How Couples Dealing with Depression Can Still Find Sexual Fulfillment

A recent study tackles the issue of depression and sexual intimacy.

12/6/2021 12:03:00 AM

Depression can lead to sexual dysfunction, which can itself worsen depression. New research suggests how couples can address such challenges and maintain intimacy.

A recent study tackles the issue of depression and sexual intimacy.

Source: Cottonbro/PexelsSexual Communication and DepressionDelaney (2020) studied 106 couples wherein one or both individuals were diagnosed with depression. Delaney noted that past scholarship has focused on two aspects affecting sexual functioning in relationships where, at least, one partner is diagnosed with depression — uncertainty and interference. With uncertainly, depression can bring about insecurity about the relationship. In the case of interference, depression can interfere with the individual’s daily functioning,

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goals, and routines. For example, the anxiety produced by their depression may cause an individual not to want to deal with personal finances, which may derail the larger goal of having monthly bills paid on time, the ultimate result being financial difficulties.

Together or separate, uncertainty and interference can cause a disconnect in a relationship, resulting in disrupting sexual functioning. Delaney suggested that there is a mediating variable to be considered — communication.Communication around sexual issues is not always easy with every couple. However, unique communication challenges occur in couples where one or both individuals have been diagnosed with depression. According to Delaney, “The dynamics of sexual communication in couples living with depression are meaningful for partners’ outcomes” (2020).

Among Delaney’s findings was that uncertainty and interference did not always directly negatively impact the sex life of the couple, but what they did do was prevent the couple from talking about sexual issues they were experiencing. “When facing disruptions to day-to-day routines and goals as a result of interdependence with their partner,” Delaney claimed, “people might feel embarrassed, frustrated, or hesitant to engage in a conversation about sex” (ibid).

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In couples with depression, relationship uncertainty itself can contribute to an increased perception of interference, resulting in less sexual communication. And sexual communication between partners is essential. So couples are not discussing what they like or dislike, how they feel sexually, sexual issues that are bothering them, or how they perceive their sex lives in general. Even discussion about when is the right time to talk to a medical professional about problems with sexual functioning is held in silence. Delaney suggested:

THE BASICSFind a therapist to overcome depressionCouples who can minimize perceptions of relational uncertainty and interference from a partner may be stronger communicators. Feeling secure and certain in the relationship might make sexual communication easier and more effective, and when couples are able to coordinate routines and collaborate to meet goals, they might be better equipped to navigate a tricky conversation about sex (ibid).

Communication Is EssentialIn cases where one or both partners are diagnosed with depression, issues such as low sexual response is already a relationship challenge. Still, those challenges are compounded when couples are not discussing sexual issues. For instance, relationship perceptions may be distorted as one partner may feel personally rejected by the low sexual response of the other. In contrast, this lack of response may result from depression and not a rejection of the partner.

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