medications in order to get its antidepressant effects without compromising your libido.

4. Adding in a Medication

There are some medications that could aid in sexual issues, such as viagra for men who have trouble getting an erection. There are other drugs that can help both men and women during issues such as low sex drive and levels of arousal, decreased sensitivity, and the inability to orgasm. In other words, they could counter the SSRI-induced sexual dysfunctions. Talk with a professional about these options.  

5. Scheduling Sex

If you’ve learned that you feel less aroused or depressed during certain times of the day, you could begin scheduling sex for times when you don’t feel such pronounced side effects. Scheduling sex also allows you to mentally and physically prepare for intimacy, which is important.

6. Foreplay

As we’ve just mentioned preparing for intimacy, mentally and physically, foreplay is a great way to do this. Foreplay, when experienced in a leisurely, slow, and intimate manner, can increase blood flow to the genitals, and create a stronger bond between partners. Foreplay can include sensual  massages, oral sex, deep kissing, or even playing sexual games.

7. Therapy

If you’re taking an SSRI, you should be seeing a professional of some sort anyway. But by visiting a psychologist, a psychiatrist, or another spiritual kind of therapist, you too could work on behavioural factors to help you work through your sexual unfufillment, and to “unlearn” certain behaviours that may be hindering you, sexually.

In your journey of finding sexual fulfillment while living with depression, be kind to yourself. It’s a process that may take time, and supporting yourself and or your partner can go a long way in really getting the best that you deserve.