Does sex help with depression and anxiety

Does Sex Help With Depression and Anxiety?

Writen By: Sadia Mirza
Reviewed By: Huma Khan
Publish Date: December 19, 2023

Let’s delve into a topic that’s often shrouded in silence: the relationship between sex and mental health. Having sex can make us feel really good, right? But some people wonder, “Does sex help with depression and anxiety? Can it make us feel better when we’re really sad or worried all the time?” Talking openly about sex isn’t easy, as the word “sex” is often considered taboo, making it tough for people to discuss it publicly. So, asking if sex can help with depression and anxiety might sound kind of weird.

But let’s pause for a moment and consider this: There might be more to the connection between sex and our mental well-being than we realize. When we think about it, sex has this incredible power to make us feel good. It brings joy, closeness, and a sense of connection. So, could there be a scientific basis behind the idea that sex might actually be a mood booster?

Now, let’s circle back to that lingering question: Can sex really help with depression and anxiety, offering a ray of light when life feels heavy? The answer might be surprising. Join us as we explore this intriguing connection further and uncover whether sex might indeed hold the key to helping alleviate feelings of depression and anxiety.

Depression

Depression is a common mental health disorder that affects how you feel, think, and act. It involves a low mood, sadness, and a loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyed. It can cause various emotional and physical problems and affect your daily life.

Depression is a highly prevalent issue worldwide. A research study shows that 21 million adults in the US have had at least one major depressive episode and surprisingly, the research study also indicates that depression is more prevalent in women than in men. It may be due to hormonal imbalances in women that come with pregnancy, menopause, and postpartum. 

Anxiety

Anxiety is a condition that is characterized by a feeling of dread, fear, and uneasiness that is triggered by certain events or situations. Its physical signs include a rapid heartbeat, sweating, nervousness, and panic.

Research on the effects of anxiety on individuals reveals that it has an impact on the brain’s cognitive processes. Anxiety disorder has become more prevalent, as research from the NIH shows that an estimated 31.1% of U.S. adults experience some form of anxiety disorder at a certain point in their lives.

The connection between Sex and Mental Health

Sex and mental health may look like completely unrelated topics at first glance. One may think about how sex affects their mental state. Different people have different opinions about that. Some people may see it as a stress reliever, a way to escape from the pressures of everyday life and the research study very much agrees with that, as it shows that sexual intercourse serves as a stress reliever for both men and women in relationships.

While many people may view sex as a source of anxiety or even shame attached to it due to societal judgments and personal insecurities about their own desires or performance related to sexual activity, this 2020 research study indicates that sexual activity has great benefits in terms of mental health, lowering anxiety and mood disorders. 

Sexual activity helps in maintaining a healthy mental state as it enhances self-esteem, improves body image, and increases feelings of intimacy and connection with a partner. Sexual activity reduces stress levels by releasing oxytocin (the love hormone), serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins, ‘the feel-good hormones’ that develop a sense of relaxation, elevate your mood, reduce anxiety, and help improve your sleep. The research study also shows that regular sex activity reduces stress, regularizes the sleep cycle, and regulates mental well-being. 

Does Sex Help with Depression and Anxiety?

Feeling down? Or anxious? You are at the right place, as we are going to discuss the benefits of sex on your mental health.

You might be here with the question on your mind Does sex help with depression and anxiety? Remember that this is a complex and vast topic, as depression and anxiety are both mental health conditions that are developed due to many factors, not a single one. So to answer this question, does sex help with depression and anxiety? We need to look at it from all perspectives, including examining the connection between sex and depression as well as sex and anxiety.  

Sex is not just a fun and intimate activity, but it can also be a natural and enjoyable way to battle feelings of depression and anxiety. You may be wondering how staying busy in bed improves your mood and combats depression. Engaging in consensual and satisfying sexual activity can potentially have positive effects on both depression and anxiety:

1. Hormonal Balance:

Have you ever noticed that after having satisfying sex in the bedroom, you tend to feel more relaxed and happier? This is due to the release of immediate feel-good hormones such as oxytocin, endorphins, and dopamine. These chemicals are associated with feelings of pleasure, relaxation, and happiness.

The sense of intimate contact with a partner can relieve stress and depression, as the research study shows that being sexually active reduces anxiety and depression.

2. Stress Reduction:

Sex and depression are interlinked as sex reduces the level of cortisol hormone in the blood, which is often known as the ‘Stress hormone’. Sexual activity can act as a stress reliever, lowering cortisol levels and promoting relaxation. This stress reduction can help alleviate feelings of anxiety and contribute to managing depressive symptoms. It’s like a natural high without any negative side effects. Pretty cool, right?

