Most of the things you read about depression point to sexual activity either diminishing or grinding to a halt altogether. But the situation isn’t as cut and dried as that — it depends on the severity of depression. In moderate-to-severe depression, there are frequently changes in sexual activity, but in very mild cases, there may be little or no change at all. In fact, sexual appetite actually increases in some men.
When sex drive increases
When a man is feeling down, sex may become a way to self-medicate. It becomes a comfort that usually improves mood, at least in the short term. Sex provides a means to escape stress, isolation, and depression. Hypersexuality (sex addiction) during depression is more complex. There is in fact a relationship between depression and various compulsive behaviors like gambling, exercise, work, and, of course, sex.
On the face of it, these appear to be forms of distraction that act as a way for the man to avoid confronting their mental state. There is however some biological evidence to suggest that hypersexuality is linked to an overactive stress system. Research from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden suggests that hypersexuality is also significantly associated with higher levels of childhood trauma and depression.
Loss of interest in sex
In most cases of depression, sexual interest diminishes. Older men (50+) may wonder if their lack of interest in sex is normal. Sex drive can vary in men no matter what their age, but age in itself should not be a factor. Fertility diminishes as men age and so does their drive to have sex. Men in their 20s have three times the fertility than men in their 50s, so their sex drive is much higher.
Loss of libido can be difficult for many men. In the short term it can simply be due to fatigue or stress, and as a result, will be self-correcting if the situation improves. Erection problems may be a cause or a result of depression. Physical causes of depression can generally be ruled out if a man achieves an erection in the morning or at other times. However, the side effects of some antidepressants are a known cause of impotence. Modification of the dosage, changing the time of day the drug is taken, or a change of medication can alleviate the symptoms.
Sexual difficulties within a relationship can contribute to depression, but then depression itself can result in sexual difficulties. For some people, the cause and therefore the effect may be easy to identify, for others it may be more complex. The usual course of events is to treat the depression first. If mood and low sex drive improves, that’s good news. However, there may be reasons why it is useful to treat depression while receiving treatment from a therapist specializing in sexual dysfunction and/or conflict. A qualified therapist can often get to the root of issues that couples find hard to discuss or even identify.
See more helpful articles:
Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.