Two of the most common mental health issues in America are depression and anxiety. Both general terms umbrellaing over many different kinds of disorders, anxiety and depression are making life harder for millions of people in millions of different ways. One of the ways that depression and anxiety like to fuel their fire is by lowering your libido. Why do depression and anxiety affect our sexual drive and what can you do about it?
Mental Health and your Brain
Individuals with depression have several brain abnormalities that cause the person to behave and feel differently. The specific areas that they have noticed changes are:
The hippocampus- forms new memories and controls emotions and memory
The cingulate cortex- emotion forming and processing, learning, and memory
The prefrontal cortex- personality development, planning, and complex behavior control and development
As the depression continues, these areas continue to take damage and decrease in size. The hippocampus and cingulate cortex are a part of the limbic system and the prefrontal cortex ties in tightly with this system as well. Your limbic system is where your sexual desire and libido come from, making depression the perfect enemy of the bedroom.
Anxiety also makes changes to the brain that make everyday life harder to manage. The areas in the brain where they notice malfunction are:
The insular cortex- provides emotionally relevant context to senses (like feeling happy when you smell grandma’s cookies), facilitates concept of awareness
The cingulate cortex- emotion forming and processing, learning, and memory
The amygdala- controls the fight or flight response acting as your body’s alarm system for danger
When you have anxiety, your amygdala is overactive causing you to feel a sense of fear even when there is no visible threat. This reaction releases a chemical called cortisol which can lead to damaging the brain if not managed. This damage may be one of the causes of depression.
How Depression Affects Sex Drive
A study reported that 75% of people with depression also report a low sex drive. Considering this is an illness that changes the chemical make-up in your brain, it is no surprise it also affects your libido. Symptoms of depression can also affect your energy levels and self-esteem, making sex the last thing on your mind. If you are feeling like any of the following ways, depression may be trying to take over your libido.
You Don’t Feel Desirable
Depression can make someone feel ugly and unworthy both inside and out. When being intimate with someone, it is very difficult to get in the mood if you have no love for yourself. When you don’t feel sexy, you might feel silly for even trying or that you aren’t good enough so what’s the point? This low self-esteem can push the idea of sex out of your head completely putting a damper on your relationship and your health.
Sex Isn’t Enjoyable
Sex is supposed to feel good and be fun. This is partly because of our reward system. In order for our species to continue, we need to procreate. This is why we are driven to have sex. When you get intimate with a partner, your reward system lights up telling you that this is awesome, and you should do this all of the time. This same chemical reaction occurs when you eat, sleep, or nurture. When you have depression, this chemical reaction isn’t as strong as it should be, and sometimes non-existent. So even though you want to get in the mood and enjoy your time with your special someone(s), your brain won't let you.
You have no Motivation to have Sex
Lack of motivation is another huge indication of depression. While normally, people can push themselves to do things they don’t want to do and naturally feel compelled to do things they like to do. If you have depression, even if it is something you would enjoy, depression won't let you have the motivation to do so. This can leave your house a mess, pills unpaid, you un-showered, and your sheets undisturbed. If you have a problem gaining the motivation to get out of bed, it isn’t likely you’ll have the motivation to get busy in it.
Battling a mental illness is exhausting. Depression doesn’t just suck out the enjoyment from life and your motivation, it saps your energy as well. When you are low on energy and feel like you just can’t catch up no matter how much you sleep, you are going to be too exhausted for sex. This fatigue can also cause irritation that puts you even farther out of “the mood” and putting you into a bad one.
Anxiety and Sex Drive
Imagine for a moment you have gone back in time, and you and your special cave person are snuggling up by the fire. You hear a loud roar outside, is sex really on your mind? Probably not. You would probably be looking for the nearest club so you can go beat your dinner to death. When you struggle with an anxiety disorder, it feels like there is always a saber tooth tiger outside of your cave.
Worrying About Failure
This is a similar idea to not having any confidence or self-esteem. But when you have ruminating thoughts, all you can think about is “what if?” With anxiety, you don’t really have a grey area of thinking. You think in extremes, and everything is black and white. You even can become overly perceptive, assuming a glance or gesture is an indication of your failure. Unfortunately, this train of thought becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because you are so focused on performing well, your stress and anxiety keep you from doing so.
Luckily, people who own a penis attached to their pelvis don’t have to deal with this one. But vagina-owning humans, watch out. Stress and anxiety can cause your body to not produce enough lubrication during intercourse as well as tighten your muscles making it painful. You might think that “being tight” is a good thing, but in reality if a vagina is tight that means that it isn’t having a good time and may be in pain. Remember that one for when you are entertaining a vagina yourself.
