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Depression and Sex

Depression can cause you to lose interest in activities you once enjoyed, including sex. Certain antidepressants can also affect your sex drive or your ability to have an orgasm. A healthcare provider can help you manage both depression and low libido.

How does depression affect sex?

Depression can affect every aspect of your life, including sex. Low self-esteem, feelings of hopelessness and physical fatigue can lower your libido (sex drive). Depression can also lead to:

- Anorgasmia, or trouble having an orgasm.

- Erectile dysfunction, or problems getting an erection.

Why is sex tied to depression?

Depression affects sex because of biology. It starts with chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters communicate between your brain, where sexual desire starts, and your sex organs. When your brain thinks of desire, your body responds by increasing blood flow to the sex organs. Increased blood flow triggers arousal through an erection or vaginal lubrication.

In a person with depression, the sex-related chemicals are out of balance. As a result, sexual desire is low or missing. Low levels of some of these chemicals can also dull pleasurable feelings.

What are the different ways that depression can cause sexual dysfunction?

The biology behind depression and sexual dysfunction is clear. But the ways depression affects our relationships and outlook on life are more complicated. Sexual challenges may follow certain symptoms of depression:

- Inability to experience a pleasure.

- Loss of interest in activities.

- Low energy levels.

- Mood swings.

- Reduced self-esteem.

Do antidepressants cause sexual side effects?

Antidepressants, or depression medicines, are highly effective in easing depression. But many of these drugs come with sexual side effects.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are an example. SSRIs work by boosting levels of the brain's chemical serotonin. Increased serotonin can help improve mood. But it can also prevent normal communication between the brain and sex organs. SSRIs may make it difficult for a man to get an erection or ejaculate. These drugs can also prevent a woman from having an orgasm.

Other antidepressants focus on different chemicals in the brain. Drugs that increase dopamine or norepinephrine are less likely to have sexual side effects.

How are depression and sexual problems diagnosed?

If you think you’re experiencing sexual problems because of depression, talk to your healthcare provider. In some cases, sexual problems can cause depression, rather than the reverse. A thorough review of your health history, symptoms and current medications can shed some light.

It’s important to rule out other health conditions that can contribute to depression or sexual dysfunction. Your provider may perform a physical exam or run tests to check for:

- Gynecologic conditions in women.

- Hormone imbalances.

- Nutritional deficiencies.

- Thyroid disease.

- Urologic conditions in men.

Learn more about our procedures and your options by scheduling a consultation appointment with one of our doctors.

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