The mental health system has never had the best relationship with sex and sexuality.
From asylum anti-masturbation campaigns to the dangers of hysteria lurking in every uterus, history has commonly blamed sex for mental illness. A diagnosis often meant a person was no longer considered sexual at all. Unfortunately, a lot of the stigmas of the past still influence society today.
Depression or anxiety alone is enough to throw people off their sex game. The complexities that come with mental illness can be challenging to navigate. Many feel grateful enough to get a diagnosis and medication, hoping this will help make things better.
For some, sex is embarrassing to discuss with their doctor at the best of times, let alone when they feel at their worst. In that doctor’s office, when you are trying to explain how nothing in life is currently working for you, the last thing on your mind was probably asking, “How will this affect my ability to have sex?”
Many people in the past have lamented that, while the treatment may have fixed their original issues, it can feel like a hollow victory when it kills their sex drive.
Each person is different in how they experience their illness or medication. However, a few common side effects can be mood swings, weight gain, difficulty becoming aroused, or difficulty achieving orgasms. It can be hard to tell which experiences are caused by the original illness and which from medication.
The first step is always to consult your doctor. Issues can sometimes be temporary. Medications can take a few weeks to settle in and start working. Sometimes even overthinking things can be an issue.
Whatever the case, your doctor can talk you through various options and reassure you.
They might be able to adjust your dose or suggest a different medication.
For many, it’s not just themselves they are worried about, but their partners. They might fear they are disappointing a partner.
Perhaps worry that their partner could lose interest if they can’t please them.
For a partner, there can be feelings of fear, helplessness and confusion too.
They might feel they are no longer attractive. They could feel guilt at wanting sex when their partner doesn’t. Some partners can be so focused on supporting a loved one, they struggle to get in the mood themselves.
Many feel uncomfortable discussing mental illness and its effects on their sex life with a partner. However, keeping silent can often make things worse and leave everyone feeling isolated and alone. Direct and open communication with a partner can be beneficial.
The first step can be as simple as getting back to basics. Learning how to be intimate in new ways can help change your outlook and your expectations. Cuddling with a partner can help reassure you both.
Learning to be intimate without the expectation of sex can help build feelings of closeness and take the pressure off.
It can remind you that being together is more important than the performance.
Learn how to please each other in new ways. Take time to talk about some of your sexual desires. Explore where and how you like to be touched. Remember, just because things are getting sexual doesn’t mean every action has to be reciprocated. If you find yourself struggling with your own desire, it can help to focus on your partner.
Masturbation has long been blamed for all the world’s ills, but research has shown it can be great for your mental health.
Masturbation also doesn’t mean you or a partner isn’t meeting each other’s needs.
It’s about finding ways to rebuild desire and retrain your body to enjoy sexual touch. Sometimes your sensitivity levels might have changed, so you need time to explore for new treasures. When moods aren’t aligned, masturbation allows partners space to meet their own needs without shame or blame.
Masturbation doesn’t have to be solo, either. If you are having an off day, a session of body exploration with your partner helps you meet their needs together. Don’t forget those toys and lube!
Masturbation helps your body release hormones like dopamine and endorphins, boosting mood. It can raise self-esteem, help you sleep better and kick start that sleeping libido. Honestly, it’s hard to imagine why history was so against it when it’s such a fantastic form of self-care.
In the end, the usual advice will always be suggested. Sleeping and eating well along with exercise can help reduce both the illness and side effects. Seek out a therapist if you need to. And, of course, always consult your doctor.
But in the meantime, it might be the right time to take a little back into your own hands and discover a new way to enjoy yourself and each other.