Don’t worry! Penises can be affected by anxiety, too. Anxiety disorders are known in the medical community for contributing to arousal disorders. While anxiety can make intercourse painful for vaginas, when it comes to the penis it just doesn’t seem to be able to perform. Studies have shown that many people who suffer from erectile dysfunction also suffer from an anxiety disorder; however, scientists are still unsure about the reason behind this prevalence.
Medication and Your Libido
We live in a cruel world, no doubt about it. So cruel, that the most common treatments for depression and anxiety can also lower libido. Even if someone wasn’t experiencing this symptom from depression, the antidepressants they take for other symptoms can bring this up. The most common prescription medication that lowers sex drive are SSRIs, also one of the most commonly prescribed anti-depressants. But you shouldn’t choose between feeling happy and having sex. Luckily, there are some ways you can help raise your libido to help combat the problem.
Ways to Raise Libido
Change your diet
There are certain foods that can help raise your libido and boost your mood. Try adding some of these foods to your diet if you are having problems with your sex drive:
- Dark Chocolate
- Green Tea
- Pumpkin Seeds
- Fatty Fish
Have Realistic Expectations
Not everyone orgasms every time they have sex. If someone doesn’t finish, that doesn’t make anyone a failure. Sex is about intimacy and connection, not who crosses the finish line. Put performance worries to rest by understanding that your presence and connection is the only thing necessary in the act. Have a conversation with your partner if you need, and you may need to try different positions or types of foreplay to figure out what sex represents in your relationship. Make sex a fun bonding experience and not a chore.
Studies have shown that exercising helps to boost the libido of both men and women. But don’t go too crazy. Scientists have also discovered that high endurance or strenuous workouts can cause your libido to go down. Just twenty to thirty minutes of cardio should be enough to get your heart pumping and your sexual organs receiving oxygen and nutrient-rich blood to get going.
Change your Medication
If your medicine is making you sacrifice your sex life, talk to your doctor about getting it changed. Everyone reacts to medication differently, so there may be a solution that makes you happy as well as sexually active. Many people switch to CBD oil because of side-effects from antidepressants like a low sex drive. CBD oil has shown in studies that it may be a fast-acting anti-depressant with one of the more attractive side-effect profiles that does not include sexual dysfunction. If this sounds like a good idea to you, mention it to your doctor!
While raising your libido, it may take time before you are ready to venture into the sheets again. There are ways you can preserve your relationship while you figure yourself out.
How To Keep Low Libido From Ruining Your Relationship
Talk it Out
If you aren’t feeling right in the noggin, let your sexual partner know. If you continue to put off having sex without an explanation, it can cause them to wonder what they did wrong or why you aren’t satisfied with them. Letting them know what’s up can help them maintain their confidence and work on boosting yours. While your brain may be fighting against you, having your sexual partner aware of your low self-esteem and working to help restore it can be a beneficial tool toward becoming comfortable in the bedroom again.
You don’t have to have sex to release oxytocin; you can get it from cuddling, too. If you have anxiety, this may be difficult because restlessness is a common symptom. Try to let yourself relax in the arms of the person you care about and nurture the bond between you are your partner. This cuddling may also encourage your body to desire sex, but you don’t have to feel guilty if it doesn’t.
Reduce your Stress Levels
Stress has its hands in everything in reach. It affects your work life, home life, fun life, physical health, mental health, and your sex life. So, in short, you need to stop stressing out. This is a lot easier for me to type out than it is for you to do, but there are simple ways you can reduce stress in your everyday life. Things like exercise, meditation, a healthy diet, and even chewing gum can help get rid of some of your stress. Every little bit helps so even something as small as giving yourself an extra five minutes in the hot shower is good for you. After all, it’s hard to think about your partner when all you can think about is work.
Practice Mindfulness in the Bedroom
Have you heard of mindfulness? It is when you are present in the moment, grounding yourself to your surroundings and experiencing senses all around you. Mindfulness meditation is often used to help reduce stress and anxiety. Doing this in the bedroom can help you stay focused on the task at hand. If you are constantly somewhere else and your head isn’t in it, then sex isn’t going to be enjoyable or intimate. Look at your partner. Listen to your breaths. Smell the sheets (if they are clean!). This starts a change in your central nervous system that helps balance the body reducing stress responses.
Have you recovered from a codependent relationship? What were some of the signs that made you realize you deserved better? How did you get out? We would love to hear your story in the comment section below and hopefully, you can help someone with your own experience.