Maslow’s theory of needs describes sex as one of the basic requirements of human beings. The feelings of pleasure and contentment experienced during sex are rooted in the brain. Contrary to popular belief, our brain is the primary sex organ. When an individual indulges in sexual activity, our sex organs send signals to the brain, which in turn releases dopamine. This chemical activates the reward centers in the brain, helping us perceive gratification. In simpler words, without the cooperation of the brain, all sexual activities would reduce to a mechanical task.
Individuals suffering from any form of depression tend to experience a reduced sex drive. The primary reason is that depression sends waves of negative energy all throughout the body, virtually affecting all aspects of life including sexual health. Most people do not realize sex as connected to the brain, and how brain malfunctioning that leads to depression can affect their sexual health.
What is the relationship between depression and sex?
Aside from stimulating the appropriate glands to produce the feel-good hormones associated with sex, the brain is also the organ that interprets pleasure. The sexual organs are merely tools for the brain to receive stimulation. The role of the brain in any sexual encounter begins much before the physical act itself. The urge to indulge in sexual activity and the feeling of being aroused are all controlled by the brain. We often hear statements such as “I do not feel anything!” or “I don’t feel up to it!” These expressions postulate the simple principle that our brain is not responding the way it should. Once the brain is affected, it cannot experience pleasure because it finds no pleasure in any activity, including sex. Moreover, the physical act of sex fails to give any pleasure because the reward centers in the brain fail to release the appropriate chemicals.
Given how prevalent depression is among adults, one can also guess that it is the cause of numerous sexual problems that people complain about. But just as depression is hard to admit to, the embarrassment is magnified when a couple’s sex life is affected.
Which aspects of sexual health are affected by depression?
Depression, as we already know, affects all aspects of an individual's character. Such a person will find it difficult to find pleasure in anything, and they will have trouble getting in the mood for sex.
Feelings of worthlessness and a complete lack of motivation often result in a decreased interest in sex. Sexual arousal is an anticipation of the pleasure to be experienced in the near future, but depression affects a person’s view of their future. Therefore, it may be difficult to get them in the mood. Even when they do, reaching a climax would be very difficult as research has proved that experiencing an orgasm is totally dependent upon brain activity.
So how does depression affect sexual health?
It is rare for both parties in a couple to become depressed. Usually, the other half will only suffer from depression. Women are also more susceptible to sexual problems when compared to men. Even the slightest changes in mood can easily be detected by the individual’s partner, so even a mild case of a depressive disorder can become a major problem in a relationship. The unaffected party sees their partner as being extremely unhappy and they begin to suspect that they may be the cause of their partner's unhappiness.
On the other hand, the affected party feels the guilt of not being able to live up to the partner’s expectations. It is like being caught in a vicious cycle--you are unable to indulge in sex because you are depressed and you are depressed because you fail to perform!
The relationship between sex and depression is quite complicated, to say the least. Sex is a well-accepted antidepressant, but when we are depressed, we fail to enjoy its benefits.
There is another major issue that arises with the use of antidepressant drugs. Although they help alleviate the other symptoms of depression, most medications negatively affect the sexual activities of the individual. Decreased libido, erectile dysfunction, and difficulty in reaching orgasm are some of the common complaints that are experienced by individuals taking prescription drugs for depression.
Women are prone to sexual problems due to the higher incidence of depression among them. Some of the contributors to depression in women include:
- Pregnancy and Postpartum Depression - Almost 33 percent of women deal with depression at one or another stage of their pregnancy, and most women who have suffered postpartum depression reported a decline in sexual desire.
- Menopause - During or after menopause, women generally find it difficult to go back to their previous sex life.
- Before or During Menstruation - There are women who tend to feel depressed either or both before and during their menstrual periods because of hormonal changes. Depression is one of the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), which occurs two weeks before menstruation. Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is a severe form of PMS.
How is depression treated?
Besides talk therapy with a psychologist, the affected individual is also likely to get a prescription for an antidepressant. Some medications prescribed for treating depression have been shown to directly affect sexual performance. For example, Prozac has been shown to cause a delay or premature ejaculation in men, both of which can negatively impact a couple’s sex life.
The most important factor to be kept in mind, however, is to never give up on your antidepressant medication, even if you feel that it has a considerable effect on your sex life. You may ask your doctor to change your medication or to alter its dosage to minimize the side effects. With time and patience, the effects of the medication on your sex drive will subside, and as you regain control of your life after depression, your libido returns back to normal.
You can talk to your partner to alleviate mutual stress. Both of you can work together to handle the circumstances better. Some researchers in the field suggest that you should go for sex even if you are not feeling up to it. According to them, it works like therapy to relax your brain and eventually, you will learn to enjoy it. Besides, the companionship and warmth shared, sex can also boost mental health.
Is it possible to prevent depression from affecting your sex life?
The first thing everyone needs to understand is that depression as an illness is still largely unknown and yet it is quite common. Everyone should anticipate that it might happen to them and should be available to help when it happens to their partner. We all need to be supportive of our partners as much as we can during such challenging times.
- Individuals suffering from any form of depression tend to experience a reduced sex drive.
- The intake of antidepressants can directly affect sexual performance.
- Women are more susceptible to sexual problems when compared to men.