The Relationship Between Depression and Sexual Relations

People believe they know a lot about depression when, in reality, they're submerged in preconceived ideas they’ve learned from social media or other people. In this article, we'll be talking about one of the aspects that depression affects the most: sexuality.
The Relationship Between Depression and Sexual Relations
Alberto Álamo

Written and verified by the psychologist Alberto Álamo.

Last update: 20 October, 2022

Depression affects every aspect of a person’s life, including sexuality and sexual relations. Despite what many people may believe, depression and being sad aren’t the same things. Depression goes beyond what some psychopathology manuals describe. In reality, an individual with this condition feels like something is keeping them from performing their daily tasks and activities.

In fact, the World Health Organization made a video to illustrate the reality of depression. This video shows a man who wanted to do his chores but couldn’t because his dog kept him from doing so. The dog (depression) wouldn’t let the man get out of bed or live a normal life.

Depression conditions sexual relations in very different ways. It especially affects couple dynamics related to emotional bonds, such as intimate communication. When one of the partners is suffering from depression, a series of changes take place:

  • Low or nonexistent sexual desire: This is the main sexual aspect that depression affects, as it’s the engine that drives us to engage in sexual relations. If there’s no desire, there’s going to be a significant decrease in pleasure. Depression causes low motivation in all vital areas, especially erotic desire. This directly affects sexual relationships.
  • Inability to create erotic fantasies: This is a consequence of the loss of desire simply because fantasies are akin to it. Here’s an example. If having sexual relations is like eating a cheesecake, the sexual desire would be the ingredients and the sexual fantasies would be the different ways of combining these ingredients to create something that a person will later enjoy.
  • Low assertiveness: Assertiveness is the correct way to communicate our desires without giving in to pressure or expressing what we want (or don’t want) in an aggressive way. People with depression often feel incredibly guilty for not meeting other people’s expectations. In turn, this drives them to communicate passively as a compensatory mechanism.

In an intimate context, people can decide when to have sex and when not to have sex. Actually, sometimes one partner wants to have sex and the other doesn’t. However, a depressed person usually has a tougher time expressing their lack of sexual desire and resorts to the compensatory mechanism mentioned above: to give in to their partner’s intense sexual desire.

  • Alteration of their relationship with oneself: Self-stimulation deserves special consideration since it’s a very important part of us. It’s our source of self-knowledge, exploration, and pleasure that we can access privately. Depression also affects this. In fact, it’s common for a depressed individual to masturbate less frequently or stop doing it entirely.
A sad woman lying in bed.

My partner has depression. What can I do?

It’s important to remember that depressed people don’t want to be depressed. They want to feel good and enjoy their sexual relations. Every individual experiences depression differently (or any other mental health issue, for that matter). Nonetheless, here are some tips that can help you out if your partner is depressed:

  • Don’t judge them: The last thing a depressed person needs from their partner is for them to question their behavior or decisions. Doubting or judging them will only make them feel worse. Remember that they’re already feeling frustrated and guilty, so don’t add more to the equation by criticizing their every move. Also, judging their lack of sexual desire can cause them severe discomfort. Keep in mind that if it were up to them, they’d feel completely different.
  • Don’t pressure them: Accompany your partner while respecting their rhythm and space. Sometimes your partner will need company, sometimes they’ll need to be alone, other times they won’t feel like talking, and there may come times when they need a shoulder to cry on. Show them respect in an intimate way and, whatever you do, don’t confuse their mental state with how they feel about you. Remember that their low sexual desire is caused by their depression and has nothing to do with the relationship per se.
  • Show yourself available: Not putting pressure on your partner doesn’t mean disregarding them. It’s essential to make your partner understand that you’re giving them the space they need and respecting their rhythm, but that you’re still there for them. We understand you don’t want to mess anything up or make them feel worse, so just try to express yourself through phrases such as “I’m here if you need to talk” or “You’re not alone in this”.
  • Ask for help: More and more people with depression are resorting to psychological therapy. We all know this isn’t an easy decision to make and that it may take them some time. Therefore, it’s important to show your partner that you support their decisions and, if necessary, don’t hesitate to go with them to their therapy sessions.

According to the World Health Organization, depression affects more than 300 million people worldwide. We know that many people are reticent to resort to a psychologist due to fear or financial reasons. However, if you or someone you know is depressed and has the means to go to therapy, we 100% recommend they do so.

We must note, though, that even with professional help, overcoming depression isn’t easy. Nonetheless, having a caring, respectful, and understanding partner is one of the keys to overcoming it.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.