3. Enhanced Bonding and Support: 

Engaging in sexual activity enhances bonding by fostering emotional closeness and intimacy, strengthening relationships to offer a sense of support and comfort. This support can play a pivotal role in managing the symptoms of depression and anxiety. 

Beyond the psychological benefits, sex acts as a pause button for worries, providing a much-needed break for the mind. The physical contact and intimacy involved contribute to a heightened sense of connection and security, further easing the symptoms of depression and anxiety. As supported by research, increased sexual activity and physical tenderness are linked to greater positive emotions and life satisfaction, highlighting the role of intimacy in enhancing well-being and emotional fulfillment.

4. Improved Sleep Quality: 

Both depression and anxiety interfere with your sleep so sex can help with that as well, as it releases hormones like prolactin and oxytocin, which contribute to feelings of relaxation and well-being. Orgasms can also activate the parasympathetic nervous system, promoting a sense of calm and preparation for sleep. Improved sleep quality can have a positive impact on both depression and anxiety symptoms. 

5. Impact of Nitric Oxide:

During arousal and sexual activity, many things happen in our body and brain. With the increased blood flow, there is a surge of nitric oxide released in our bodies. Research suggests that nitric oxide may play a role in regulating mood and emotions. According to a 2011 study, increased nitric oxide levels may be associated with decreased symptoms of depression and anxiety. This research study further indicates that higher levels of sexual satisfaction are associated with lower levels of anxiety and depression. 

6. Epinephrine Activation:

During sexual intimacy, the epinephrine hormone activates, which makes your heart pound in your chest. Low levels of epinephrine result in depression and anxiety so its activated level helps with them. Those warm and fuzzy emotions that come with intimacy can act as a shield against the darkness of anxiety and depression. A research study shows that during COVID 19 anxiety and depression scores were quite lower due to increased sexual activity.

Now, before you start thinking that sex is a magical cure-all for depression and anxiety, it’s important to note that it’s not a substitute for professional help or therapy. While maintaining a healthy sexual life can be a valuable tool to manage your day-to-day depression and anxiety, but it’s not going to treat them.

Factors Affecting the Connection Between Sexuality and Mental Health

Your sexual life and mental health both have a great impact on each other; when one is affected, the other is also affected. Many factors influence the connection between sex and mental health.

Conflicts with Your Partner

Conflicts in relationships result in low sexual drive. When both partners are not on the same page and there are conflicts and misunderstandings between them, it affects their sexual lives as well as their mental health. Insufficient bonding among partners affects their physical intimacy and their relationship, and it can lead to mood swings, frustration, anxiety, and depression.

Not Having Time For Intimacy

Busy schedules or other priorities can reduce the time spent on intimacy. When partners don’t have time for sexual intimacy due to work or household responsibilities, it can lead to frustration and negatively impact their sexual lives. For instance, men may be occupied with work, while women manage household chores and childcare. This lack of quality time together might create distance, affecting the emotional bond and potentially contributing to feelings of loneliness or frustration.

Self – Esteem Issues

How you see yourself and feel about your body can influence your comfort level during intimacy. Poor self-esteem and negative body image can significantly impact sexual experiences. Low self-esteem may lead to performance anxiety during sex, affecting confidence and enjoyment. It can also reduce libido and cause feelings of inadequacy or reluctance, impacting your sexual experiences and mental health and contributing to feelings of depression and anxiety.

Trauma

Sex with a partner can be a triggering experience for the person who has gone through trauma (abuse or assault) in the past, as a study shows that people with past traumas may even feel awful psychologically while experiencing orgasm. If someone has been sexually abused, they may have flashbacks of that abuse while having sex, and it can cause some people to have low-to-no sexual desire at all. These traumatic experiences cause someone to feel inferior, isolated, depressed, and anxious, exacerbating sexual dysfunction.  

Age

As individuals age, physical changes, hormonal shifts, and health conditions can affect sexual functioning and desire. Age-related changes like menopause or erectile dysfunction can lead to frustration, low self-esteem, and stress, influencing mental health and sexual satisfaction.

Health Conditions

Certain health conditions, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and chronic pain, can inhibit sexual activity and enjoyment, consequently leading to decreased emotional connection and a sense of isolation. Health conditions, such as arthritis or fibromyalgia, can cause chronic pain and fatigue, making sexual activity uncomfortable or exhausting. This can lead to a decreased interest in sex, feelings of guilt, and emotional distress, impacting mental health. 

