Few couples make the connection between a partner's low sex drive and a mood disorder such as depression. While most people know what it feels like to be down or have "the blues," depression is a serious mental illness that can interfere with a person's sexuality and relationship in all kinds of ways. Many people, however, don't know what depression looks like, and that's a problem, because if you don't know what you're faced with, you're going to have a hard time making things better.
Depression and a low sex drive go together in a couple of ways:
- Fatigue is a big part of depression, so if you frequently feel "too tired" for sex, it might be a symptom of a mood problem.
- You may not enjoy things you used to enjoy doing, and sex may be one of them.
- Although you may be hurting, your behavior may send signals that you want to be left alone, causing emotional distance between yourself and your partner.
- You feel lethargic, as if you could hardly move; since sex requires movement, it carries little appeal.
- Feeling hopeless or helpless are common in depression--and not very sexy.
Feeling depressed is not a sign of a character flaw. In our culture, we are often told to "Buck up," "Get on with life," or "Smile, it's contagious," which makes admitting that one is down very difficult. Depression happens for all kinds of reasons, but is usually connected to feelings of loss or worthlessness. Depression can also be physical, as when someone's hormones are out of balance or there is a chronic illness. Unfortunately, depression sometimes gets missed because not everyone knows its symptoms.
You might also consider that one reason you may be feeling depressed is because you aren't having enough sex. Orgasm helps the body to relax. Many brain chemicals, including serotonin, are released in the brain during orgasm. If you are in the habit of denying your sexual needs, you might be at risk for depression. If you don't have a partner available or don't feel up to partnered sex, you might try self-pleasuring in order to have sexual, physical, and emotional release from built up tension.
If you suspect that depression is getting in the way of sexual connection and pleasure, you have many options for getting better, including medication, psychotherapy, and self-help, e.g., developing a more positive outlook and a healthy routine. Please be aware that antidepressants can have sexual side effects, which you should discuss with your physician. In the meantime, you and your partner will need to learn how to stay connected even though you may feel bad. Try to tune into yourself to see what you might need, rather than denying yourself. Listen to what your partner needs, too, because feeling needed may help you feel less depressed.
Dr. Stephanie Buehler is the author of Sex, Love, and Mental Illness: A Couple's Guide to Staying Connected. She is a psychologist, sex therapist, and Director of The Buehler Institute in Newport Beach, CA. If you want to learn more about relationships and sexuality, visit her blog at http://www.theblogerotic.com.
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