What is the link between depression and sexuality?

Dr. Jan L. Shifren, MD
Fertility Specialist

Depression is an important cause of sexual problems for both men and women. A complicated relationship exists between depression and sexuality, though. Depression can be both the cause and the result of sexual problems. For example, loss of desire can be a symptom of depression. Or it may appear first and provoke depression. A lack of interest in sex can lead to relationship problems, feelings of inadequacy and other emotional issues, which in turn can result in depression. Libido isn't the only aspect of your sexuality affected by depression. Women may be less likely to have orgasms when they are depressed. And in one study, depressed men were twice as likely to experience erectile dysfunction as those who weren't depressed.

Dr. Marsha Lucas
Psychology Specialist

A poor sex drive is a hallmark symptom of depression. But having sex can temporarily boost feel-good neurochemicals, such as oxytocin, says neuropsychologist Marsha Lucas, PhD, author of Rewire Your Brain for Love.

In this WisePatient video, Dr. Lucas explains how depression, and depression treatment with antidepressants, can affect your libido.

Donna Hill Howes, RN
Family Practitioner

Depression can dampen your sex drive. Brain chemicals that normally send blood to sex organs run low or become imbalanced in depression. This can lessen or stop sexual desire. In some cases, sexual pleasure is affected by the low level of chemicals in the depressed brain. Depression can also put stress on a relationship, making it even more difficult to maintain sexual intimacy.

Ms. Julie A. Fast
Mental Health Specialist

One symptom of depression is a lack of sexual desire. But sex with a loving partner could help a person manage depression.

It is very likely that orgasms are accompanied by a release of endorphins that then cause a sudden release of the neurotransmitter dopamine. It is dopamine that is likely to be the specific molecule activating pleasure centers in the brain. This also results in generalized relaxation and may promote sleepiness.

The emotional factors are numerous. Probably topping the list is the feeling of closeness and bonding to another during and following orgasms. A part of the emotional aspect of sex is to produce a calming feeling, especially related to reducing separation stress (people, at least for a while, feel less alone).

Satisfying sexual relation can also be a source of comfort as it can provide assurances of being loved by another. This may be especially true if sexual interactions transmit the message that the sexual partner is sensitive to the other and interested in providing pleasure to him or her.

It makes sense that if you create a holistic treatment plan for you or your partner’s depression, your sex life can get much better.

Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder: Understanding and Helping Your Partner (The New Harbinger Loving Someone Series)

More About this Book

Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder: Understanding and Helping Your Partner (The New Harbinger Loving Someone Series)

Maintaining a relationship is hard enough without the added challenges of your partner’s bipolar disorder symptoms. Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder offers information and step-by-step advice...

Continue Learning about Living With Depression

Managing Major Depression for Caregivers
Managing Major Depression for Caregivers
We've all felt sad or blue on occasion. We've grieved at the news of a friend's major illness, the death of a loved one, personal job loss, or divorce...
Read More
How can journaling help me cope with depression?
Dr. Lara Honos-Webb, PhDDr. Lara Honos-Webb, PhD
One of the symptoms of depression is that it keeps you focused on the bad things in your life and it...
More Answers
What do I need to know about caring for someone with depression?
Honor Society of Nursing (STTI)Honor Society of Nursing (STTI)
It is important to understand that depression is an illness and not a weakness or character flaw. Le...
More Answers
What Is Major Depressive Disorder?
What Is Major Depressive Disorder?

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.