25 People Share How Mental Illness Affects Their Sex Life
It’s the awkward conversation you may dread having with your children. It’s the stuff of nervous giggles, an expression of love and lust, and plus, it sells. Sex, while taboo, is everywhere — but it also can be a healthy and beautiful part about what makes us human.
And because it’s often such an intimate part of our lives, it makes sense that our mental health can change our relationship with sex. Whether past trauma has made it difficult to relax around your partner, or the medication you’re currently taking helps your symptoms but kills your sex drive, there’s no shame in talking about how your mental illness — or the medication you take to treat it — affects how (and how often) you have sex.
To start a conversation, we asked our mental health community to share one way living with a mental illness affects their relationship with sex. It can be embarrassing to talk about, but know you’re not alone. Your partner — and a doctor, if necessary — should be willing to listen and address your needs.
Here’s what our community told us:
- “Since I started treating my anxiety and depression with prescription medication, I have no sex drive. It’s incredibly hard on my partner. Sex can be part of a healthy relationship, but I have no desire to participate. I could go weeks or even months with still no desire to have sex. I wish I could make him understand that it’s nothing he’s done. It definitely puts a strain on our relationship.” — Madison F.
- “I have borderline personality disorder (BPD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Quite often, I find myself unable to bear the touch and kisses of my fiancé (whom I love to the end of the universe and back). It just feels like my skin is oversensitive and my brain is violently reacting saying, ‘No! Nobody touch me!’ even if the touch is absolutely not sexual. It makes sex impossible in those times and anything remotely physical, too. I’m so incredibly lucky my fiancé is super patient and supportive, and I only need to say, ‘I’m having a hard time with touch and kisses right now,” and he’ll back off physically while verbally soothing me and reminding me it’s OK and he loves me. And he’ll be careful not to make any movement that might make me uncomfortable. Most of the time I’m the one craving his touch and kisses, because they’re signs of love, but my body just won’t let me. It does get better with anxiety medication, though.” — Tiny L.
- “Because of my extreme trust issues, I usually can’t convince myself that the person actually wants to be with me. The negative thoughts and anxiety tell me they’re just doing it out of pity or obligation. So, I tend to avoid being sexual altogether.” — Ashley D.
- “I feel like it’s always an extreme. I either want sex all the time or not at all. It can be for any length of time. So it can be weeks or months at a time where I’m one or the other.” — Chandra D.
- “I don’t think my wife understands my depression and anxiety, and it seems like she takes a lot of it personally, or like I’m making excuses. I get it, it’s not sexy to be with someone who is sad or anxious a lot, but I love her more than she knows. As a child I had some incredibly traumatic things happen to me, but I had [to] work hard to get over those things, and I didn’t really start to struggle like I do now until after I was in a car accident a few months before we got married.” — Nicholas W.
- “My fiancé thinks that when for a long period of time I don’t want to have sex, it is because I don’t want him. The real reason is that sometimes my anxiety makes me so paranoid of getting pregnant that I simply just can’t. And even when I explain it, he doesn’t get it.” — Helmi N.
- “First it’s hard to meet potential partners when anxiety makes you avoident of social interaction… and then even if you’re lucky enough to find one, it’s rare that they’ll have the patience to deal with any of the struggles you have… much less the extremes of wanting sex constantly or not even being able to be touched.” — Lygia G.
- “Eating disorders, even in recovery, make you so uncomfortable with your body a lot of the time. I feel so grossed out with my body on such a constant, casual basis, that it almost seems like he is lying when he says he’s attracted to me.” — Cheyenne L.
- “Having BPD can be exhausting. Mostly from all the mood swings, because they’re so quick, like just a matter of minutes on some occasions. Sometimes too many to count in a day. You basically get mental fatigue and burn out and then you just don’t have the energy or confidence to have sex.” — Kirsty D.
- “I have an overwhelming need for affection and sex. It also seems like I might actually dissociate a bit during because when I like to play it back in my head it feels like it didn’t happen sometimes and it was almost dream-like.” — Emily M.
- “My husband thinks I’m not attracted to him because I mentally struggle with wanting to be sexual at all. I don’t even wanna touch myself. Occasionally I’ll be in the mood. But not often.” — Jordan S.
- “I never have a sex drive. Even the things my boyfriend usually does to turn me on doesn’t work. I love my man to death, and he wants to understand, but it’s extremely hard to explain to him that he is not the problem.” — Rebecca G.
