In our previous article we talked about how our nervous system functions when sex goes as planned, however, I think it would be prudent to understand how our mental health can impact our sexual functioning. Like many of the other topics we have covered, sex has a mind-body component. It is well documented that depression and anxiety can lower libido and cause generalized sexual dysfunctioning (encompassing difficulties with getting and maintaining arousal as well as achieving orgasm; Laurent & Simons, 2009). In this article, we are going to break down how our mental health impacts sexual functioning.
Mental health is a prevalent risk factor for sexual dysfunction in both men and women. In fact, mental health is a larger risk factor for sexual dysfunction in women, than age or physical health (Basson & Gilks, 2018; DeLay, Haney, & Hellstrom, 2016). Approximately 30-40% of the population experiences sexual dysfunction, however, individuals with depression experience dysfunction at a rate of 70-80% (Zemishlany & Weizman, 2008).
While depression and anxiety have been shown to reduce sexual functioning, the most commonly prescribed pharmacological intervention, selective-serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), are notorious for their sexual side-effects. The large increase in serotonin that helps to ease depression has the unwanted effect of interrupting normal neuronal communication to sex organs, leading to poor sexual functioning (Jing & Straw-Wilson, 2016).
Sexual dysfunction is incredibly common and often not talked about. Let’s face it, sex is a very important aspect of a healthy adult’s life. If you or a loved one are suffering from reduced sexual function from depression, know that there are meaningful ways in which mental health professionals can help you. Ask your doctor about newer antidepressants that increase norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain to alleviate depressive symptoms while simultaneously avoiding sexual side-effects (Cleveland Clinic, 2020)!