Your mental health, sexual health, and intimacy are all intertwined in the ball of feelings, desires, past relationships, and experiences that make you, you. When one struggles, often you’ll see ripples in the others. In this way, mental health problems can have a direct effect on your ability to be both physically and emotionally intimate with your partner. Read on to find how mental health can have an impact on intimacy in your relationships.
Sometimes, mental health conditions like depression can have direct effects on our ability to be intimate. Major Depressive Disorders can have a direct impact on your libido, making you uninterested in sex. Additionally, some of the primary signs of depression are loss of interest in activities you previously enjoyed, social reclusion, and low energy. This can keep you and a partner from being intimate in ways outside of sex. This can also prevent you from being interested in sex, and lead to common sexual dysfunctions like dryness.
Depression is a very serious mood disorder and can come from a variety of sources. One common barrier to intimacy stems from body image issues. Not feeling comfortable in your skin can obviously have a negative effect on your mental health, and is commonly intertwined. This can attack your self-esteem, and question the authenticity of others' advances. Accepting your body isn’t always easy, but it’s an important step along the journey to intimacy.
Antidepressant medication is a common way to treat depression, however, sometimes they can have impact our sex lives. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRI medications, have side effects that impact sexual intimacy due to how they affect communication between your body and brain. For instance, women taking an SSRI might find they have difficulty reaching orgasm. Talking to your doctor about the sexual side effects of these medications can help them find the best treatment for you, as other kinds of antidepressants can be less likely to have these effects.
Chronic stress and intimacy, like chronic stress and most things (besides eating an entire tub of ice cream), don’t mix well. Not only does it impact your physiological functions, causing issues like dryness or Erectile dysfunction (ED), it also prevents you from fully engaging in your intimate relationships.
A study on women with varying levels of chronic stress concluded that the most impactful symptom of stress on intimacy was susceptibility to distraction. Their heightened stress levels kept them disengaged from the stimulus and less aroused than their relaxed counterparts.
In addition to distraction, heightened stress also raises cortisol levels. This hormone controls a number of physiological functions and is most related to stress and the fight or flight response in your body. However, cortisol can also decrease your sex drive and prevent you from feeling aroused. Healthy amounts of cortisol are important for your body, but chronic stress pushes the limits of what your body needs.
Want to know one easy way to tackle stress and cortisol? Make time for self-care, including masturbation. There are many health benefits to masturbating, like lowering cortisol levels and stress, reducing menstrual pain, and even helping your sleep. You might need to unlearn some shame holding you back from exploring yourself, but let it go and discover your body.
The symptoms of anxiety are incredibly pervasive. Not only are there many kinds of anxiety that can affect you, but there are also numerous ways they can present themselves in your body. From Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) to more specific cases, like orgasm anxiety or sex avoidance, anxiety and sex aren’t the best of friends. Sometimes, that anxiety might be a specific fear of intimacy and can keep you from investing in a relationship.
One major symptom of anxiety is intrusive thoughts. Intrusive thoughts are random, recurring thoughts that break into our headspace, and are frequently disturbing or at least unpleasant. Everyone experiences these from time to time. They’re one way our brain keeps tabs on what’s going on in our surroundings. For people with anxiety, intrusive thoughts can be overwhelming and dominate their sexual encounters. This pulls our brain away from enjoying sex with anxious questions like “Am I taking too long? Are they just pretending to enjoy it? What if I did something different here?” and can ruin your sexual experience. Not only are intrusive thoughts common for people with anxiety, but those with other conditions, such as Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), will also frequently find intrusive thoughts can impact their lives (in the bedroom or otherwise).
Additionally, performance anxiety can also become a vicious cycle. If you’re extra nervous about how your body will perform when having sex, you might find those concerns become a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is common for issues such as erectile dysfunction, or vaginal dryness. For some people, keeping ED medication around or using lube for sex can mitigate these symptoms. However, for those struggling with anxiety, a solution like ED medication might not make a difference, as the issue is with their mental health, not the physical one being treated. While their symptoms might be “in their head”, that doesn’t make it any less real. Serious anxiety should always be treated by a mental health professional. Additionally, Emjoy’s wellbeing sessions can be a great tool for those looking to increase their confidence and comfort in the bedroom.
Tying It All Together
If your mental health has already had an impact on your romantic relationships, rebuilding intimacy might be tough. Everyone’s journey is different, and that’s okay! Speaking to a mental health professional for medical advice about your diagnosis, or treatment options can help you tackle mental health concerns. Additionally, the Emjoy app can be a great tool to help make intimacy a little less stressful. Our sexual wellness experts have hand-crafted science-backed wellbeing sessions that can help you work on body acceptance and improve your relationships, as well as audio erotica to boost your sex drive and physical intimacy.