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Sexual Problems and Depression

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Sexual Problems and Depression

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Depression is one of the commonest psychiatric problems in the general population. About 10 % of men and more than double of women suffer from depression during their lifetime. How depression affects our sex life remains an impending question!

Written by

Dr. Ashok Kumar

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Sneha Kannan

Published At September 27, 2013
Reviewed AtSeptember 2, 2022

How Are Sex and Depression Interlinked?

The brain is the body's most sensitive "sex organ." Sex desire starts in the brain and works its way down. Neurotransmitters or chemicals of the brain help brain cells communicate with each other in order to increase blood flow to the sex organs to carry out the sexual responses. In a person suffering from depression, these chemicals are out of order. As a consequence, sexual desire is low or nonexistent. In addition to this, an imbalance of some of these chemicals can nullify pleasurable feelings. The strain that depression places on relationships can further interfere with our sexual function and pleasure.

It is estimated that about 40 percent of people with depression face some sexual problems. The amplitude of the problem depends on the severity of the depression and the presence of other comorbid disorders such as anxiety. About two-thirds of those with more severe depression have sexual problems.

What Does Depression Do to Sexual Functions?

Depression causes stress, anxiety, low moods, and anxiety. So people lose interest in activities they once loved doing. This includes sex too. These depression symptoms eventually cause decreased libido or desire to have sex, inability to become aroused or maintain arousal and reach orgasm in affected individuals.

Do the Antidepressants Also Cause Sexual Problems?

Although antidepressant medications are strongly effective in getting you rid of depressive symptoms and helping you feel normal again, many of these agents, like Fluoxetine, have undesirable sexual side effects. Both for men and women, they may cause the problem in the form of being unable to initiate, participate fully in or enjoy sex—and that again can lead to a vicious cycle of losing self-esteem and, in turn, undermine depression recovery. Some antidepressants causing sexual dysfunction as a side effect are;

  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs).

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

  • Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs).

  • Tetracyclic and tricyclic antidepressants.

It is estimated from the research studies that every third individual taking antidepressants experience decreased desire and difficulty achieving orgasm or climax. Some of the antidepressants may make it difficult for a man to have a proper erection. These side effects are dose-dependent and tend to increase with higher doses of antidepressants.

These medicines work by restoring the appropriate balance of chemicals in the brain, which improves the communication between brain cells, reducing depressive symptoms. Unfortunately, changing this balance of chemicals also causes sexual problems.

What Sexual Problems Can Depression Cause?

State of mind is crucial not only for physical and mental well-being but also for sexual well-being in specific. Depression and low moods can cause sexual dysfunction in both men and women. Some sexual problems that depressed men and women experience are;

  • Decreased libido.

  • Difficulties with arousal.

  • Vaginal dryness.

  • Erectile dysfunction.

  • Delayed orgasm.

What Can Be Done to Restore Sexual Function?

There are many ways to help you out from the sexual side effects of these depression medicines without compromising treatment. This includes switching to another class of drug that has less effect on sexual function. Some newer and novel depression medicines, like Bupropion and Tianeptine, cause fewer or no sexual side effects. The other option is to decrease the dose of culprit medication to ward off sexual side effects.

To better manage the debilitating symptoms of depression, as well as the sexual side effects of treatment, you need to be open and honest with your doctor and your sexual partner. In my clinical experience, most people choose to continue treatment once they realize that the sexual problems they are experiencing are associated with the medicines and can be overcome.

Is it Wise to Stop Treatment for Depression to Regain Sexual Health?

Both depression and depression treatment can cause sexual dysfunction as an undesirable effect, but the benefits of treating depression outweigh such undesirable effects. Most people think treating depression with antidepressants is the sole cause of their sexual dysfunction. It is not deniable, but antidepressants alone are not the cause. Both preexisting depression and antidepressants together contribute to sexual disinterest and problems with sex.

So do not worry about reduced sexual performance during the depression treatment period. The initial goal is to make you feel back to normal and stabilize your mental well-being. Once you start feeling good, your physician will address your residual sexual symptoms.

Self Helf Tips to Overcome Depression-Related Sexual Dysfunction:

  • Talk to your partner. There is nothing that could not be sorted out with a hearty conversation. Though it might be difficult to meet your partner's expectations, do not fear being judged and just open up your heart. Even if you are unable to satisfy your partner, you might at least be able to make yourself free from the thoughts of guilt.

