Depression and Sex


Depression affects every aspect of life, including the sex life. Erectile dysfunction and difficulty achieving orgasm are two common problems for people who live with depression. Fortunately, there are things that can help.

How does depression affect sexual function?

You know the old saying that the biggest sex organ in the body is the brain? It's true. Brain chemicals called neurotransmitters send signals to the rest of the body, and those chemical signals result in physical sexual arousal, like erections or wetness. In a person with depression, the brain chemicals are out of balance and it can impair a person's ability to get aroused or achieve an orgasm. Many people with depression report having low or no sexual desire.

Can antidepressants cause sexual problems?

Antidepressants change the balance of brain chemicals, which can help boost mood in people with depression. But, these are the same brain chemicals that cause sexual arousal, so when the antidepressants change them, a person's sexual response can change too. Antidepressants are extremely helpful for many people to treat depression, but some have side effects that affect a person's ability to enjoy sex.

Common sexual problems with antidepressants can include:

  • an inability to initiate or enjoy sex
  • erectile dysfunction (ED)
  • decreased sexual desire
  • an inability to achieve orgasm
  • a less-pleasurable orgasm

 I need to take my antidepressant. How do I treat the sexual side effects? 

Talk to your doctor. The sexual side effects may be managed without compromising treatment. Different antidepressants affect brain chemistry differently, so a medication change or dosage adjustment may be all it takes to fix the sexual side effects. There are also medications you can take along with your antidepressant that may improve sexual function. A doctor can make recommendations and changes to your treatment plan, but first you have to tell them about the side effects you're having. Talk to your doctor, and never stop taking a medication without getting approval from your doctor first.

It's also important to discuss your feelings, symptoms, and side effects with your sexual partners. There are many ways to be physically intimate with someone, and it's important to know what they need and want. Some people believe that sexual intimacy can only be achieved through penetrative sex, but their partners may have different opinions about that. Talking to your partner and your doctor is important when developing a treatment plan and dealing with potential sexual side effects that depression can bring.

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  • Julia Eckard