Depression is a serious, common mood disorder that affects how a person thinks, feels, or reacts to everyday activities. It can negatively impact a person’s sex life.

A person’s sex life can involve sexuality with one or more partners or self-satisfaction through masturbation. Various factors can affect a person’s sex life, including depression, anxiety, and certain medications.

The brain is arguably the body’s most important sexual organ, and neuroimaging studies show that many areas of the brain are involved in sexual response. Conditions such as depression can affect the complex mechanisms involved in healthy sexual functioning.

This article explains depression, how the symptoms affect males and females, its causes, risk factors, and more.

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Depression, also known as clinical depression or major depressive disorder, is a common mood disorder. It can cause severe symptoms that impact a person’s thinking, feeling, and enjoyment of everyday activities, such as sex, eating, sleeping, and work.

For doctors to diagnose depression, a person must present symptoms for a minimum of 2 weeks.

Doctors and researchers divide depression into several different types. They include:

  • Perinatal depression: Someone with perinatal depression experiences symptoms during or after pregnancy.
  • Major depression: Someone with major depression experiences symptoms for 2 weeks or more that interfere with sleeping, eating, and going to work.
  • Persistent depressive disorder: Someone with persistent depressive disorder, or dysthymic disorder, experiences less severe symptoms that last for a longer time, often 2 years or more.
  • Depression with symptoms of psychosis: This is a severe form of depression where a person also experiences hallucinations and delusions.
  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD): Someone with SAD experiences symptoms around seasonal changes, typically between fall and winter

Learn more about depression here.

Depression can have a negative impact on a person’s sex life. In a 2018 study, researchers compared 56 males with depression with a control group of about 60 males without depression. They found that 62.5% of the people with depression had some form of sexual dysfunction. This could include:

In addition, the researchers found that people with depression also tended to believe myths about penis size and shape as well as masturbation.

The researchers found that treatment with escitalopram helped to improve participants’ overall sexual satisfaction.

In another study from 2020, researchers found that young adults and adolescents tended to show higher levels of sexual dissatisfaction when they were not in a romantic relationship. They also found that young men experienced anxiety and depression difficulties when not in a romantic relationship.

The researchers theorized that men experienced more depression due to not having as many outlets for emotional expression outside of a romantic relationship. In other words, men may feel more sexual satisfaction and have milder depression when in a relationship than when single.

Depression can also present differently in males overall. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), males are more likely to show aggression or anger than to show they feel sad or depressed.

The NIMH also report that males are less likely to seek out treatment, and when they do, doctors may not recognize their symptoms as depression.

Males may lose interest in once pleasurable activities, including sex, and experience sexual performance issues related to orgasm or erections.

Learn about erectile dysfunction here.

Medication side effects

In addition to losing interest in sex due to their depression, males may find that taking certain medications also decreases their sexual drive and causes dysfunction.

According to a 2021 case study, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a common medication doctors prescribe for depression, can cause several sexual side effects. They include:

  • anorgasmia, which is delayed or absent orgasm
  • delayed ejaculation
  • erectile dysfunction (ED), which is the inability to gain or maintain an erection

In their study, the researchers highlighted a case of a male who developed hypersexuality as a result of taking SSRIs. However, the researchers noted that hypersexuality is a rare side effect.

A 2020 study suggested that both SSRIs and serotonin and noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) were more likely to cause sexual dysfunction than most tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) and mirtazapine.

The antidepressants least likely to cause sexual side effects are:

  • moclobemide
  • agomelatine
  • reboxetine
  • bupropion

Learn more about the sexual side effects of antidepressants here.

Depression is more prevalent in females than males. NIMH speculates this may be due to hormonal, social, and biological factors. They also have unique forms, such as premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), perinatal depression, and perimenopausal depression linked to different points in their life.

According to a 2020 study on sexuality, females are more likely to recognize depression and find support outside of romantic relationships than males. They also noted that females are more likely to experience emotional problems and to report nonsuicidal self-injury than males.

Regarding sexuality, the study noted that females are more likely to express negative feelings following sexual interactions. Females’ self-reported sexual satisfaction generally ranks about the same as males. However, it tends to increase when satisfaction surveys include questions about the relationship itself.

In a 2018 study, researchers looked at how psychological disorders affected female sexuality. They suggested that depression and low sexual desire are commonly linked. They also noted that several factors can affect sexual dysfunction in females, including:

The research also found that females with anxiety have a higher chance of experiencing pain during intercourse and that sexual arousal may lead to fear instead of pleasure.

Learn about sex anxiety here.

Several factors can play a role in depression, including:

  • psychological
  • genetic
  • biological
  • environmental

Depression can occur at any age, but it most commonly starts in adulthood.

A person may develop depression when dealing with a medical condition, such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Having depression can make other medical conditions worse, and other medical conditions can make depression worse.

Sometimes, medications a person takes for a medical condition can cause side effects that lead to depression.

Risk factors can include:

  • having medical conditions
  • major life changes
  • trauma
  • stress
  • personal or family history of depression
  • using certain medications

Doctors and medical professionals have several options to help treat mild to severe depression. Treatment typically involves psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of both.


Psychotherapy, also known as counseling or talk therapy, involves helping a person identify and address the thinking and behavior patterns that may contribute to their depression. They can then focus on making changes that help with depression. Psychotherapy includes cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), mindfulness-based therapy, and interpersonal therapy.

The American Psychological Association (APA) suggests that psychotherapy should also consider the role of sexual partners in a person’s sexual dysfunction. Treatment is likely to be more effective when it considers all aspects of a person’s sex life and mental health, including their partners.


Doctors prescribe antidepressants to treat depression. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), antidepressants are the most commonly prescribed medication in the U.S. More women use antidepressants than men.

Some antidepressants can cause a decrease in sexual desire or other sexual dysfunction symptoms. A person should discuss these side effects with a doctor as they may be able to prescribe an alternative antidepressant that is less likely to affect a person’s sex life.

A person should remember that medications can take 4–8 weeks to start working. They should not stop taking the medication if they do not notice results right away.

Learn whether there is a cure for depression here.

Even people living with severe depression can get successful treatment. In most cases, early treatment can help improve outcomes. 80–90% of people respond well to treatment, and most people can find some relief from their symptoms.

With successful treatment, a person should find that their sex life starts to improve. However, a person should keep in mind that some medications can lead to sexual dysfunction. If this is the case, they should consider talking with a doctor about other possible medications and strategies to help with depression.

Depression can impact many aspects of a person’s life, including their sex life. Both depression itself and medications that treat it can affect a person’s sex life. This may include physical issues, such as erectile dysfunction and pain during sex, as well as a lack of desire and inability to orgasm.

Treatment can help most people with depression. It may include medications and talk therapy, either alone or alongside a sexual partner.

Some antidepressants can affect a person’s sexual functioning. If this happens, a person should consider talking with a doctor about alternative treatment options.