How Depression Can Lead To Sexual Intimacy Problems, According To A New Study

Andrew Zaeh for Bustle

Depression can have a devastating impact in so many areas of your life — personal, professional, social — and sometimes it can be difficult to understand or assess the full extent of the huge effects that depression can have. That's why new research published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships looked into the way that depression can affect intimacy between couples, and ultimately disrupt their sex lives.

"Depression has typically been studied in really individual ways — investigating the causes and consequences of depressive illnesses and how they affect the patient," study author Amy L. Delaney of Millikin University tells Bustle. "But we know that depression is an inherently relational illness." In studying the way that depression impacts relationships, the study found a link between depression, its interference with day-to-day life, and couples' sex lives.

The study looked at 106 couples where one or both partners suffer from clinical depression. The study found that in both male and female participants, depression was linked to difficulties with sexual intimacy including low sexual self-esteem, feeling distant and unable to communicate about sex, and a decreased interest in sex. Although both men and women's depression had an effect on the couple's sex lives, this connection seemed to stem from disruption in their day-to-day lives caused by the depression. This disruption was linked to more to depression in men than in women.

"A key finding was that interference from a partner — the degree to which one partner disrupts the other's day-to-day routines and goals — was significantly associated with a range of sexual intimacy challenges for couples," Delaney says. "But in these data, it was men's depressive symptoms that best predicted both men's and women's interference from a partner." So a male partner having depression seemed to impact more of the couple's day-to-day life. The reason it was more prevalent in male depression was unclear, though depressed men might feel the disruption in daily life more than depressed women do — or maybe women might be more tuned into how their partner's depression affects their lives. In either case, the way in which couples respond to a male partner's depression showed a stronger link to sexual difficulties, because they experienced more interference within their daily life.

More research needs to be done into this area to, hopefully, help develop more treatment and support for couples dealing with depression. "This new line of research is important because it gives us a more nuanced view into the lived experiences of people with depression," Delaney says. "My hope is that by better understanding how couples experience these sexual intimacy challenges, we can also develop strategies for couples to work through those challenges in ways that help sustain their relationships."

There are so many different ways that depression can manifest. For every person, for every couple, it will look slightly different. But knowing that depression is linked with intimacy issues, through the disruptions of daily life, is a good step towards beginning to understand how to help couples struggling with depression.