Sex and depression: How mental health can affect intimacy

Posted By

On May 11, 2017

By Thabile

Depression affects all aspects of one’s life and this includes the sexuals, namely our sex lives and all that come with them. We hardly ever talk about how mental illness affects our sex lives, especially when we are in relationships. For those of us who are in relationships whilst having a mental illness, we have the extra performance that we sometimes put on for our partners, especially when it comes issues dealing with libido and desire. There is always the need to manage how they (depression, libido and desire) come together, interact and sometimes get in the way of each other.

I remember how my go to line was “I’m tired” whenever my libido was nowhere to be found and how I did this because I felt guilty always telling my then partner that I don’t feel like having sex. I always had the feeling of not being worthy of this person and here I am not fully participating in the relationship. There were factors that increased my dishonesty as to why I didn’t feel like having sex. One of these was my partner complaining about the lack of sex and them suffering because of their high libido. I felt guilty because we when my libido would crash out we went from having sex regularly to a dry spell.

This one relationship forced me to deal with my communication because, before this, I got into long distance relationships because then I wouldn’t have to deal with a partner being in my physical space. This meant that I didn’t have to address my slumping sex drive and deal with a partner that wanted physical intimacy. It is so much easier to fake feeling “sexy” over the phone than in person. The same ability to fake things was also possible in terms of communicating. The physical proximity of this relationship made me realise how horrible I was (and probably still am) with communicating my feelings and the happenings of my mental state.

The following questions still float in my mind:

How does one keep open the lines of communication and reciprocate care to one’s partner when you have no will or energy to care for yourself?

How do we ensure that we do not keep partners on the outside when the “I don’t want sex or to be touched” feeling gets a grip of us when dealing with mental health issues?

We cannot discount the importance of intimacy in relationships and how the lack thereof affects us and our partners. I am in no way saying that physical intimacy is most important type of intimacy but it does matter especially to those that love touch.

There is a danger of one’s partner feeling undesired and unwanted during this time and yes, partners that love and care for you shouldn’t be centering themselves in your mental illness but we are all human, and boy do we know how to human. So how do we get over this humanning that could be quite detrimental for the parties involved? We have highlighted the importance of communicating and the emphasis should be on healthy modes of communications. Included in this is the ever so important issue of affirmation. I believe that we do not affirm each other enough in romantic relationships and it is so important. There is a beauty in hearing how awesome and worthy you are, do it as much as you can even if it is cheesy.


Communicate and be as corny as you want with your affirmations. Mental illnessing and relationshipping is a trip and we need to be as honest with our partners as much as we can. Support, love and affirmation should always be centred when communicating. It is all based on being open about what you are feeling when you are the one with the mental illness and listening to your partner when they reach out to you.

For more on mental health check out our #MentallyMindful live tweet, a piece about coming out of depression, a piece called Troubled Mind, this piece on sharing thoughts on mental health or this great great series on mental health.

There is also this piece on Lesbian Bed Death that can help with communication in sex.

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