Does My Mental Health Affect My Sex Life?

Bonnie Evie Gifford
By Bonnie Evie Gifford,
updated on Dec 16, 2019

Does My Mental Health Affect My Sex Life?

When we struggle with our mental health, it can have far-reaching effects. From negatively impacting our self-esteem and confidence, to how it can change our perceptions of our relationships, mental ill health can challenge us in more ways than we may initially realise...

Sex isn’t everything – but (besides being fun) the benefits of love and sex on our overall health and wellbeing are hard to deny.

Studies have suggested that a combination of loving relationships, physical touch, and sex can have health benefits that can help lower our heart rate and blood pressure, decrease stress, reduce risks of stomach ulcers, and even counts towards our recommended 150 minutes of moderate to intense aerobic exercise a week (well, depending on how vigorous your romps are).

Yet with one in four of us experiencing a mental health problem each year, and one in six reporting common mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression each week, it’s no wonder sex is on the decline for us Brits.

According to researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, nearly two-thirds of men and half of women would like to be having more sex, but thanks to stress, exhaustion, and our hectic modern schedules, we just aren’t making sex a priority. Our struggle to achieve a work/life balance may not just be causing us sleepless nights and added stress – it can also lead to a loss of libido, relationship issues, and a lower sense of wellbeing.

A woman sits on the floor, her head resting against her hands.

If that wasn’t enough to contend with, depression (the most predominant mental health problem globally) can lead to difficulties with our sexual self-esteem, cause trouble with communication, create a feeling of distance from your partner, and even create doubts around how to initiate intimacy.

If you’re worried that your mental health may be impacting your sex life and causing sexual problems, there are things you can do to help. We share 7 common mental health issues that may be impacting your sex life and what you can do to help.

1. Stress is getting to you

At some point during the past year, 74% of us have been so stressed that we have felt overwhelmed and unable to cope. While we all may experience work-related or short-term, situational stress from time to time, prolonged periods can cause strain, lead to further issues, and impact other areas of our lives.

Stress can leave you feeling too tired for sex and other forms of intimacy, can be a significant factor in your loss of libido, erectile dysfunction, and overall lower sense of wellbeing. If you’re worried that your stress levels may start impacting other areas of your life, it’s important to identify which solutions to manage stress are right for you.

We’ve put together 10 simple ways you can tackle stress right now. For many, the first step can be discovering ways to challenge negative thought patterns. Hypnotherapy Directory member and hypnotherapist, Sarah Hayes, explains:

“Stress has become part of our everyday vocabulary and at some point, most people will experience the signs and symptoms associated with increased levels of stress. Many people miss the early signs of stress until a breaking point is reached or their body responds to the constant level of stress through a physical reaction.”

Exploring alternative options for stress management, such as hypnotherapy, can help you to break negative thought patterns and responses you may have created that are contributing to your stress. This can allow you to have a more healthy reaction when you are under pressure, as your hypnotherapist works with your subconscious using deep relaxation and suggestion to challenge your thoughts, reactions and behaviour patterns.

2. Your anxiety is building

Feelings of worry, fear, unease and anxiety are completely normal to experience from time to time – it’s when these feelings persist and start to impact our actions, behaviour, or enjoyment of everyday things that anxiety can be a cause for concern.

Anxiety can lessen your desire and lower your libido. If anxiety has been impacting your mental health for some time, it can even impact your self-esteem and crush your confidence, while commonly prescribed medication for anxiety and depression has been shown to decrease your libido and make it harder to orgasm.

Life coach Will Aylward explains how you can get your confidence back after anxiety. “In my work as a life coach, many of my clients tell me that since living with higher than normal levels of anxiety, they feel their self-confidence has been knocked.

“This makes sense, because living with high levels of anxiety causes us to feel limited, to doubt ourselves, and our capabilities. This feeling of limitation lowers our self-confidence, which only adds to feelings of anxiety, as we feel less sure of our ability to handle anxious situations.

“Remember: you are not alone. Share your thoughts, feelings, and challenges, with friends and family, and ask for their support. There are support groups, online and offline, for people on the same journey as you, wishing to rebuild their confidence after anxiety. There are also skilled professionals who can help you understand the roots of the anxiety, and share tools to make you feel better equipped when life gets stressful.”

Other professionals can help you to manage your feelings of anxiety, including hypnotherapists and therapists, or for more a more holistic approach, many have found that tapping and aromatherapy can have a positive impact.

3. Phubbing, phone addiction and the impact of tech

Nothing’s less sexy than snuggling up with your significant other, only to realise they are reading Reddit on their phone behind your head. From smartphones and smartwatches to tablets and fitness trackers, we love a bit of tech. Yet while we have the ability to track our lives and keep in touch with loved ones 24/7 with just a couple of clicks, the rise of phubbing (‘phone snubbing’) combined with our FOMO (fear of missing out) is having an impact on our relationships.

We’re spending an average of 2 hours 15 minutes each day on social media platforms alone, according to statistics. While some report that social media is making them feel more isolated than ever before, others say it can lead to more frequent, closer connections with loved ones. Some find that tech is cutting into their quality time, while others say it significantly helps maintain distance relationships (both romantic and platonic).

Although our reliance on tech and our habit of reaching for our phone first can lead to miscommunication, it can also lessen the pressure around talking about big, complex, or sensitive issues. If you’re worried your phone or tech use, we share six tips to help stop your phone from affecting your relationships. Becoming more mindful of your usage, and focusing on how you can balance your digital and physical communication to focus on the moment can both be good starting points.

