Sex and Sadness: How to Cope With Depression In Your Love Life
While often debilitating emotionally as well as physically, here are techniques that might help
If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; sometimes depression just is, like the weather.
Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness and loneliness they’re going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest and best things you will ever do. - Stephen Fry
While I’ve written quite a few articles over the years, on a wide variety of topics, I’ve rarely spoken about myself - especially around sex.
Yes, I recently wrote of being in a full-time BDSM relationship but while that was important at the time, the subject of this article is more personal, even more critical to openly discuss.
While the exact number is hard to pin down, the World Health Organization estimates that more than 300 million people worldwide suffer from depression, with 40 million of them being here in the United States.
I am chronically depressive. In fact, I often think that I have always been depressed in some way or another, that there have only been bad days and worse days - and nothing else.
Ironically, this is the depression saying this. But while I know, logically, that my perspective is skewed, it doesn’t alleviate the deep sorrow I so often suffer.
The Many Forms of Depression
I’m telling you this to elicit sympathy but to publicly acknowledge what so many suffer in silence. Depression is nothing to be ashamed about, it doesn’t make you less of a person, and - even when the bad days get so very, very bad - there should always be optimism that you, and the people you care about who also have or are experiencing depression, can find help or even heal from its horrible effects.
This is particularly true in regards to sex. Already far too much of an emotional minefield full of performance anxiety, fears of disappointment, feeling inadequate, being haunted by guilt and suffering from shame, sex can be even more traumatic for those dealing with depression.
Already far too much of an emotional minefield full of performance anxiety, fears of disappointment, feeling inadequate, being haunted by guilt and suffering from shame, sex can be even more traumatic for those dealing with depression.
Before I go any further, though, I want to take a big step back. And before getting into what I hope will be helpful suggestions, I want to talk a little bit about the realities of depression.
First of all, no one (so far, that is) currently understands the origins of depression, although it is becoming evident that many of its roots lie in emotional trauma and/or biochemistry. I myself have felt both, having had severe depressive episodes that were triggered by memories of childhood abuse and neglect as well depressive episodes that seemed to come out of nowhere, where I felt like it was my brain and not my mind that was the cause.
Similarly, depression can manifest in hundreds, or even thousands, of unique ways including irritability and frustration, profound loneliness and isolation, lack of interest in anything (including sex), negative thought loops, exhaustion (no matter the amount of sleep), and even, at the absolute end, self harm or even suicide.
Because of this it’s important for those with depression, as well as those in a relationship with someone experiencing depression, to seek out professional assistance and not try to self-diagnose- or dismiss what you are experiencing as not “true” depression.
You can find an excellent pair of resources at Mentalhealth.gov and the Crisis Call Center‘s hotline at (800) 273-8255. Both come courtesy of the amazing JoEllen Notte, a writer, speaker and mental health advocate who is much more an expert than I ever will be and whose work I will be referencing many times in this article.
The Experience of Depression Is Unique for Everyone
Depression is a personal thing and because your experiences are unlike anyone else's, try to approach the advice in this article with less of an eye toward finding a “cure” and more as a way of finding a tool that might help you.
If none of these ideas does the trick then please never stop trying. Maybe the next article or therapist or medication will be the one that turns the corner. Even though the darkness can seem so impenetrable and absolute there really are beautiful things waiting for you in the future.
Love and Respect Yourself
Personally, one of the most important tools I’ve discovered in regards to depression and sex is respecting self-care by loving and respecting myself for decisions I’ve made to protect myself and seek out pleasure.
Don’t get me wrong, while this is way too often easier said than done it’s always worth working on. Part of this love and self respect is resisting the tugs of “should” and “must” around sex. There is nothing wrong with taking time to emotionally heal, and to allow things to move at their own pace.
And, when you feel it’s time for sex, try to look forward to lovely little pleasures. In other words, look at sex as another form of self-care, where making out is like having a big piece of chocolate cake and oral sex is like a warm and welcoming bed. Self care means taking things as you need and like and not forcing yourself to live up to imaginary expectations.
Just Do It - or Don't
Notte has excellent thoughts on this as well, encouraging people with depression to develop a personalized, self-aware approach to sex as a way to rise out of a lethargic, numb state and take control back from depression. In this way, you can merge the idea of “just do it” (pushing yourself to restart your sensual motors) with “don’t just do it” (taking things slowly and cautiously) by making it a conscious decision.
As she writes in her article “Sex When You’re Depressed - Don’t “Just Do It”
“By making conscious choices you become better at recognizing when your desire is being affected by the illness (or meds). You become tuned into yourself. I’ll give you an example: You can be with a partner who you love and are comfortable with and when the sex wanes you blame it on depression and keep on going the way you were. Suddenly one day you feel desire, but not for your partner and realize that what happened there was that you had just assumed everything was about the depression so when you stopped being sexually into your partner, you missed it. Bad scene.”
Read: It's Not You: 4 Signs Your Partner's Too Depressed to Have Sex
The Importance of Trust
This leads into another key factor when talking about depression: trust.
While depression can be in the brain and not always the mind that doesn’t mean that an episode can’t be triggered by outside forces.