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.