Medically reviewed by Vicky Davis, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 2/14/2022
Depression and sex are a complicated combination to unravel.
If you’re like most adults, you understand that your mood and your disposition can have major effects on your libido, but the reality is that mood disorders like depression can do more than affect your sex life — they can bring it to a grinding halt.
Your sex drive is a complicated result of hormones, neurotransmitters, self-confidence, body issues and a litany of other factors, but it can also be boiled down simply to this: if you’re not happy, your penis isn’t going to be, either.
Where depression and sex drive interact is a little more complicated — depression and the medications that treat it can both have effects on your libido. Let’s start with the fundamentals.
Depression is a mood disorder characterized by low, hopeless feelings and a lack of energy and desire for the things that once brought you joy.” These symptoms can affect everything in your life, from your performance at work, to your relationships to, you guessed it, your sex drive.
There’s much more depression-related damage that can be done, too. It can affect your weight, your sleep, your risk for substance abuse and many other things.
But the relationship between your penis (and its function) and mood disorders isn’t so clear.
While there are many causes and potential risk factors for erectile dysfunction, mood disorders are nevertheless one of the most recognized comorbidities — and perhaps the most recognized psychological comorbidity.
Put simply: yes, there’s a connection between your ability to get hard and your mental health.
What’s less clear, however, is the whole “chicken and egg” question of the correlation — whether depression can cause erectile dysfunction, and whether erectile dysfunction can cause depression.
It makes sense in our heads: if we’re not performing well in the bedroom, surely that can cause some mental health issues. And likewise, we understand that mental health issues may cause our performance in anything — bedroom, work, relationships — to be out of sorts.
But when it comes to your particular penile problems, the question isn’t going to be that easy to answer.
Part of this is the number of factors to be considered.
One ambitious study released in 2020 examined the relationship of sexual satisfaction and mental health in young adults and adolescents aged 14 to twenty-nine.
The study looked at the relationship between gender, relationship status, sexual activity and mental health in a big-picture examination.
What they found is that relationships generally made for more satisfaction and better mental health for participants. Likewise, higher satisfaction levels correlated with lower anxiety and depression rates in these population groups.
The findings would seem to suggest that a relationship and sexual satisfaction are good for your mental health. But there’s a catch: it’s unclear what’s responsible for what.
Generally speaking, the authors of the study above concluded that these correlations were interesting, but did not go so far as to say that one was responsible for or affected the other.
In fact, those feelings may be totally limited to the lack of liftoff in the bedroom.
In that case, it might be a good time to speak with a healthcare professional not about your feelings, but about your health.
Related read: Does Sex Help with Depression?
Erectile dysfunction can be the result of plenty of things, including unhealthy diet, poor health and hormonal imbalances — and many of these things can be corrected with the help of a healthcare professional.
There’s no need to be self-conscious about it, by the way. ED is a condition that affects an estimated 30 million men nationwide.
Treatment, likewise, has many faces. It might involve medications like PDE5 inhibitors like sildenafil or tadalafil, which moderate blood flow and dilation of the blood vessels in your penis to keep you fully hard, for longer.
These ED treatments are the go-to for most men suffering from erectile dysfunction. They’re generally considered safe and effective, and studies out there have shown that they work in 70 percent of men who take them.
Their effectiveness depends somewhat on the cause of your erectile dysfunction, of course, but assuming no other issues are at the root of your problems, you’re very likely to see benefits from medication.
If your mood disorder (whether it be depressive disorders or bipolar disorder or anxiety disorders) are at fault, you may be prescribed medication, which comes with a host of potential pitfalls for your libido.
But they come with some side effects.
In a cruel twist, two of the big sexual side effects of these popular depression medications include ED and delayed ejaculation: Monitor closely for signs of this, and let your healthcare provider know if you’re causing new or worse problems.
A mental health professional might also suggest therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), for instance, may help you deal with thoughts that may be ruining your libido.
They may also suggest lifestyle changes. Smoking and drinking cutbacks are great, but those suggestions may also include things like changing up your diet and getting regular exercise, which has been shown in studies to offer the same benefits as medication to some individuals.
If you want to have a good sex life, chances are you're going to have to take care of both your physical and mental health to get there. Sure, sex is possible without a "healthy" mind or body, but the relationship between depression and sexual function may eventually catch up with you.
If you're experiencing major depression or another form of depressive disorder, it will continue to get worse until you seek treatment — and that's not good.
You might be able to deal with some symptoms of depression on your own, but as people with depression will tell you, things begin to pile up and it's not at all uncommon for a depressive episode to damage an intimate relationship.
The best way to address this and other problems is to speak with a mental health professional about treatment for depression. They will be able to help you locate your individual psychological cause of ED and provide individualized treatment.
Our advice? Get the problem handled today. Stay firm on treatment goals — it's the best way to stay firm, well, elsewhere.