Frequency of Sexual Activity

Imbalances in sexual frequency within a relationship can lead to emotional disconnection. For example, when one partner desires more sexual intimacy than the other, feelings of rejection and resentment arise. Engaging in sex frequently and placing excessive emphasis on sexual frequency can place unnecessary pressure on individuals. The fear of not meeting expectations or satisfying a partner’s desires can lead to stress, anxiety, and depression, affecting mental health and satisfaction within the relationship.

Each of these factors plays a role in how sexuality and mental health intersect. Addressing these factors through open communication, seeking support or therapy, and finding ways to nurture emotional intimacy within a relationship can positively impact both sexual experiences and mental well-being.

Addressing Misconceptions

There are several common myths and misconceptions about sex and mental health. It is important to clarify these misconceptions and establish realistic expectations regarding the impact of sex on conditions like depression and anxiety. Here are a few:

Myth 1

Sex is a cure for mental health issues:

Sex indeed has positive effects on mental health but it is not a treatment or cure for mental health issues like depression or anxiety. Relying on sex solely for emotional support can be unhealthy. Sex cannot address the underlying root cause of mental health issues. While some individuals may find temporary relief from their mental health issues through sex, others may not experience the same benefits. Sex can provide a sense of intimacy and connection but it is not a substitute for emotional support or therapy.

Myth 2

Lack of sexual desire always points towards a mental health problem: 

It is a common misconception that a lack of sexual desire always indicates mental health issues. Many conditions affect sexual desire, such as hormonal imbalance, chronic illnesses, side effects of some medications, and fatigue.

Individuals with relationship issues such as unresolved conflicts and a lack of emotional intimacy can also have no desire for sex. Many lifestyle factors, such as work pressure, financial difficulties, poor diet, lack of exercise, substance abuse, loss of a loved one, and in women, childbirth and menopause, could lead to low sex drive. Before considering mental health as the only factor contributing to low sex drive, one should also check out the other factors that lead to a lack of sexual desire. 

Myth 3

All medications for mental health issues affect sexual desire:

Certain medications can indeed affect sexual desire but not all medications have this effect and their impact varies from person to person. Giving credit for all changes in sexual desire solely to medication is wrong, as mental health itself and other factors also play a role. 

Myth 4

Sex should be more frequent in a healthy relationship:

This is untrue, as there is no one-size-fits-all definition of a healthy sexual relationship, as the frequency of sexual desire varies from person to person. Unrealistic expectations and pressure for sex can be damaging and more sex doesn’t indicate a healthier relationship, as it could be possible that two people have physical intimacy but have no emotional connection at all and have unresolved issues. 

Myth 5 

Having frequent or more sex will cure depression and anxiety: 

It is important to clarify that sex cannot treat depression and anxiety, as they both are complex mental health conditions caused by different biological, psychological, and environmental factors, so their treatment approaches are also different. Sex can provide short-term relief as it produces feel-good hormones and improves your mood but it is not a permanent cure for depression and anxiety. 

Myth 6

Sex is harmful for individuals with mental health issues: 

It is a common misperception that having sex can be detrimental to someone who is struggling mentally. Sex has positive effects on a person’s mental health as it releases endorphins that improve mood and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. It has been shown that sex reduces stress levels and boosts self-esteem as a person feels that their partner feels desired so their confidence level increases. Sex also promotes better sleep by releasing oxytocin, which regulates sleep patterns and induces relaxation. 

It is crucial to address and clarify all the misconceptions and myths that are in our minds related to sex and mental health because this wrong information can affect our sexual lives and have a negative impact on our relationships. 

When Sex Might Not Help?

When we go through this question, Does sex help with depression and anxiety? We have to dig down deeper. Sex is a healthy and natural activity that develops happy hormones and gives pleasure and closeness but there are some instances where engaging in sexual activity may not be helpful in alleviating symptoms of depression or anxiety. 

Here are a few scenarios where sex may not be sufficient to address these mental health conditions:

1. Mental Health Disorders

Depression and anxiety are mental health disorders that may be caused by various factors, such as past trauma, chemical imbalances, or chronic stress. Engaging in sexual activity alone is not going to address the underlying problems contributing to anxiety and depression, as professional help is necessary to explore and treat the root causes.

2. Relationship Conflicts

Sometimes conflicts in relationships may result in anxiety and depression. Sex cannot resolve the underlying relationship problems that require communication, understanding, and guidance from a therapist or counselor.

3. Lack Of Emotional Intimacy

Depression and anxiety can affect a person’s ability to connect emotionally with their partner, making it challenging to engage in satisfying sexual experiences. In such scenarios, focusing only on physical intimacy may neglect the emotional connection that is necessary for fulfilling sexual relationships. Therapy can help both partners to develop emotional intimacy skills and sort out the complexities. 

