A depressed woman in black clothing and a briefcase standing in the rain in a field with her umbrella up
Illustration by Marta Pucci

What is the Relationship Between Depression and Libido?

Photo of Dr Katherine Hertlein
Reviewed by Dr Katherine Hertlein,
created by Blueheart
created by Josh Green
created by Sophie Browness
Date published:
Last updated:
Photo of Dr Katherine Hertlein
Reviewed by Dr Laura Vowels,
created by Blueheart
created by Josh Green
created by Sophie Browness
Date published:
Last updated:

There are more than 264 million people of all ages around the world that suffer from depression. It is a common condition that can make it very difficult to carry on with everyday life and activities.

There are many possible causes for depression, including hormone fluctuations, early childhood trauma, family history, and more. While there are a variety of symptoms that can be caused by depression, one common effect of this disorder is a loss of sex drive.

Do you suffer from depression or is your partner struggling with the disorder?

Let's take a look at the relationship between depression and libido.

What Is depression?

Depression is a common term for a disorder that is known as major depressive disorder. This condition causes an individual to lose enjoyment and everyday life, experience a depressed mood, or both. While feeling down every once in a while is a natural part of the human experience, depression is a condition that lasts for longer periods of time.

Some of the symptoms of depression include:

  • Feeling hopeless, sad, or empty
  • Feeling aggressive, anxious, irritable, angry, or restless
  • Having reduced sexual desire or sexual performance issues
  • Losing interest in things one once enjoyed
  • Changes to sleep patterns
  • Feeling tired easily
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Using drugs
  • Drinking excessively
  • Engaging in high-risk activities
  • Having a hard time concentrating
  • Having delayed responses in conversations
  • Having difficulty completing tasks
  • Experiencing pain, headaches, fatigue, or digestive problems
  • Weight changes
  • Decreased energy

Does depression affect sex drive?

Yes, a common symptom of depression is low sex drive. People might feel like they do not have the energy to interact sexually. They also might find that they no longer enjoy sex in the way that they used to, as depression can make people lose interest in activities they used to like.

It is also possible for a loss of sex drive to contribute to feeling depressed. The relationship between depression and sex drive canwork both ways.

Causes of low libido

Not all people with low libido will have depression, but a significant number of people with depression will also experience low libido.

Some of the other things that can cause a loss of sex drive include:

  • Prescription medication (including some anti-depressants)
  • Stress
  • Relationship issues, including trust issues, unresolved conflicts, poor communication, or lack of connection
  • Alcohol and drug use
  • Low testosterone
  • Underlying health conditions
  • Fatigue and exhaustion from illness, surgery, or caring for young children or aging parents
  • Sexual problems
  • Hormone changes 
  • Poor body image
  • History of sexual or physical abuse
  • Anxiety
  • Previous negative sexual experiences

Depression, low sex drive, and antidepressants

A common complaint about antidepressants is the sexual side effects they can create.

Antidepressants in general are linked to sexual side effects. However, certain medications are more likely to create sexual problems than other prescription medication. Some of the antidepressant medications which often have sexual side effects include:

  • Paroxetine (Paxil and Paxil CR)
  • Duloxetine (Cymbalta)
  • Citalopram (Celexa)
  • Fluoxetine (Prozac)
  • Escitalopram (Lexapro)
  • Sertraline (Zoloft)

Mirtazapine (Remeron) and bupropion (Wellbutrin) are known to have a slightly decreased risk of sexual side effects.

Most antidepressants are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These drugs work by increasing the levels of serotonin in the body producing a reduction in anxiety and a feeling of calm.

The feelings produced by antidepressants, however, can also decrease our sex drives. The hormones that normally respond to sex as a pleasurable activity are prevented from transmitting messages to our brains.

Research surrounding depression and sex

There have been a number of studies done on the relationship between lack of sex and depression.

One of the main takeaways is that this condition is more common than you would think. One study found that roughly 40% of women who have a sexual disorder are also people who experience depression.

