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Does Depression Cause Sexual Problems?

Tuesday 6 October 2020
Mental Health

Table of Contents


I. What is Depression?

II. Does Depression Affect Sex?

III. Do Antidepressants Affect Sex?

IV. Depression Treatments

a. Antidepressants

b. Treating Sexual Problems


What is Depression?

Many people think they know the symptoms of depression. The most well-known symptoms relate to how we feel. Feelings of sadness, anxiety, guilt, hopelessness, and worthlessness are all common in people that have depression.

Depression (also known as clinical depression or major depressive disorder) is a mental disorder that affects over 16 million adults in the United States and more than 264 million people around the world. [1] [2] Depression is a complex condition that is the result of several variables including genetic, psychological, and environmental factors. 

Depression isn’t a condition that only affects our moods. Other symptoms of depression can include:

  • Aches and pains
  • Sleeping difficulties
  • Digestive problems
  • Fatigue
  • Memory problems
  • Weight changes
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty in making decisions. [3]

A woman with her head in her hands

It is less common knowledge that depression can also affect your sexual health. Usually, a person’s sexual desire changes over time. It is common to have periods of strong sexual desire, and it is also common to have phases of low libido. However, if you have had low libido for an extended period of time, it may be a sign of depression.

Keep reading to learn more about the effect of depression on sexuality and how depression can be treated using medications such as Prozac (fluoxetine), Cymbalta (duloxetine), and Wellbutrin XL (bupropion).

Does Depression Affect Sex?

People that have chronic depression may be less aroused, take more time to reach an orgasm, and gain less enjoyment from sex. Sexual arousal begins in the brain. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that are found in the brain that help brain cells communicate with one another. One of the functions of neurotransmitters is to stimulate blood flow to the sexual organs when arousal occurs.

The neurotransmitters of people that have depression are unbalanced. This unbalance can drastically reduce sexual desire. Having an imbalance in neurotransmitters can also lower the amount of pleasure that is gained from sexual activities as well as other forms of enjoyment. [4]

Not all people with depression will experience sexual problems. Sexual problems caused by depression affects men and women equally but is more likely to affect those with severe depression. [4] [5]

Legs and feet appearing out of bedsheets

People with depression often have increased emotional sensitivity. Fights and arguments occur in almost all relationships, regardless of depression. These arguments can further increase feelings of worthlessness and guilt in a person with depression. People may then further avoid sexual activity in order to protect themselves from potential pressure, frustration, and sexual inadequacies. [6]

Another potential source of sexual difficulty is fatigue. Depression can cause sleep changes, often resulting in insomnia or oversleeping. At bedtime, sexual desire may be overtaken by tiredness and a desire to sleep. 

Do Antidepressants Affect Sex?

When depression is causing a reduction in sexual arousal and enjoyment, then it is logical that medications that treat depression will improve this. Often, it can take several months for sexual pleasure to increase again after taking an antidepressant. However, some antidepressants may not affect your sex drive at all.

While antidepressant medications can be effective in reducing feelings of depression, some antidepressant drugs can actually cause or worsen some sexual side effects. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor antidepressants (SSRIs) are a very common form of antidepressant. However, these medications can reduce sexual desire and prevent orgasm in both men and women. SSRIs can also affect the quality of a man’s erection. [6]

If sexual problems have begun or worsened since taking antidepressants, then speak to your doctor. You should not stop taking prescription medications without talking to a doctor.

Depression Treatments

No matter how depression is affecting your sex life, it is important that depression is treated first. Any sexual side effects can then be treated at a later time. [5]

a. Antidepressants

There are several different types of antidepressant medications that can treat depression. Depending on your condition, different types of antidepressants will be more effective than others. Your doctor may change a prescription if it appears to be ineffective.

several different blister packs of medications

Common antidepressants include SSRIs, serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), and atypical antidepressants. Most antidepressants work by affecting levels of neurotransmitters. SSRIs like Prozac (fluoxetine) work by increasing levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin. SNRIs such as Cymbalta (duloxetine) block the absorption of the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine. Wellbutrin XL (bupropion) and other atypical antidepressants do not fit into the other categories.

b. Treating Sexual Problems

As well as medications, there are other ways to improve your sex life. For people that have a partner, the conversation can help improve sexual enjoyment. There is no correct answer to how frequent sexual activity should occur. Speaking to a partner can help improve a person’s sex life by discussing what both partners find comfortable. [5] Sex therapy can help people to speak to their partners about sex. Therapy may increase a person’s confidence and increase relationship security, which may be a source of depression. [6]

The content in this article is intended for informational purposes only. This website does not provide medical advice. In all circumstances, you should always seek the advice of your physician and/or other qualified health professionals(s) for drug, medical condition, or treatment advice. The content provided on this website is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.