Mental health and sexual health: is there a connection?
The short answer is yes. There’s a connection between mental health and sexual health because when one is poor, there’s a good chance the other will suffer. First off, sex can be a tricky subject for people to discuss openly, affecting mental health. Embarrassment, shame, and fear around sexual topics can keep some folks close-lipped. Read on to learn more about mental health and sexual health and their connection.
Mental health and sexual health defined
Your mental health includes your psychological, social, and emotional well-being and impacts how you act, think, and feel [source]. Mental health impacts everyone, no matter their age. Not everyone will struggle with a diagnosed mental illness (think depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder), but everyone will have mental health challenges at some point in life. An example of a mental health challenge is constant worry about having sex for the first time with a new partner or the anxiety of disclosing a sexual or fertility problem to a potential partner.
Sexual health includes positive attitudes towards sexuality, sexual relationships, and safe sexual experiences, which impact our bodies, emotions, intellect, and how we connect with others. It also includes having satisfying sex and staying disease-free [source, source]. Sex is more than just a physical act, and it deeply impacts emotional and mental well-being. Both mental and sexual health are crucial to human life and enjoyment individually and in relationships. That’s why it’s sexual health awareness is so vital.
The two-way link between mental health and sexual health
The weight sexual health’s impact on mental health can be heavy. If you’ve ever been anxious after a night of unprotected sex or have felt shame from contracting a sexually transmitted infection (STI), you probably understand the link between mental health and sexual health.
There’s a two-way link between mental health and sexual health because mental health can directly impact sexual health and vice versa. For example, If you struggle with depression or anxiety, it may be challenging to initiate sex or enjoy sex with your significant other, and if you have issues with sexual dysfunction you may become depressed over the inability to have good sex.
Research shows individuals with mental health issues may be more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors which significantly impact sexual health. Risky sexual behaviors may include group sex, a high number of sexual partners, or having unprotected sex [source].Along with mental health issues, physical health issues can also make having sex impossible or tough, significantly impacting mental well-being. Sexual health issues like erectile dysfunction or low libido may cause depression [source, source].
The impact of sexual dysfunction on mental health
Female sex struggles cause sexual distress in couples
Women with female sexual interest/arousal disorder (FSIAD) have little to no interest in sex and experience less arousal in sexual situations. If you have FSIAD, pleasure, and excitement around sex or sexual encounters may be nonexistent [source]. A dull sex drive can significantly impact mental health and sexual health.
A 2019 study of women with FSIAD and their partners studied the emotional outcomes of FSAID compared to people without FSIAD. There were 97 couples, with one woman having FSIAD and 102 couples without any FSIAD. Women with FSIAD reported lower arousal, lubrication, sexual satisfaction, and more pain during sex, and they also reported greater sexual distress and depression and anxiety symptoms. In comparison, their partners dealt with higher sexual distress, lower satisfaction, and poor ability to talk about sex with their partner [source].
Male sex struggles cause depression and anxiety
If you have struggled to get it up one night of drinking, you may still grapple with stress or embarrassment from the one-time occurrence. About 30 million men in the United States have problems achieving an erection.
Though medical problems, medications, and smoking are some factors that cause erectile dysfunction (ED), depression, and anxiety are also other culprits. So, depression and anxiety can cause ED, and ED can also cause depression and anxiety.
A 2022 study of adult men studied the prevalence of depression and anxiety before and after an (ED) diagnosis. Compared to the men without ED, men with ED experienced higher rates of depression and anxiety 12 months before being diagnosed with ED and 12-36 months after diagnosis [source].
Men with ED may experience anxiety and depression from emasculation, guilt, difficulties pleasing their partner, low self-esteem, feelings of worthlessness, and fear of losing their relationship [source].
It’s important to note that ED doesn’t just affect the person with the diagnosis but also their partners. A study states that the partner may experience insecurities from their partner’s ED and feel unwanted, unloved, and even question their attractiveness and partner’s commitment to the relationship [source].
How to improve your mental health and sexual health
Talk to your physician
If you have concerns about your sexual health, it’s critical to bring them up with your healthcare provider. Talking about sex isn’t always easy, and if you are afraid to bring these topics up with your healthcare provider, consider finding one you can speak with more comfortably. The more open you can be about your sexual health concerns, the better help you’ll be able to get, which can transform your sex life and mental well-being.
Communicate with your partner
The first step to improving your sexual and mental health is connecting with your partner and discussing intimacy problems. Couples who can be vulnerable and honest are more likely to experience greater maturity in their relationships and develop a greater connection. Your mental health can be positively impacted by getting on the same page with your partner and building a new level of trust and closeness.
Related Reading: 8 Ways to boost intimacy through healthy communication
Schedule an appointment with a therapist
If you are a human being, chances are you will experience problems in life that will take a toll on your mental health and well-being. You can take extra special care of your mental health by meeting with a therapist individually or as a couple.
Care for your body
Take small steps to eat more nutrient-rich foods, get quality sleep, avoid smoking, cope healthily with stress, and move more, impacting your overall health.
Related reading: The Complete Guide to Natural Wellness
Enhance your health with bido
bido beverages offer various nutrients to optimize mental health and sexual health. Drinking bido can help enhance the health and well-being of you and that special someone in your life by offering stress relieving and energy-boosting herbs.
Gaby McPherson MS, RDN, LDN
Gaby is a full-time freelance writer, specializing in evidence-based health, nutrition, and wellness articles, as well as creating engaging content for health brands. Her clients have been Healthline, Ovia Health, Happiest Baby, Once Upon a Farm, EatingWell, and more. She's very passionate about reproductive and family health. When she’s not writing, Gaby spends her free time dancing to the Encanto soundtrack with her beautiful preschooler.