  • Consult with your physician and, if needed, take medicines to boost sexual function (for men).

  • Exercise regularly. Join people with common interests to exercise with motivation.

  • If you are under antidepressants and experiencing worsening sexual function, contact your physician for dose or medicine alteration.

Few media reports indicate that treatment of depression can cause more sexual problems than relief to the individual. This is not exactly the case. Research has shown that sexual problems in depression are much more associated with depression itself rather than the effect of treatment. So whenever you feel that you are suffering from depression, you should arrange your consultation as soon as possible.

Frequently Asked Questions


Why Does Depression Cause Intimacy Issues?

Mental health is very important in a relationship, and depression can lead to decreased      
energy, feeling sad about themselves, and losing sexual desire. In other words, depression may make your partner feel less loved or involved in the relationship, which may affect the intimacy of a relationship.


Why Do Anxiety and Depression Cause Sexual Dysfunction?

Anxiety and depression are serious problems that can affect the sexual functioning of the body. When an individual is stressed, the body releases a hormone named cortisol. Cortisol constricts the blood supply of the penis, which may lead to erectile dysfunction. Chronic stress can decrease the amount of testosterone which is commonly seen in people with mental health problems and erectile dysfunction.


How Does Depression Affects a Relationship?

Depression is a problem that is related to mental health, which may affect a relationship between individuals by creating problems like communication and emotional issues, problems related to romance and intimacy, and lack of energy and motivation.


What Helps to Overcome Sexual Depression?

Depression causes sexual problems. To overcome sexual depression, it is important to take antidepressant drugs, psychiatric therapy, and other medication to improve libido, like Viagra (Sildenafil). Regular exercise helps to keep your physical fitness and improves your mental health.


How Dose Viagra Works In Depression?

Viagra may not help in curing depression, but it can subside the sexual side effects caused by the administration of antidepressant drugs like erectile dysfunction.


How Does Depression Make You Feel Less Loved?

Depression makes you feel low about yourself and worthless. It also leads to low self-esteem and you may feel like your partner is not interested in you anymore. But taking proper treatment or therapy can help overcome all the problems.


What Is the Duration of Depression?

Depression leads to depressive illness and episodes. Generally, it lasts for two weeks however, it can vary in different individuals.


How Can Mental Health Be a Reason for Breaking Up?

Mental health is essential for a healthy relationship. Poor mental health can lead to an unhappy relationship with many problems and misunderstandings. But, it should not be only a reason to break up in a relationship. Being in a healthy relationship can help to overcome mental illness.


What if Depression Is Permanent?

No, depression is not a permanent condition. It is a curable illness that can be treated by therapy and administration of antidepressant drugs.


How is Depression Divided into Levels?

Depression is a mental health condition that can be divided into three levels -
Mild - Its remains for a few weeks.
Moderate - Its remains for 2-3 months but may not requires any medication.
Severe - It lasts for 6 -12 months and requires specific medical attention.


What Is the Prognosis of Depression?

Depression is a curable illness. It depends on the person and the level of depression to be treated. Generally, it can be cured in 2 to 3 weeks, or sometimes it can take several months. 


Is It Possible to Be On Antidepressants Throughout Life?

No, depression is not a lifetime problem; it can be cured in several months, or a person may get episodes of depression for months but not for a lifetime.


What Are the Consequences of Having Antidepressants for the Long Term?

The indication for the administration of antidepressants should always be under the surveillance of an experienced health care provider. Long-term intake of antidepressants can lead to some adverse effects like insomnia, anxiety, sexual dysfunction, and weight gain.


What Are the Ways to Increase Serotonin Level Naturally?

Serotonin plays an important role in the body’s function. It helps to regulate moods. Regular exercise, healthy eating habits, and meditation help to increase serotonin levels naturally.


What Are the Side Effects of Antidepressants?

Antidepressants are the drugs indicated for patients with depression. It can cause some side effect as diarrhea, loss of appetite, anxious feelings, dizziness, and insomnia.
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Dr. Ashok Kumar
Dr. Ashok Kumar



psychiatric illnessdepressionmental healthantidepressants
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