4. You’re struggling with feelings of shame, guilt, or self-acceptance

Self-acceptance, self-love, and self-esteem: three pretty big concepts, each trickier than the last. Self-acceptance is often seen as the first step towards self-love, while improving our self-esteem can arguably be best done by learning to accept ourselves. But what happens when we struggle to accept our own wants, needs and desires? Sex and relationships therapist, Alex Sanderson-Shortt, shares his thoughts on why we feel ashamed of our sexual desires.

“We live in a complicated world when it comes to sex. On one hand, we’re bombarded with sexualised images and ideas. On the other, our sexualities, bodies, and relationships are examined, commented on, and judged.

“Many clients feel shame about their sexual desires because there is still a strong message passed down through generations about sex: what it is, when we should have it, and who with.

“Finding a common language is the first step to overcoming these issues. This helps to normalise talking about sex, giving permission to think and talk in new ways. Crucially, it helps them start to reconsider the ideas they have about sex, and hopefully move to a new ‘sex-positive’ way of thinking and acting.”

If you struggle to talk about your desires and needs, it could be a sign that working on your communication with your partner could help. Creating an open, honest dialogue is the first step towards creating a happier relationship. Working with a relationship counsellor individually or as part of couples therapy can be a positive way of exploring communication issues, as an impartial, external, experienced therapist can help you to work through underlying issues.

5. Mood and food: eating for your mental (and sexual) health

According to the experts, what we eat has a huge impact across our spectrum of wellbeing – from our physical to our mental health. Nutritional therapist Beanie Robinson shares her tips on how your diet can impact your mood and mental health, and what you can do to best boost your wellbeing.

What we eat can not only impact our moods, but can also have a significant effect on our libido and stamina. If you’re looking for ways you can boost your sex life with the help of nutrition, we share advice from the experts on how what you eat can affect your sex life, as well as debunking some of the misconceptions around food aphrodisiacs: do they really work?

6. You’re feeling overwhelmed, overloaded, and under-appreciated

A healthy relationship with your partner is just that – a partnership. When the scales begin to feel unbalanced though, it can lead to feelings of resentment and upset. Emotional labour refers to all of those small things we do in a relationship, from planning what’s for dinner and paying the bills, to remembering people’s birthdays or even splitting the workload.

Relationship counsellor, Laurele Mitchell, explains, “A perceived difference in the division of emotional labour within a relationship, romantic or otherwise, can have a negative impact both on the relationship and on our mental health. It can be a one-way ticket to passive aggression and resentment, and, frankly, it’s exhausting and unnecessary to subjugate our own needs in order to take responsibility for someone else’s.”

Tackling resentment in your relationship may seem hard, but it is the best way to avoid risking it having a greater impact on the longevity of your partnership (and your wellbeing). Counsellor Graeme Orr shares his advice on how you can take action.

“A big part of what is lost in resentment is being able to be vulnerable with each other so there is a certain leap of faith in the solution. Speaking up when something is not right, saying when something is not what you expect and saying it as near to the time that it happens prevents resentment building.

“There is an element of being responsible for our own feelings of acknowledging our feelings. Perhaps we don’t like some aspect of what is going on in our partner’s life or their behaviour. Be clear what it is that you don’t like is it something you think they are doing wrong, is it something that makes you feel uncomfortable, is it something that makes you question one of your own prejudices. Just ignoring the feelings won’t make them any less or go away; they are more likely to form the foundations of resentment.”

Speaking with an outside professional can be a positive way of finding new methods to communicate together, as well as managing how you handle conflict that arises within your relationship. Couples counselling isn’t just for married people – it can help with all kinds of relationship problems, across different stages and issues you may be experiencing.

7. The intimacy is unbalanced or gone from your relationship

For many couples, one of the biggest worries surrounds the question: can a relationship survive without intimacy? How intimate we feel with our partner encompasses our physical and emotional connection. It’s something that grows over time, slowly building a sense of trust, love and connection.

When that sense of intimacy becomes unbalanced or feels as though it has decreased, this can lead to a sense of loneliness, anger, confusion and loss. Readdressing how you talk about intimacy can be the first step towards rekindling your connection and fixing any breakdowns in communication.

What can I do to boost my sex life without hurting my mental health?

If you’re looking to improve your sex life without risking your wellbeing, there are some simple things you can try. Identifying any major causes of stress and addressing if they are short-term issues that will resolve themselves, or more long-term problems that may need addressing can be a positive first step.

Making small environmental changes to maximise your sleep and minimise distractions in the bedroom can be another cost-free (and minimal-commitment) way of putting your wellbeing first. Discover more and check out our article how to boost your sex life while looking after your mental health.

A gay couple embrace each other, smiling in the sun

If you are worried that common sex problems or physical issues may be impacting your sex life, check out our article on how to handle sexual problems (and get your life back on track).

Unsure if it is time to seek professional help and support? Therapists Jenny Oyston and Lucy Fuller explain the triple a effect of couples counselling, and how it can help any partnership.

Getting in the right headspace

If you are in a good place with your mental health, sex and masturbation can each act as positive parts of your self-care routine. Helping to relieve tension, get a better night’s sleep, reduce pain, and boost your immune system, embracing and enjoying sex in its many forms can provide a much-needed lift to your mood.

How can I support a loved one with their mental health?

If you are worried about a loved one and their mental health, there are a number of different things you can do to help support them. Patience is key. For many, recognising they need help and support can be tricky. Just letting them know that you are there for them whenever (or whatever) they need could help more than you realise.

Find out how you can support your significant other with their mental health, learn more about helping a partner with low self-esteem, or discover how you can support friends without sacrificing your own mental health.

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