How does depression affect sexuality?
The brain is the body's most sensitive "sex organ." Sexual desire starts in the brain and works its way down. Chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters help brain cells communicate with each other in order to stimulate blood flow to the sex organs. In a person with depression, these chemicals are out of balance. As a result, sexual desire is low or nonexistent. In addition, low levels of some of these chemicals can dull pleasurable feelings. The strain that depression places on relationships can further interfere with sexual function and pleasure.
Some people with depression experience sexual problems. The severity of the problem depends on the severity of the depression and the presence of anxiety. For those with more severe depression, the more likely it is for sexual problems to be present.
How do antidepressant medicines cause sexual problems?
Antidepressant medicines are highly effective in helping to ease depression. However, many of these drugs--such as SSRIs-- have undesirable side effects, including sexual problems that can result. Some antidepressants may make it difficult for a man to have an erection. For both men and women, sexual problems can mean being unable to initiate, participate fully in, or enjoy sex. Such complications can lead to a loss of self-confidence that can, in turn, undermine depression recovery. In addition, side effects tend to increase with higher doses of antidepressants.
What can be done to treat sexual problems?
There are ways to help manage the sexual side effects associated with many antidepressant medicines without compromising treatment. These include switching to drugs that have less effect on sexual function. Some antidepressant medicines—such as Wellbutrin®, Remeron®, and Serzone®—cause fewer or no sexual side effects.
To better cope with the debilitating effects of depression--as well as the sexual side effects of treatment-- you should be open and honest with your doctor and your sexual partner. Most people choose to continue treatment once they realize that the sexual problems they are experiencing are associated with the medicines and can be overcome.
- British Medical Bulletin. Depression and Sexual Dysfunction Accessed 11/6/2014.
- NAMI. Depression Fact Sheet Accessed 11/6/2014.
- Psychology Today. Sex, Love and SSRIs Accessed 11/6/2014.
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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 10/24/2014...#9296