How Depression Affects Your Sex Drive — And What You Can Do About It

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You may be wondering if depression leads to a low sex drive. Struggling with depression can be an indicator of low sex drive for some. 

Depression is one of the most common mental-health challenges in the world, affecting up to 264 million people. It can cause you to feel zapped of energy, numb, and low.

It's also the number-one reason people suffer from low libido.

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So, why does depression cause low sex drive in some?

Often viewed as a biological need, sexual desire is actually much more complex than a basic urge.

It’s more like an emotion that can be affected by lots of things besides our biology.

Psychological factors like depression and anxiety, relationship factors like conflict and communication styles, and even cultural factors, like how we think we’re meant to experience desire or sex — all can lead to low libido.

We cannot separate our sexuality from ourselves, which is why depression can have such a large impact on our sex drive.

Depression is an antithesis to sex.

Being depressed takes the fun out of everything. Things that used to be enjoyable — spaghetti, a cup of coffee in the morning, listening to music, or binging your favorite T.V. series — just aren't the same anymore with depression.

Depression leaves you feeling hollow and empty inside.

Oftentimes, depression leads you to draw away from people, too. You cancel dinner plans and stop moving your body. And if it gets really bad, you end up isolating yourself under your covers at home.

Add to this, there can also be difficulties with sleeping, anxiety, and general feelings of numbness.

Sex is all about joining together with another, creating intimacy and connection. It’s about experiencing pleasure, losing yourself in the moment, and feeling good about yourself.

Sex is like a mini-celebration of life, tying together both physical and mental enjoyment.

Depression wants none of this for you. So, you experience a drop in desire.

Here are 3 possible solutions to battling low sex drive when you have depression.

1. Seek professional treatment.

No one chooses a heart condition, and no one chooses depression, either. You can, however, seek help in order to get better and feel good again.

This is an important step if you’re struggling with severe depression.

Once you start feeling better, you can work on regaining sexual desire. But until then, it’s paramount to get professional help.

A common treatment for depression includes antidepressants and talk therapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy or psychodynamic therapy.

Many times, it’s recommended to use both medication and therapy. A combination of the two is the most effective treatment option.

2. Troubleshoot medication.

If you’ve started treatment but your sex drive is still nowhere to be found, the next step is to troubleshoot your medication. This is an important aspect, as antidepressants are a well-known cause of low libido.

However, depression in and of itself can lead to a deserted drive for sex, which is why working out this kind of "chicken or egg" scenario is best left to a medical professional.

A conversation with your doctor will help you work out whether your medication may be responsible for sexual side effects such as low desire, difficulties getting sexually aroused, trouble reaching orgasm, or a loss of sensation in your genitals.

According to The Mayo Clinic, common antidepressants that are known to cause these side effects are SSRIs, SNRIs, tricyclic and tetracyclic antidepressants, and MAOIs.

Your doctor might recommend adjusting the dosage of your current medication, switching medications, or adding another medication to help combat the negative side effects of your current antidepressant.

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Please remember, it’s always important to discuss any changes in medication with your doctor first. Quitting cold turkey or adjusting the dosage on your own can lead to other negative effects.

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3. Seek sex therapy or coaching.

If you’re not currently on medication or have been able to exclude antidepressants as the cause of your low libido, you’ll want to consider other factors.

Even if the root cause of your low sex drive was initially depression, habits you acquired during your depression might be the reason it hasn't come back.

As a sex therapist and online sex coach, I see clients who have developed negative patterns surrounding sex that inhibit desire, even when the depression at hand is dealt with.

When low libido starts setting in, perhaps, you find it difficult to talk about it with your partner.

Instead of having an awkward conversation, you pull away so you don't "encourage" sex.

The next time your partner cozies up to you on the sofa, you disappear to the bathroom.

When your partner goes in for a kiss hello, you turn your cheek to avoid a kiss on the lips.

Every time your partner initiates closeness or intimacy, you back away for fear of having to turn them down.

By doing this, you’re avoiding unpleasant feelings and difficult conversations. However, in the long term, you’re further and further away from desire and general intimacy in your relationship.

Even when your depression subsides, the gut reaction is still there, telling your mind and body that sex equals pressure, stress, and something that’s bad for you — something you just don’t want (even though, deep down, you may still want it).

Sometimes in coping with depression, you must relearn what sex means to you. 

In order to change this and increase your desire, you need to relearn what sex means to you.

Sometimes you can do this on your own, but more often than not, the kind of pattern mentioned above needs more — and this is where professional help comes in.

Seeking the help of a sex therapist or a sex coach is a great way to learn how to want sex again.

The combination of their knowledge of sexual science and psychology and the actionable tools and exercises they offer can help you get your sex drive back.

Depression's negative effects on your sex drive are reversible.

Can depression affect sexual desire? Yes, but it’s reversible.

Our sexuality is a fundamental part of ourselves. It’s an ingrained aspect of our person that both affects and is affected by everyday life.

This is why depression not only robs you of joy all around, but of sexual pleasure and desire, too. Desire isn’t just a drive — it’s an emotion tied to our other emotions.

By treating your depression with talk therapy and anti-depressants, troubleshooting medication, and seeing a sex therapist or coach — you can feel that spark again.

I know, because I’ve seen it before again and again, and it can happen for you, too.

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Leigh Norén is a sex therapist and writer with a Master of Science in Sexology. She’s been featured in Women's Health, Thrive Global, The Good Men Project, Elephant Journal, Glamour, The Minds Journal, and more. To learn more about the connection between sex and emotions, visit her website. To increase emotional intimacy in your relationship, download her free resource: The Guide for Intimacy.

This article was originally published at Therapy by Leigh. Reprinted with permission from the author.