Upset woman sitting on the floor leaning against her bed
Upset woman sitting on the floor leaning against her bed
Upset woman sitting on the floor leaning against her bed

Low Sex Drive — Could It Be a Sign of Depression?

You’re busy, you’re tired, you’re stressed, and you’re definitely not in the mood. 

We all have days like this. And everyone finds themselves in a rut from time to time. These things pass. But for many women, a noticeably decreased sex drive that differs from their typical pattern can point to something more serious: major depressive disorder. In fact, major depression is nearly twice as common in women as it is in men — as many as 21% of women will experience major depression at some point. And lack of libido can be a tipoff.

Change in sex drive is a key symptom mental health practitioners look at when deciding if someone fits the diagnosis for major depressive episodes. A primary symptom of depression is the inability to enjoy things you normally enjoy, like sex. People with depression also have decreased energy, feel badly about themselves and might view their partners through a negative filter, all of which impacts sex drive.

Other symptoms of depression include feelings of sadness, appetite or weight changes, decreased energy and trouble concentrating. Talk to a doctor if you have been experiencing these symptoms. Treatment can help you manage depression. 

A depression-related sexual slump is usually temporary. So if you’re dealing with depression, you don’t have to resign yourself to a sexless existence. 

How to Maintain Your Sex Drive, Even If You Have Depression

Even if you’ve been diagnosed with major depressive disorder, it’s possible to maintain a healthy sex life. Here are some experts’ tips:

  • Get help for the depression. Your doctor may recommend a combination of antidepressants and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT helps treat depression by teaching people to recognize and reframe unhealthy thought patterns. Though this combination is very effective, it can take time to find the right balance, since some antidepressants can cause a reduced sex drive. Your doctor might need to try several options or dosages to find the right medication for you. The medications can take up to two months to work. Common antidepressant medications include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (serotonin is a neurotransmitter that affects mood) and bupropion, which affects neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine in addition to serotonin.
  • Keep doing it. Even if sex is the last thing on your mind, it’s important to keep those flames burning. Avoiding sex may become a self-perpetuating pattern. Continuing sexual activity increases the chances that you’ll return to a regular sex life once you feel better, and the intimacy might give you a mental break from the depression.
  • Don’t compare yourself to others. There’s no “right” amount of sex. Whether it’s multiple times per week or once a month, do what feels right for you and your relationship.
  • Get buy-in from your partner. It can be difficult to recognize depression as a valid reason for decreased sex drive, because mental illness is still stigmatized. It’s also invisible, unlike, say, a broken leg. People don’t always see depression as a serious illness, like diabetes. If your partner was having trouble sexually due to diabetes, you’d be understanding. Think about it from that perspective.
  • Redefine intimacy. You don’t need a hot and steamy tangle in the sheets to reap the benefits of a close physical relationship. If you’re not up for going all the way — or even part of the way — simply holding hands, snuggling or laughing together is helpful. 

Sometimes the most important thing you can do is remember that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

Depression affects every aspect of a person’s life, including sex. But once a doctor figures out the right medication, most people get completely better. 

#TomorrowsDiscoveries: A Different Approach to Treating Psychiatric Disorders | Atsushi Kamiya, M.D.

Dr. Atsushi Kamiya studies how genetic and environmental factors cause problems in brain function, using this knowledge to prevent and treat cognitive and mood disorders.

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