- “I don’t know about y’all, but my mental illness makes me not want sex completely or I become a sex fiend. It’s like I can’t just be somewhere in the middle. My advice would be to get yourself some sex toys. Practice being OK with yourself, build that self-confidence up. Mental illness affects all parts of the body, not just the brain.” — Morgan P.
- “Even before I took medication to treat my PTSD at night, I had little to no sex drive. When I first became sexually active, it was pretty normal for that age. Then it just took a nose dive. Even when I am “in the mood,” I don’t make a move because sex is a trigger for my PTSD. I don’t want to be touched, I don’t even want to talk intimately. I’m maybe in the mood once a month or every two months. I’m miserable about it because I just want to be a normal functioning human being with a healthy sex life.” — Brittany O.
- “The meds have pretty much killed my sex life. Not only does the depression make me disinterested in sex, it’s almost impossible for me to orgasm. This affects my self-esteem because I feel I’m letting my partner down.” — Niki M.
- “I cannot let myself be vulnerable enough to truly enjoy sex and let go. I read a post earlier this week about someone who felt the same way — and it’s exactly how I feel. I want to truly enjoy it, but for some reason I am always holding myself back.” — Gidget M.
- “My mind is barraged by intrusive thoughts of the worst kind during sex. I listen to metal and turn it up loud, and that helps to keep them away. Sometimes sex is not even an option because of the intrusive thoughts, but my medication, which also lowers my sex drive greatly, helps with the thoughts I don’t want around. For me, music + medication = successful sex life.” — Denise L.
- “I struggle with symptoms of trauma and it makes sex into something that’s really hit or miss. It can be fun and loving at times, but within an instant, I will suddenly become really dissociative and unresponsive or I’ll get this dreadful feeling that something awful is happening or about to happen and that my partner is an awful person who can’t be trusted. It makes intimacy extremely confusing. On really bad days, sex will trigger anxiety attacks or I’ll use sex as a form of self-harm.” — Emily V.
- “Bipolar type one rapid cycling causes me extreme ups and downs. While ‘manic me’ is well-known for having a voracious sex drive, ‘depressed me’ wants nothing to do with anything resembling intimacy. It can put a real strain on long-term partners and is the root cause for having many short-term relationships and few healthy long-term relationships.” — Dez H.
- “I am bipolar, [have] PTSD, multiple personalities, anxiety and depression. I love BDSM but I’m neither Sub nor Dom due to my mood swings — I’m a switch. Sometimes I’ll be the Dom or Sub for several days and other times it’s constantly going back and forth. And on rare occasions I can’t stand physical contact with anyone it angers me to the point of having to leave and disappear for the safety of all.” — Raven M.
- “After my assault, I became a sex addict. Every time my mental health was unstable I would use sex as a way to try and feel like a normal person. It has taken a lot of therapy but I finally have an almost ‘normal’ sex life.” — Kirstie O.
- “I have bipolar and I’m basically craving sex at all times depending which episode I’m in. It’s either because of mania and just the general impulsivity and hypersexuality or the depression makes me feel so lonely I crave touch.” — Maddie B.
- “Sadly because of my lack of proper maintenance and hygiene care it has drastically changed my sex life. I’m too exhausted to even shower most days, and I can’t imagine trying to have sex dirty. My poor husband is so understanding he, just tries to help me through the days.” — Julie G.
- “Due to my severe depression, I somehow over the years developed a nasty self-hate for myself. I can’t stand to look in the mirror anymore than I absolutely have to. My loving man finds me absolutely attractive but I can’t conceive why on earth he would. When I am with him during sex, I have horrible thoughts wondering why he would want to be with such a person like me and do this wonderful thing. I feel so unworthy. It makes it very hard to stay in the moment.” — Lora G.
- “On a positive note, while mental illness can make intimacy challenging, it also has some benefits. My intense emotions from BPD make me a passionate partner, because the love and desire I feel for my partner is overwhelming. DBT skills have benefits too — I’m in tune with how I’m feeling due to mindfulness, and interpersonal effectiveness helps me communicate openly on what I want and need. Mental illness makes me more vulnerable and fragile during sex, but it also makes for a close, raw intimacy that I think is hard to replicate with those who don’t feel emotions like I do!” — Amy C.
How does living with a mental illness affect your sex life?