Sex Diaries: This Is How Having Depression Impacts My Sex Life

I'm 25 and coping with the ways depression – and anti-depressants – affect intimacy.

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You know that giddy feeling when you first get together with someone and you want sex all the time? Then life starts to get in the way – you both keep thinking ‘we should be having more sex than we are’. That happens to everyone. But our situation always seems much worse to me than it is for other couples.

I was first diagnosed with depression when I was 17 – I’m now 25. I was single for a lot of that time but for the past 18 months I’ve been in a relationship and living with my partner. Although he is amazing and treats me so well, we definitely go through periods where my depression is bad and our sex life suffers. When it’s like that, we won’t have sex for three weeks or more.

The first problem is the anti-depressants and their side effects. You’re coming off them, going on them, trying out new ones. In the past year, I’ve had to start new medication because the ones I was taking were making me sick all the time. I felt dizzy and thirsty, and I couldn’t sleep. They tried doubling the dose but that only made things worse.

Now I’ve switched to another one but had to go through an adjustment period of feeling worse before I felt better. During that time I felt groggy and numb, and sex was the last thing on my mind. Then, when it starts to get better, you’re still dealing with the fact that anti-depressants can make it hard to orgasm.

It sounds really embarrassing when I say it out loud but sometimes I’ve actually cried after orgasm. I think it’s something to do with the serotonin levels in your brain – if you do manage to get to climax it fires out all these chemicals and it can be overwhelming. Even if you’ve had a great time, you have to broach that awkwardness with your partner, telling them they haven’t done anything wrong.

There is also how the depression itself impacts things. Other couples might not be having sex but they’ll both feel equally to blame whereas I’m always thinking it’s just me. We’ll get home from work, be having a glass of wine on the sofa, watching a film, and instead of just relaxing with him I’m thinking: should we have sex? But I don’t want to. Then I start thinking, am I defective?

“Depression is so isolating – you’re just living in your head all the time. I have no evidence my boyfriend actually thinks any of this stuff.”

Depression has me constantly imagining he is wanting sex and I can’t give it to him. It’s a vicious cycle because I need to rest when I’m ill (and I don’t feel at all sexy). But when I’m trying to rest, my brain is just berating me. Depression in general is so isolating – you’re just living in your head all the time. I have no evidence my boyfriend actually thinks any of this stuff.

He’s never put pressure on me or anything like that, but my depression makes me catastrophise the situation. In the back of my mind there is something telling me he’s thinking about being in a different relationship and all the sex he could be having with someone else. You go to worst case scenario right then.

Then he has to reassure me that he isn’t, that he’s just enjoying the film. Every time he goes for a hug or a kiss, he has to tell me he’s not necessarily trying to instigate sex, just enjoying the intimacy. Because, of course, I worry if he goes for that, it’s a foregone conclusion what comes next – and I can’t enjoy it.

There are lots of misconceptions about depression and sex. The situation is not going to be the same for everyone. So many of us suffer with mental health problems that it’s bound to be different. There are myths about depressed people being either frigid, or hyper-sexual. And I know some people who do have a high drive when they are depressed. When I was single I actually pursued a lot of no-strings sex on dating apps because it was nice to feel wanted. But with that behaviour I always ended up feeling worse.

Sometimes my boyfriend just wants a cuddle in bed and not anything else. That takes some pressure off. And sometimes when I feel myself thinking I need to ‘take one for the team’, I remember what he would say if he knew that – he’d never want me to do it that way because he wouldn’t enjoy it either

If I didn’t have depression it wouldn’t just be my sex life that would change, my whole life would be different. In terms of positives, it has taught my how lovely and tolerant my partner is – he’s not just here to use me. In the bad times I try to focus on getting my whole life back on track, not just the sex. Because if you can’t even get up and shower that day, it’s the last thing you’ll want. But if you’re living better, cooking meals, caring for yourself, it all falls into place.