Expert Speak

How mental illness can affect your sexual life

Does having a mental health issue mean you cannot have a fulfilling sex life?
Couple in Counselling

Does a struggle with mental illness mean losing one’s cherished sexuality? No, it certainly doesn’t. But many people struggle far more than necessary because they don’t have the information and support they need to address the challenges that can arise around sex and mental well-being.

Sex is a matter of mind.

We often think of sex as something our bodies are doing, but a lot of our sex life takes place in our brains.

We often think of sex as something our bodies are doing, but a lot of our sex life takes place in our brains.

It’s the thought that counts

It’s important to realise that, for all genders, our thoughts and feelings play a vital role in getting us turned on and keeping us that way. Anxiety or depression can strongly affect arousal and can definitely ruin the mood sometimes. Anxiety and other related mental health struggles can make it hard to be relaxed enough to have or enjoy sex, overshadowing it with a host of worries or intrusive distractions. When we are very unwell and struggling just to function, sex is rarely at the top of our mind.

The struggle with mental illness in a variety of forms can hurt a person’s self-esteem and make them feel unworthy of sexual attention. For example, a person may have an unrealistic view of their own body and may actively seek to deny or discipline the body as a way of coping. In these cases, it’s important to be critical of the beauty norms we are shown by the media, step away from the practice of measuring or defining ourselves, and to seek to rediscover our love and appreciation for our bodies and our sexual selves.

Related reading: These 8 things make your love last forever

Addictions affect your sex life

Substance use may put limitations or restrictions upon one’s sexual interest. Some drugs can affect your brain in ways that make you less able to feel pleasure from sex for periods of time after their use. Substance use can be a problem when it leads to sexual behaviours one may not feel proud of.

Under the influence of drugs, you may do things that you regret, such as having sex with someone you wouldn’t have chosen while sober, or doing things you normally might be uncomfortable with; such as being filmed or photographed during sex, or having sex in public spaces.

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These personal-boundary transgressions can lead to shame and loss of self-esteem and cause conflict in relationships. Additionally, addiction or mental health problems like mania may be associated with intentionally seeking risky situations such as having unprotected sex with strangers or seeking ever escalating levels of violence, humiliation, and bodily harm (both in real life and in the pornography one is consuming). This can impact a person’s ability to find interest in having sex with their steady partner, because the sought-after thrill or risk is no longer present.

Related reading: My husband was a wonderful man, except when he got drunk

Communicate and connect better

When you become an ally to your partner and deepen your communication, your sex life is certain to benefit. Great sex is often based on great connection, and by working on your communication you are nurturing that connection. We are all entitled to knowledge about our sexuality and good scientific knowledge about sex is necessary for us to be able to make informed sexual choices. By educating ourselves, whether we are young or old, we can make sex better for everyone.

We all have a right to enjoy and appreciate our sexuality. Do your best to not let mental illness steal that away from you and the ones you love!

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