When a partner suffers from stress, anxiety, depression or any other mental health issues it can put a strain on any relationship. Sex is probably the last thing their mind and this can be detrimental to your intimacy.
Female psychotherapist, Laurie Phuong explains that “when sex is missing, partners often complain they no longer feel close”.
Additionally, while medication can definitely aid symptoms of stress, sexual side effects may arise too. Some sexual side effects include low levels of desire, decreased lubrication and difficulty reaching orgasm. Phuong explains “this compounds the feelings of guilt for having a mental illness.”
We wrote all about how to boost your sex drive on antidepressants, which may be useful for some people who experience sexual side effects.
Nevertheless, The National Alliance on Mental Health advises to:
“Remind yourself and your partner that neither of you is to blame for sexual side effects, and that this set-back is temporary.”
For those experiencing a mismatch in libidos due to a partner suffering from mental health issues, we wanted to offer some practical advice to help you build a stronger sexual partnership. We spoke to a few experts on the topic who gave us some tips.
Redefine What Sex Means For You
Stephen Biggs, a psychotherapist and sex educator, says to redefine what sex means for you and your partner.
“Take this opportunity to explore. Treat it like a second adolescence.”
Porn addiction counsellor, Dr. Wyatt Fisher, believes some great ways of approaching sex when your partner suffers from mental health issues are to:
- Recognise their lower sex drive may have nothing to do with you. When people are suffering from anxiety or depression it can be more difficult for them to feel sexual desire.
- Encourage mental health so sexual desire improves with it. Some top strategies include therapy, support groups, volunteering, meditation, exercise, being in nature, adding meaning to your work, increased sleep quality, etc.
- Communicate with your partner on what would help them feel more sexual desire despite having these mental health issues. Based on their feedback, develop some action steps you could take together to get you there.
Creative Non-Sexual Touch
Laurie Phuong says she witnesses this scenario a lot in her line of work. Especially because a high percentage of the adult population are on medication for mental health issues. When confronted with couples going through a mismatch in libido she prescribes a session of “Creative Non-sexual Touch”. She explains…
“The low desire partner feels pressured to have sex and bridles at this sense of not being accepted as who they are by their partner. Internally, they may feel defective for not performing.
“Meanwhile, the high desire partner feels rejected because their come-ons are rebuffed, rejected, or even scorned.
The common assumption in this equation by both partners is that sex equals intimacy and connection. When the sex is gone, the other two elements of the relationship are at risk.”
“Creative Non-Sexual Touch” involves touching without the expectation of sex such as a tap or pat of appreciation, hand holding and hugging or cuddling with your partner. Ways of approaching sex when your partner suffers from mental health issues could include initiating dancing together, hair playing, massage (perhaps with an erotic massager like Crescendo), and bathing or showering together. These non-sexual touches release oxytocin which help to bring you closer together.
Creative Non-Sexual Touch is a positive way to approach sex because it can:
- Relieve pressure: both partners will be able to relax without the added stress of expectations.
- Provide affirmation: the partner who has a higher libido will find that the non-sexual touching will provide them with enough of a “yes” to validate their intimacy.
- Strengthen connection: “It opens the doorway to play, connection, communication, and exploration.”
- Prevent obligation: “Many people underestimate how demeaning this type of sex can feel to the receiver.” By making the genitals out of bounds you can avoid imbalanced tension and potentially painful sex.
While sex is an important component of a relationship, and it is something that you should work towards, The National Alliance on Mental Health says it is equally as important to “to show affection and love for your partner in ways other than sex.” When mental health issues find their way into the bedroom, make sure you do find the time to relax and be intimate with each other in a variety of ways.
In our tips on how to fit sex into your busy schedule, psychosexual therapist, Kate Moyle recommends having regular date nights to enjoy can help to build up a strong base of connection, for when you and your partner are ready.