Mental Health and Sex
As the weather changes, so do our moods. Studies show that millions of Americans experience seasonal affective disorder. According to John Hopkins Medicine, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) mostly occurs during certain times of the year when it is thought that less daylight triggers a chemical change in the brain which reflects symptoms similar to depression. A few symptoms of SAD include: increased drowsiness, fatigue, and low sex drive.
While the above are symptoms of depression, many mental health issues share similar symptoms and causes. Depression and other mental health issues including anxiety and bipolar disorder are linked to stress and often lead to a lack of sexual desire, according to the National Library of Medicine. This is important to highlight since physical intimacy has been linked to improving stress levels and quality of sleep - both key elements in improving overall mental health.
How Physical Intimacy Can Improve Mental Health
According to Resources to Recover Organization, our brains release chemicals such as dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin during sex. These neurotransmitters boost feelings of happiness and cut down our body’s stress levels.
Orgasms before bed are also known to improve our sleep quality. In a recent study conducted by Front Public Health, both orgasms achieved with a partner and self-stimulation lead to improvements in overall sleep patterns, which in turn, lowers our stress and boosts our emotional well-being. After all, sleep deficiency is linked to depression and suicide, noted by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and should be addressed when it comes to our holisitc health.
If you’re burning calories during sex, you’re more likely to experience the benefits that come from physical exercise, including the boosting of energy levels.
Even smaller acts of physical intimacy including hand holding, cuddling, and hugging can release endorphins into our system that calm us down. The chemicals that are often released during these acts of affection reduces the secretion of cortisol, high levels of which are often linked to depression, according to Penn Medicine.
Sex While Treating Mental Health
While it’s important to note that sex can improve our mental state, symptoms of disorders like depression or anxiety, can manifest into impaired arousal or sexual satisfaction. Additionally, many medications used to treat these issues can also have an effect on a person’s libido. For example, according to the International Soceity for Sexual Medicine, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a type of antidepressant, may interfere with a person’s sexual functioning.
Other mental health disorders including ADD and ADHD and medications used to treat them, may also lead to similar effects. In fact, according to a 2020 study, females with ADHD reported having lower sexual arousal and satisfaction than those without. While some stimulants used to treat attention deficit disortder can improve sex lives by helping individuals be less distracted, there are often reports of varying libido levels that can cause either an uptick in a person’s sex drive or lower it.
It is imperative to discuss the possible symptoms and side effects of medicine when addressing mental health, but it’s equally important to understand that this is normal. Many folks experience low sexual arousal and addressing those things is not shameful, but can be a path forward in helping to stimulate those desires once again.
Tips On Improving Sex Life When Treating Mental Health
Talk With Your Doctor
Harvard Medical School notes that reducing drug dosage on medication may subside sexual side effects. Also chat with a doctor about switching drugs as certain ones may affect your bodily chemicals such as dopamine more than others. If you struggle with erectile dysfunction while on medication, talk with your doctor about adding a medication to your routine. For example, adding a drug such as bupropion if you take SSRIs may restore your ability to orgasm.
Explore New Fantasies and Kinks
Pleasure doesn’t always have to come from traditional means of sex. Finding new ways to stimulate yourself or your partner may increase your sexual desires and help you rediscover your own sexual identity. There is no shame in exploring new kinks or fetishes as long as you consent with yourself and your partner. If you’re nervous to begin exploring though, we recommend reducing the pressure by trying out new potential kinks on your own. This could include anything from costumes to feet play and more. Don’t limit yourself!
If you notice that you experience certain sexual side effects at particular times of the day, take note of it. It is common that more pronounced side effects take place within the first few hours of taking certain medications. If this is true for you and it’s cutting into sexy time, chat with your doctor about changing the time you take your medications. It may also be a good idea to schedule sex with yourself or your partners around the times you feel the most desirable. And, if you have discussed taking “drug holidays” with your doctor and they have recommended it, plan a weekend or a day for when you think you won’t need certain medicine. When approved by your doctor or therapist, planning this out can restore your sex drive for the time being.
Stay Honest With Yourself and Your Partner
Sex can benefit the body in so many ways and yet none will be realized if it does not feel good for you or your partner. Being honest with yourself and your partner about what feels good and when is imperative to a thriving sex life. Whether you need to take a step back from the physical stuff, or you want to grab that jumbo bottle of lube stat, communicating your emotional and physical needs is key to ensuring a happier, healthier life.