There are a number of risk factors for low libido and depression. These include:

  • Major life transitions, whether positive, negative, or neutral
  • Stressful life events like a lost job or divorce
  • Ongoing relationship stressors
  • Abuse of drugs, alcohol, or both

There are a lot of potential contributing factors to both low libido and depression. Experiencing one of these conditions doesn't necessarily indicate that you have the other. However, it's important to understand that it's possible and not uncommon to have both at the same time.

Treatments for depression and low libido

Everyone is different, so there isn't one set treatment plan for people who have depression, libido, or both. There are a variety of treatment options available which can be used in combination.

The main goal of your treatment will depend on your condition and your unique situation. These goals might include reducing depression symptoms, effective communication, restoring sexual desire, and regaining the ability to enjoy daily life. Depending on the causes of your depression and low libido, different treatment options might be more or less appropriate.

Let's take a look at a good place to begin no matter your circumstance.

Talk to a medical professional

Talking to a medical professional can be a good first step when you are experiencing issues with depression and libido. You might choose to talk to your family doctor or you might want to consult with a sex therapist or a psychiatrist.

The Blueheart App was created by therapists that specialize in libido problems. Developed using the latest research on the matter, 93% of respondents have found it to be effective.

Start the communication process

An important part of this process is communicating openly with your partner. It can help you work through difficult emotions and low libido.

Self-help books can help you out if you aren't sure where to get started. You also might consider going to individual or couples therapy. The intimacy of your relationship might improve during this process, and you might even find this helps improve sexual desire.

Practice stress relieving techniques

Stress can be a factor that contributes to both depression and low libido. On top of that, having low libido can be a cause of further stress.

It's important to find activities and strategies that work for you to lower your stress. This might mean listening to music, meditating, exercising, or journaling. These types of activities can help relieve the symptoms of both depression and low libido.

Depression treatment

Depression can be treated with talk therapy as well as medications like antidepressants, antipsychotics, and anti-anxiety medications.

There are also a number of lifestyle therapies that can be effective in the treatment of depression. These include:

  • Light therapy 
  • Alternative therapies such as acupuncture or meditation
  • Avoiding drugs and alcohol
  • Regular exercise
  • Learning to set boundaries in your personal and professional life
  • Getting high-quality sleep
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Avoiding toxic people and relationships

And a recent study by Stanford University School of Medicine found that a new experimental treatment, called Stanford accelerated intelligent neuromodulation therapy (SAINT) was nearly 80% effective against treatment-resistant depression. SAINT essentially involves using magnetic pulses to stimulate specific regions of the brain that are overactive in people with depression.  

There are many potential treatment options for depression. On top of that, practising physical and emotional self-care can help you find lifestyle changes and practices that are helpful.

Low libido treatment

Low libido can be treated in a variety of ways depending on the causes.

You might find that switching to a new medication helps to improve your sex drive. Making healthier lifestyle choices can also help, including getting regular exercise, improving your diet, reducing stress, getting enough sleep, and cutting down on alcohol.

For men, testosterone replacement therapy is also a possibility. Talk therapy can also be very helpful in the treatment of low libido.

You might also consider learning some sex positions for depression, which can help reduce stress and anxiety when you're being intimate with your partner.

Do you or does your partner suffer from depression and libido issues?

Learning more about the relationship between depression and libido as well as how common it is can help you or your partner start your journey of treatment and recovery.

If you or your partner is suffering from depression and low libido, we're here to help. Blueheart is a team of academics, researchers, and therapists that specialize in the area of sexual desire discrepancy.

With Blueheart, you'll participate in a series of sessions that help you reconnect with your own body as well as with your partner. We start by focusing on your relationship with yourself before working towards your communication with your partner. Eventually, you'll be guided through activities that are designed to reduce anxiety, increase intimacy, and allow you to revisit the foundational experience of touch.

If you feel ready to get back in touch with sex again, take our free assessment and get a personalized plan to increase your libido and take the stress out of sex.

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