How Your Mental Health Affects Your Sex Life

Medically reviewed by: Shane Trujillo, EdM
Wednesday, March 29 2023

You may have heard that there’s a strong connection between your mental health and physical health. For example, poor mental health can put you at risk for conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, or stroke. But what’s often not talked about is how your mental health can affect your sexual health. 

Here, we’ll talk about the connection between mental health and sexual health, and how to get help if you feel that your mental health is negatively affecting your romantic relationships and/or sexual functioning. 

What is sexual health and how can it affect mental health? 

You’re probably familiar with the term “sexual health”, but what does it really mean? Sexual health is a state of physical, emotional, mental, and social well-being in relation to sexuality, and requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships. Since your emotional and mental well-being play a big role in your sexual health, it makes sense that poor mental and or emotional health could have negative consequences for your sexual health, too. 

Find out what common mental health conditions can affect your sexual health, and what you can do about it.

Mental health conditions affecting sexual health 

Research has shown that there are certain mental health symptoms and conditions that can interfere with sexual feelings and/or lead to poor sexual function. These include: 

Depression’s impact on sexual health

Depression can lead to a loss of interest in activities that you previously enjoyed, including sex. It can also cause decreased energy, decreased sexual desire, and an inability to feel pleasure. One study of 132 participants found that 72% of people with major depressive disorder reported a loss of sexual interest. 

How anxiety affects sexual health

Worries, obsessions, and stress associated with anxiety can cause distractions that interfere with sexual responses and decrease sexual desire and arousal. Anxiety may also impair one’s ability to orgasm. Sexual difficulties are common in people who have anxiety disorders — with 75% of people with panic disorders experiencing sexual dysfunction. In fact, a sexual dysfunction is a common reason people seek help from a medical or mental health professional for anxiety. 

Bipolar disorder and its impact on sexual function

Marked by intense mood changes, bipolar disorder can also cause intense changes in sexual function. During an episode of depression, sexual desire can reduce significantly, and sexual contact may be avoided altogether, which can cause challenges between significant others if partners don’t fully understand the impact bipolar disorder can have on sexual health. Conversely, during a manic episode, sexual desire may increase significantly, resulting in a high sex drive. 

Medications to treat bipolar disorder may also affect sexual health. It’s often treated with a combination of psychotropic drugs — any drug that affects behavior, mood, thoughts, or perception — which may contribute to sexual problems. 

How post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can impact sexual health

Sexual problems are common in people with PTSD, regardless of the type of trauma experienced. PTSD can impact sexual desire, arousal, sexual satisfaction, and frequency of sexual activity. It can also cause pain in the genital and pelvic area and sexual distress. 

Veterans with PTSD are at increased risk of sexual dysfunction — with male veterans with PTSD being significantly more likely than their civilian counterparts to report erectile dysfunction or other sexual problems. Studies show that female veterans with PTSD experience sexual health issues too, such as vaginal pain and disinterest in sex. 

Moreover, if violence in a relationship or a sexual assault leads to PTSD, then sex can trigger strong memories and feelings. This can cause fear and feelings of disconnection to your partner during sex. 

Stress and its effect on sexual function

Stress increases your body’s most important functions for survival, like blood flow and increased heart rate, and diminishes non-essential functions, like sex. When you experience chronic stress, your body may produce too much of the hormone cortisol, which can lower your libido (or sex drive). Like anxiety, stress can act as a distraction and make it harder to become aroused, experience pleasure, and orgasm.

Get the spark back with professional help

Experiencing symptoms of any mental health condition can have a big impact on all aspects of your life — including your sex life and relationships. Trying to manage symptoms on your own can feel isolating and challenging, so it’s important to know that you’re not alone. Support is available to help you manage your mental health symptoms so you can get back to feeling like yourself again. 

Psychotherapy has been shown to improve emotions and behaviors and is linked to positive changes in the brain and body. This goes back to that connection between your mental and physical health. Psychotherapy can help you address your mental health symptoms, ultimately leading to better mental health and physical health — including sexual health. 

If you’re interested in seeking professional support for your mental health, SonderMind can help connect you with a therapist who’s right for you. If you and your partner feel you could benefit from therapy together, we can also connect you with a therapist who specializes in couples and marriage counseling.

Get guidance throughout your mental health journey.

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