Being completely transparent here, I’ve had a personal struggle with depression. For whatever reason, my physiology tends toward depression when stressors congregate in my life. I’ve previously described the one time in my life when my sex life sucked, and looking back I suspect mild postpartum depression played a role.
I’ve had a couple of other temporary battles with this frustrating mood disorder, so I’m at least familiar with how it feels to be depressed.* And it’s not the same as being sad. It’s a whole body experience of fatigue, disruption of body rhythms (like sleep), and loss of interest in things you’d normally do. Including sex.
Indeed, a lack of desire for sex is often a symptom of depression. Plenty of married couples have experienced this connection of one spouse’s lack of libido and their depression or an even-milder form called dysthymia. Depression can negatively impact your sexual intimacy.
So what’s a depressed person or the married couple to do? How can they deal with the effects of depression on their sex life?
Exercise. Exercise is a natural way to get those feel-good chemicals pumping through your system. If you’re depressed, add a regular walk or exercise routine to your day. If you’re married to someone who’s depressed, suggest taking a walk or riding bikes or hiking or playing a sport together. Find a way to engage physically.
Exercise not only helps the depression, but it’s been shown to increase libido. It raises your energy levels, your stamina, and — some might even say — your bedroom performance. Moreover, getting in shape helps you feel better about the body you share with your beloved.
Talk it out. A quality counselor can address both the depression and your libido. Now, hear me when I say “quality counselor.” I’m sorry to say that some people receive ineffective therapy. Now if the first auto mechanic you went to didn’t fix your car, you wouldn’t give up on all auto repairs, would you? So if the first counselor you try isn’t helping after a few sessions, find someone else. There are many wonderful counselors, and a few bad ones. Find one who helps you talk through the roots of your problems but also gives you tools to address your current issues.
A quality counselor should be willing to talk about how your mood impacts your marriage bed and give you suggestions for addressing the problems you face. If you don’t know where to find someone, ask your pastor for recommendations or query friends and family. Look online for Christian therapy offices in your area. Oftentimes, a church in your area will have a counseling center on site.
Medication. One option is antidepressants, and it’s an option chosen by many. Sometimes we see this as a personal weakness. However, some bodies simply lack proper regulation of certain chemicals — like those with an inherited propensity toward high blood pressure or diabetes. It’s not a lack of internal fortitude or spiritual faith to take medication to treat a physical problem. So an antidepressant may be a good choice.
However, antidepressants come with their own challenges for the marital bedroom. The most commonly diagnosed pills are SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, which regulate serotonin levels). One side effect of SSRIs is lack of sexual sensitivity — making it harder to become stimulated, maintain arousal, and achieve climax. So the antidepressant might help your libido while lowering your full experience of pleasure. There could be other pill options with less of this side effect. However, each individual will have to decide what the right balance is and if medication is a good choice.
Do it anyway. If your libido has taken a tumble because of depression, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy physical intimacy when you engage. One of the worst things a depressed person can do is hide away from the world and wallow in their melancholy mood. Instead, take extra effort to step out and do things you’ve enjoyed doing before, and your memories of pleasure may kick in and help improve your spirits.
This includes receiving affection and pleasure from your spouse. That level of touch and connection can be reassuring in the face of feeling off-kilter in other areas of your life. Keep sex a priority, doing your best to engage and enjoy.
Prioritize affection. Speaking of that affection, couples with a depressed spouse may need to focus more on physical touch. Cuddling, kissing, and stroking release endorphins and Oxytocin which lead to a sense of joy and contentment. Extending foreplay can get a depressed person more engaged in sexual activity. Also, spend extra time in afterglow, holding one another and reinforcing those feelings of pleasure. Quickies may not work well for those stuck in a period of depression.
If your spouse is depressed, hang in there and help them through. They aren’t trying to feel bad on purpose, and they need their lover to stick with them through this tough time. Be patient and affectionate.
Remember your vows. Depression is like any other challenge to your sexual intimacy — tough but surmountable. You two promised “in sickness and in health, for better or for worse….” Depression could be that sickness and that worse. If your spouse is depressed, stay on the same team and fight the depression together.
Likewise, covenant marriage includes a promise to be sexually available and engaged with one another. So depression doesn’t give someone an out from sexual intimacy in their marriage. Rather, it’s a challenge to be addressed and resolved or managed. You can have a very satisfying sex life, even if one of you struggles with depression at times.
Has your sexual intimacy been impacted by depression? How have you managed? Where do you continue to struggle?
*Just so you know, I’m currently doing fine. But I have experienced depression before.