4. PTSD and Trauma

Individuals who have been through trauma, such as sexual abuse, may find it difficult to engage in sexual activity as it can trigger stressful memories or negative emotions. In these cases, sex might intensify anxiety or depression symptoms rather than provide relief. 

5. Pharmacological Treatments

Certain medications used in the treatment of depression and anxiety may have side effects that impact sexual function. Antidepressants, for example, are known to sometimes cause sexual dysfunction, including reduced libido or difficulty reaching orgasm. In such cases, engaging in sexual activity might not be as pleasurable or satisfying, and individuals may need to explore alternative approaches to maintain a healthy sexual life while managing their mental health.

Tips for Enhancing Mental Well-being through Sexual Activity

Having a great intimate time with your partner can help you improve your mood and get rid of your negative thoughts and stressors for a while. Thus, make sure to make the most of your quality time with your partner. Here are some practical tips and tricks that you can follow to enhance your mental well-being through your sexual life.

  • Change Your Environment 

Your bedroom has a surprising impact on your sexual life. Thus make sure to set up a calm space where you can focus entirely on your partner and avoid outside distractions. Remove your phone from your bedroom, as it could affect your sexual life. Your phone might distract you when you could be spending quality time with your partner. Create a more relaxing and calm environment by using dim light, comfortable surroundings, and soothing scents, as this will help you relax, improve your sleep, and be less distracted. 

  • Emotional Intimacy

Building emotional intimacy with your partner helps enhance sexual activity. Try to focus on strengthening and deepening your emotional connection with your partner through acts such as cuddling, hugging, and intimate conversations.

  • Practice Mindfulness

Be mindful while engaging in sexual activity, be in the present moment, and fully immerse yourself in the sensations, as it will enhance your overall experience. 

  • Prioritize Foreplay

 Spend time on foreplay, as it can enhance pleasure, increase arousal, and build anticipation, leading to greater satisfaction.

  • Self-care and Hygiene

Prioritize personal hygiene, as feeling clean and confident can positively impact your mental well-being during sexual activity.

  • Experiment with Sensory Pleasure

Enhance your overall sexual experience and mental well-being by incorporating sensory experiences such as scented candles, soft music, and textured fabrics.

  • Focus On Pleasure

Completely shift your focus to pleasure and not performance during intercourse. Let go of any mental burden, internal pressure, or expectation, and prioritize enjoyment and connection. 

  • Communication and Consent

Have open and honest communication with your partner about your desires, boundaries, and fantasies, ensuring both of you feel safe and comfortable during sexual activity.

Conclusion

The question, ‘Does sex help with depression and anxiety?’ is certainly a complex one. We know that depression and anxiety can zap your libido and make even the thought of sex seem daunting. If that’s the case, don’t fret. Just remember that everyone’s journey is unique, and it’s essential to prioritize your mental health above all else. 

Ultimately, sex should not be viewed as a magical solution for mental health challenges but as a tool in a comprehensive approach to managing depression and anxiety. 

If you are going through anxiety and depression, then try to consult a professional rather than just relying on yourself and your sexual life. Your mental health comes first. 

FAQs

How do depression and anxiety affect sexual drive?

Depression and anxiety affect sexual drive by decreasing your interest in sexual activity due to overwhelming feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worry that make it difficult to enjoy sexual intimacy.

Depression also causes fatigue and low energy makes individuals feel too tired to engage in sexual activity. Depression also causes erectile dysfunction and difficulty reaching orgasm.

Can lack of sex cause depression?

Lack of sex may not directly cause depression, as depression is a complex mental health disorder caused by various factors. Lack of intimacy can lead to feelings of frustration, low self-esteem, and relationship dissatisfaction, which may contribute to depression in some individuals. 

Is sex good for your mental health?

Yes, sex is good for mental health as it releases the happy hormones oxytocin and dopamine, lowering your stress levels.

Do people with depression want sex?

Depression affects individuals differently, so some people may decrease interest in sex due to fatigue, low energy, and a loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed. While others may have a desire for sex but struggle with motivation and find it difficult to engage in sexual activities.

Do orgasms help anxiety?

Orgasms can provide temporary relief from anxiety as they release endorphins and promote relaxation. During sexual activity and orgasm, the body also experiences a decrease in blood pressure and heart rate, which can contribute to a sense of calm. However, it’s important to note that the relief is typically short-term and may vary from person to person. It’s also crucial to address the underlying causes of anxiety and consider seeking professional help if needed.