Posted on Jan 18, 2020, 5 p.m.
Whether expressed with a partner, multiple partners, or individually, intimacy is an integral aspect of life and relationships for most adults. It can be a source of fulfillment, pleasure, and closeness that adds balance to a wellness-focused life.
However, the ability to be intimate or to experience pleasure from sex is typically dependent on a healthy body and mind. And, nearly 1 in 5 American adults live with a mental illness that can impact their ability to have a healthy sex life.
There are more connections between mental health and intimacy than many may think, both positive and negative, but can often be addressed if needed.
Effects of mental illness on sexual health:
Several mental illnesses can interrupt a healthy sex life. For example, depression, the most common mental disorder in adults, diminishes the ability to anticipate pleasure which can significantly affect sexual response. Additionally, certain medications for depression, such as Prozac and Zoloft, can cause lowered libido. Combined, these side effects can decrease overall interest in sex, and even cause sexual disorders like erectile dysfunction and anorgasmia.
Other mental health issues, like anxiety and eating disorders, can also negatively impact someone’s sex life. These disorders typically cause symptoms like low self-confidence, fatigue, and irritability that can decrease interest in physical intimacy and even cause sufferers to fear closeness.
Other issues like bipolar disorder can have similar symptoms during depressive episodes but can cause an increase in risky sexual behavior in the midst of a manic episode. During these moments of hypersexuality, people living with bipolar disorder may masturbate excessively, have a constant stream of sexual thoughts, or participate in sex with various people or strangers. This can put their sexual health, as well as any stable relationships, at risk and cause further complications with their mental health.
Mental benefits of sex:
Yet, sex can have several positive impacts that can benefit those struggling with mental health. Much like exercise, sex, and orgasms– with or without a partner– have been shown to reduce stress, improve mood, and boost feelings of contentment, all of which can minimize the effects of certain mental health issues. It can also improve and regulate sleep patterns, which can ease symptoms of disorders like depression and anxiety. Plus, arousal and physical touching have been shown to stimulate the pleasure center in the brain and help fight feelings of sadness.
There are also relational benefits of sex: physical intimacy can encourage communication, bonding, and lowered relational anxiety.
Therefore, a healthy sex life, though sometimes challenging to maintain, can assist in improving the symptoms experienced by those living with mental illnesses.
Having sex again:
There are several ways to maintain a healthy sex life while living with mental illness, but each treatment method should be based on individual needs. Couple’s counseling and individual therapy have both been proven as effective ways to ease anxiety surrounding sex and intimacy. The use of over-the-counter products like personal lubricant can help during sex, as well.
Additionally, experts recommend that mental health patients who experience sexual disruption that they believe are connected to their disorder speak with their prescribing physician about how to treat side effects. This may be done by altering prescription doses or types or simply by making some lifestyle changes. No matter what, patients should never stop taking their medications without a doctor’s recommendation.
Every adult should have the ability to maintain a relationship with sex that makes them feel fulfilled and personally satisfied, but that is defined by them. Those living with mental illness who feel their sex lives are negatively impacted by their disorder should communicate with their partner and their doctor to find a balance and reap the emotional benefits of physical intimacy.
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This article is not intended to provide medical diagnosis, advice, treatment, or endorsement.