It may surprise you to think of sex as a tool to beat depression. First of all, let me be clear that intercourse is not the end all be all of your sex life. Masturbation during solo sex can be just as helpful. Sex is one component of holistic health. So if you're not engaging in some form of it, you doing yourself a disservice. Sex gets our happy hormones (dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin) going, thus can improve mood. Sex may help us feel closer to our partners. (Bonus: Ejaculation also clears out an enzyme that gets trapped behind the prostate decreasing risk of prostate cancer. And orgasm helps relieve menstrual cramps).
Ironically, low libido is caused by both depression itself and also by some common anti-depressants. In rarer case, orgasm can cause a sudden crash of low mood. This is called sexual anhedonia. However, there are tips and tricks to get through this. Depression can be managed if not cured!
When You're Too Tired to Have Sex
Not all fun things happen at night. Frequently my clients will tell me that they come home after a long days too tired to have sex. If you have not had sex for a while because depression has zapped your energy and killed your libido, then you may need to reschedule your date with sex. Consider having sex about an hour or two after your workout, or make a date for it the middle of the day. Having sex after light exercise also means you may have better blood flow to your genitals so that you can combat erectile dysfunction due to depression.
My clients will often tell me that, they don't want to make an appointment for sex, that planning somehow makes sex inherently unsexy. I call BS! You made a plan for most things in your romantic life. You planned to take a partner on a date and to save up money to propose. To be honest, you also planned for sex after the niceties by bringing protection and making sure you wouldn't be interrupted. Who is to say this planning cannot happen in the middle of the day when you are most likely to have a better mood.
When You Just Don't Want to Be Bothered
Basically, stop waiting to get in the mood to have sex. One symptom of depression is losing interest in things that previously made you happy. So, you now need to have sex to get into the mood, not the other way around. If all this seems like too much work, think of it as taking time for yourself, not work for yourself. Your needs come first.
Taking care of yourself also includes eating regular meals and working on improving your sleep.
When You're Convinced Nothing Will Get Better
Depression frequently causes a sense of hopelessness. This hopelessness creates a sense of frustration. These feeling lead to a downward spiral of negative thoughts, like "My body is disgusting." "My partner is going to leave me." "If I can't keep it up, why bother?" "Nothing works. Why try?" "This is never going to get better."
Look out for all or nothing thinking. Generalizations are almost never true. Change statements that begin with "all" "never" and "always" to "sometimes" "For now" "next time." Also, practice mantras like "I am capable of getting better," and "I deserve pleasure." Practice it with emphasis on different words until it feels true. All of us have hang ups about our bodies. Specific to depression it may be harder to focus on the good things about your body, especially if you're gaining or losing weight rapidly or if your mood has impacted your ability to become aroused. It's important to intentionally sit down and name things about your body that are sexy or attractive to you. If you cannot do that, repeat a mantra of growth-- "I am learning to value my body." "I welcome health and invite only good into my body, mind, and spirit." Rinse and repeat until it feel real.
When You're Thinking of Weaning Yourself Off Your Meds
Treat depression first, then heal your sex life. If you recognize that your low libido is a result of your medication, then assess with your physician that your mood is stabilizing. Anti-depressants take weeks to have an effect and once they do, your brain chemistry needs to adjust over months in order to really rewire itself. Try a bio-psycho-social approach fixing low libido. Instead of working from just the biological point on the triangle by taking meds, work on your social life and mental health as well. Work on improving your intimacy at home by surrounding yourself with loved ones even when it hard to interact. Seek out sex therapy in order to address your outlook on your body, to learn better relationship skills, and to properly address sexual concerns like low desire.
When Your Bed Is Used for Everything But Sex.
One of the main reasons that you may be too depressed to have sex might also be the most fixable. Stop treating your bedroom like an office, a laundromat, and the kid plays space. Is there paperwork sprawled all over the bed? Then do your work in a common space like the kitchen or an office, not your bedroom. Are there piles and piles of unfolded clothes? Don't take the laundry out the dryer unless you intend to fold and sort the clothes right then and there. Do your kids come in and out your space in order to watch TV or play? Set boundaries with the kids. They are not allowed to play in your play space.
Your bedroom should only be used for sex and for sleep. If you're suffering from insomnia and other sleep issues it may because your bedroom does not say "oasis." Therefore, it does not signal to your brain that this is a good place to rest or to fuck. Make your bed in the morning, and you might start feeling a big difference. Also, turn off the TV and dim the light settings on your computer screens an hour before you try to go to sleep. The bright lights throw off our Arcadian rhythm.
Also, nothing is more disturbing than being on the verge of orgasm only to look up and see your children's smiling faces staring back from a picture frame. Put away things that do not make you feel either sleepy or horny.
Many men will assume that if they cannot penetrate a partner or masturbate to "completion," then sex is not worth it. They think they somehow "failed" at sex. Just touching yourself and being present in your body is monumental when you struggle with depression. Your brain is naturally geared to not feel pleasure as readily due to the illness. It's okay that sex is more difficult.
When You Can't Finish or Get An Erection
Be intentional about solo-sex (and all the other things that make you feel good, including healthy meals, exercise, interacting with family and pets). Masturbating even for a few minutes may still increase mood even without coming to orgasm. Your partner, especially a female partner, may enjoy needing to take more time to feel aroused with you. So don't rush to penetration the second you feel an erection. She is more likely to enjoy a buffet of sexual activities besides penetration anyways. (Only 25-30% of women are able to orgasm through penetration alone). Likewise, people with vulvas get erections, too. The clitoris swells to three times it normal size when aroused. Try to take the pressure off yourself to be dripping wet. Don't rush to penetration either. Focus instead on an sexual activity that gives you pleasure. Again, the nature of depression make it harder for the brain to register pleasure, so every approximation in the direction of sex is a win.
When You're Using Alcohol
Just Don't. Don't drink. Drinking cancels out the effects of some mood stabilizers, it may help you get to sleep but it won't help you stay asleep. Some people drink to lower inhibitions and performance anxiety in the bedroom. You'll perform better and last longer without it.
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Sexpert & psychotherapist, Quandra Chaffers, presents Sass-y comments on love, health, and relationships--Comments too tangential or racy for the therapy room.