Is Your Depression Killing Your Sex Life?

Is Your Depression Killing Your Sex Life?

This article is for people with major depressive disorder (MDD) and their partners, or anyone who wants to learn more about MDD. The goal of this patient education activity is to help improve adherence to MMD treatment by helping understand side effects.

You will learn about:

  • What MDD is and what can cause it

  • Symptoms of MDD

  • Treatment and side effects

  • Sexual issues and MDD

  • Why sticking to treatment is important

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What Is MDD?

Major depressive disorder -- or MDD -- is a mood disorder that causes sadness that won’t go away and a loss of interest in things you normally enjoy.

Everyone feels down once in a while, but MDD is more than just getting the “blues.” With MDD, people feel depressed most of the time for most days of the week. It affects how you feel, think, and act, and can lead to emotional and physical problems. For many, symptoms are bad enough to cause problems in daily activities.

What Causes MDD?

Anyone can get MDD. Up to 25% of adults can have it at some point, but MDD can also happen in teens and children. Some people may have MDD only once, while others may have several episodes during their life. MDD can run in families, but it often affects people with no family history of it.

Common causes of MDD include:

  • Loss of a loved one -- death, divorce, or separation

  • Social isolation

  • Major life changes, such as moving, graduation, job change, or retirement

  • Conflicts in relationships

  • Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse

Symptoms of MDD

With MDD, symptoms occur most of the day, and nearly every day, for at least 2 weeks. The main symptom is a depressed mood or loss of interest in activities.

Other symptoms can include:

  • Tiredness or lack of energy

  • Feeling sluggish and physically or mentally slowed down

  • Sleep problems

  • Weight loss or gain

  • Anxiety, agitation, or restlessness

  • Angry outbursts, irritability, or frustration

  • Trouble concentrating or making decisions

  • Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches

  • Feeling worthless or guilty

  • Recurring thoughts of death or suicide

Getting Treatment for MDD

Whatever the cause of your depression or your symptoms, the first step is to let your doctor know how you're feeling.

MDD is treatable. The goal is to increase your quality of life and daily functioning. Your doctor may recommend medicine, counseling (therapy), or both. There are also other treatments your doctor can recommend if medicine doesn’t work or your symptoms are severe.

The main medicines used to treat MDD are called antidepressants. Your doctor may also recommend other medicines along with an antidepressant.

Side Effects of Antidepressants

All medicines can have side effects, and not everyone will have the same ones.

Side effects that may happen with antidepressants include:

  • Nausea

  • Diarrhea

  • Increased appetite and weight gain

  • Tiredness or drowsiness

  • Insomnia or unusual dreams

  • Constipation

  • Dry mouth

  • Blurred vision

  • Dizziness

  • Agitation or feeling jittery

  • Irritability

  • Anxiety

  • Sexual issues -- lowered desire (libido), decreased orgasm, erectile dysfunction

Some side effects -- like dry mouth or feeling jittery -- can go away after a week or two. But others, like lowered sexual desire, may last longer. Keep track of any side effects to discuss them with your doctor.

Not all side effects are listed here. Ask your doctor, healthcare team, or pharmacist for a complete list.

Talking About Sexual Issues

Is it your medicine or your MDD? This is an important question to ask during treatment.

Sexual issues can be a symptom of MDD, but they can also be a side effect of medicine. Lowered sexual desire (libido), decreased orgasm, and erectile dysfunction can happen when taking certain antidepressants.

Many people are reluctant to bring up sexual issues with their doctor. Talking openly may feel uncomfortable, but it’s the first step to finding a solution. Your doctor may recommend switching to another treatment, or adding a treatment to help manage side effects.

Adam talks about his experiences with MDD and sexual issues, and his personal journey to finding the right treatment.

Trauma, MDD, and Sexual Issues

It’s important to know that many people who have been physically, sexually, or emotionally abused or assaulted -- or have experienced other types of trauma -- can develop sexual issues and/or MDD. This can affect treatment. People who’ve experienced trauma may respond to MDD treatment differently than those who haven’t.

Open communication is key. If your doctor doesn’t ask about events that may have caused you trauma -- like assault or abuse -- you should feel empowered to bring them up. Knowing the full picture will help you and your doctor find the right treatment.

Finding and Sticking With Treatment

Getting treatment for MDD can help you feel more like yourself and make daily activities easier.

Treatment can work differently for different people. Your doctor may try different medicines or doses to find the best one for you. Some medicines can take several days or weeks to work and for side effects to go away.

Stick with your treatment. Don't stop or change it without talking to your doctor. Stopping or missing doses may cause feelings of withdrawal, and quitting suddenly may cause MDD to get worse.

Be sure to tell your doctor about your MDD symptoms and any side effects. You’ll work together to find treatment that’s right for you.

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View Additional Materials

View Additional Materials on this topic that you may find useful:


Mental Health Conditions: Depression and Anxiety

Major Depression

Authors and Disclosures

Clinician Reviewer

Susan L. Smith, MN, PhD

Senior Director, Learning & Development, Medscape, LLC

Disclosure: Susan L. Smith, MN, PhD, has disclosed no relevant financial relationships.


Anita A. Galdieri, PharmD, RPh

Senior Scientific Content Manager, Medscape, LLC

Disclosure: Anita A. Galdieri, PharmD, RPh, has disclosed no relevant financial relationships.


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