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Sexual Health and Depression

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: September 2023

For some people living with major depressive disorder (MDD), sexuality can be complex. Both MDD and the drugs used to treat it can impact sexuality in various ways.1

Stigma, sex, and depression

Talking about sex and mental health can sometimes feel difficult due to the stigma attached to these topics. Stigma is when people judge or label others unfairly because of who they are or what they are dealing with. Stigma can make seeking help or talking openly about your feelings hard.1

But you are not alone in facing these challenges. Seeking support is an important step in your journey.1

How does depression affect sexuality?

Dealing with depression can change how you feel about yourself and how you connect with others. This may affect your feelings about sex. Some challenges you might face include:1

  • Low self-esteem and body image problems – Depression can make you feel down about yourself, affecting how you view your body. Having poor body image may make you less comfortable with sex.
  • Lack of interest – Depression might lead to a lack of interest in activities you once enjoyed, including sex.
  • Communication problems – Depression can make it hard to express your feelings and communicate openly with a sexual partner.

How do MDD medicines affect sexuality?

Some medicines used to manage depression can have effects on sexuality. While these drugs work to improve mood and overall well-being, they may cause sexual side effects. These side effects may include:1

  • Changes in libido – Some antidepressant drugs can decrease interest in sex.
  • Problems with arousal – Antidepressants may make it harder to become sexually aroused.
  • Trouble reaching orgasm – Some antidepressants might make it harder to reach orgasm or experience pleasure.
  • Erectile dysfunction – In people with a penis, antidepressants might lead to trouble achieving and maintaining an erection.
  • Physical changes – Some drugs could cause changes in the body that impact sexual comfort.

Seeking support

Many people with depression can manage their symptoms and enjoy a healthy sex life. Ways to navigate challenges related to sex and depression include:1

  • Talking about it – Talking openly to your partner about your feelings and worries can make your bond stronger and help you understand each other better. Then, you can work to overcome the effects of depression on your sex life.
  • Creating a supportive environment – Surrounding yourself with people who understand and respect your feelings can make you feel safe and supported.
  • Changing the timing of your drugs – Talk with your doctor about when you take your medicines. Changing their timing might help reduce their impact on your sexual function.
  • Changing drugs – In some cases, switching to a different antidepressant might result in fewer sexual side effects. If you are experiencing sexual side effects, discuss them with your prescriber.
  • Getting professional help – Seeking help from a mental health expert can give you guidance in managing both depression and its impact on your sexuality.

Remember, your feelings and experiences are valid. If you are struggling with the impact of depression on your sex life, there is no shame in seeking help. A mental health professional can provide strategies to manage whatever challenges you are facing.

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