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Sex and Your Partner With Depression

Probably the number one reason patients give for stopping their antidepressant medications are that they have no libido while taking them. They say, “It’s bad enough that I’m depressed–I’m not willing to give up my sex life, too!”

For the healthy partners, this presents a conundrum: you want your partner to feel relief from the depression, but hey, you’ve got needs, too, right?

According to a 2009 USA Today report, the amount of Americans using antidepressants rose in 2005 to close to 27 million people, or about 10% of the population.

As you’ve probably figured out as the partner of someone with depression, the mood disorder and sexual concerns and difficulties–including changes in sexual desire and lowered arousal–often go hand-in-hand. During a depressive episode, lowered sexual interest is common for both men and women. Antidepressants can cause many types of sexual concerns, such as the inability to have an orgasm or to achieve an erection.

Many health care professionals are reluctant to discuss sexual side effects of antidepressants with their patients, and depending on how comfortable your partner is with their prescriber, your partner might be reluctant to bring up the issue during office visits. But it’s extremely important for your partner to be honest with their doctor about any side effects their medications are causing, and that includes if the meds are interfering with healthy sexual function.

Having said that, impaired sexual functioning not always the fault of the pills.

What to keep in mind if your partner with depression is struggling with sex

  1. Yes, it could be the medication. Have your partner talk to their doctor about whether the medication they are on is known to cause side effects of impaired sexual drive or functioning, and whether there is an alternative medication or a lower dosage they could try.
  2. Depression itself is a powerful thing, and it could just be that your partner is not able to achieve a state of arousal right now. When someone is depressed, activities of daily living, such as getting out of bed, are often nearly impossible–trying to get up the energy and enthusiasm for sex may be asking too much.
  3. Timing sex with when your partner takes their medication may help. For example, if your partner takes their medication in the morning, having sex before taking the pill, when the amount of the medication in your partner’s system is the lowest, might be effective.
  4. Consider changing your expectations around what a satisfying sexual experience is. There are many, many ways to be sexual without intercourse or achieving orgasm. Instead of viewing your partner’s depression as a barrier, consider it an opportunity to try new things.
  5. If your partner is processing past trauma through therapy sessions, sex may have to be off the table for a while, until your partner has reached a place of healing. You play an important role in that process, so talk with your partner about how you can help.

More information about the relationship between sexual functioning and depression


Sex and Your Partner With Depression

Kate Thieda

Kate Thieda, MS, LPCA, NCC, is a patient advocate for Women's and Children's Services at Duke University Hospital in Durham, North Carolina. She is a licensed professional counselor associate and a National Certified Counselor who specializes in cognitive-behavioral and dialectical behavior therapies. Her book, Loving Someone With Anxiety, will be published by New Harbinger in the spring of 2013.

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APA Reference
Thieda, K. (2019). Sex and Your Partner With Depression. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 22, 2019, from


Last updated: 31 Mar 2019
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