Winter can be a dark time. The crisp brown leaves have fallen from the trees; the flowers are withered; everything is frozen – especially amid the cost of living crisis – and there is hardly any sun. Joy can be scarce, and amidst all the gloom, your sex life can take a hit.
Often referred to as “winter depression,” seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern. Symptoms may include constant bad mood, irritability, sleeping longer than usual, feeling lethargic and, importantly, decreased libido.
In the UK, EAD is having an impact all around 2 million people. A bit of a surprise: we’re plunged into darkness for months on end in winter, and unfortunately sunshine can be rare. Each year, about 5 percent of the US population experiences TOUR and four out of five of these people are women.
Mental health and sex are completely intertwinedand like simple depression, SAD can affect intimacy and facilitate sexual dysfunction. The National Institute of Mental Health found that SAD was diagnosed four times more often in women than in men. elsewhere a 2018 study concluded that women experience seasonal variations in depressive symptoms along with fatigue and anhedonia, or loss of the ability to experience pleasure. And this pleasure extends to the bedroom as well.
How does SAD affect your sex life?
So how does EAD affect sex? According to the NHS, depression can lead to women have a harder time reaching orgasmand loss of sex drive. Men with depression also often experience these symptoms, along with erectile dysfunction or problems getting and maintaining an erection. Depression can affect self-esteem and body image, which in turn can affect our desire to be intimate with partners.
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Sex publications three feel-good hormones that may temporarily help SAD symptoms: dopamine, endorphins, and oxytocin, all of which facilitate pleasure, emotional regulation, and one-on-one bonding with a partner. Sex before bed – alone or with a partner – can release prolactinsupporting a sense of rest and relaxation and evoking REM sleep. With all these sex-related benefits in mind, SAD’s impairment on sexual pleasure can be frustrating.
Ness, 33, has recognized her SAD symptoms since she was a teenager. She has always struggled with the darker times of the year, suffering from moodiness and fatigue. She’s tried everything from St. John’s wort (an herbal remedy that some people take for mental disorders) to SAD lamps, and even her rheumatologist has recommended that she just “needs to go somewhere sunny” in the winter. “I don’t want to be close to anyone – it’s like the darkness is swallowing me. I also find orgasms less pleasurable,” Ness recalls. “My sex life becomes more active in the spring and summer. I feel more connected to myself – I’m happier and it makes it easier for me to connect sexually.”
“My sex life becomes more active in the spring and summer. I feel more connected to myself – I’m happier and it makes it easier for me to connect sexually.”
In relationships, Ness’ irritation is noticeable. She didn’t always feel supported. “Past partners have often left me in the lurch,” she explains. “My current partner is supportive and understands that I find everyday activities more difficult in the winter months, not just relationship issues.”
What to do when mental health affects your sex life
Dr Caroline West – who has a PhD in sexuality studies and is currently working as a consenting lecturer – explains that our sex lives and our mental health are inextricably linked. “If we’re feeling depressed, it can lead to poorer physical health, which in turn can lead to decreased desire and positivity toward sex and our bodies,” says West.
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“When our mental health is overwhelmed, it can lead to a drain on our energy levels, making people not want to have sex because they see it as too much work. When we’re feeling down, sex may be the last thing on our minds, and our thoughts toward our bodies may not be very sexually positive,” West explains. “Lack of intimacy can, in turn, make us feel even more frustrated and depressed.”
So how can SAD sufferers ease its effects on sex? Taking time for self-care, reconnecting with your body through masturbation, and taking time to physically connect with your partner can help ease symptoms, facilitating happier and more pleasurable sex during the winter months.
“When our mental health is overwhelmed, it can lead to a drain on energy levels, causing people to not want to have sex because they see it as too much work.”
Dr. Hanna Patel is a GP-specialist in mental health and GP-expert, issuing specialized information, guidelines and opinions on the medical care provided by GPs. “Mental health issues can affect our sexual health. “People suffering from depression describe symptoms of feeling tired, low self-esteem, less energy, decreased sex drive, and having difficulty finding pleasure in things they used to enjoy,” Patel told Mashable. As she explains, low vitamin D levels can also affect the likelihood of developing SAD, as can a family history of depression.
“To increase vitamin D, get outside as much as possible during the day, sit by the window at work, increase your exercise levels, eat a varied, balanced diet and avoid stress as much as possible. Consider mindfulness and stress management techniques,” advises Patel. “Some people prefer to take vitamin D supplements during the winter months and may want to try a SAD lamp.”
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Similarly, conscious sex can help. According to Headspace meditation app, incorporating mindfulness into sexual experiences—whether partnered or solo—can ease the experience. A study conducted among women in University of British Columbia involved participation in three mindfulness meditation sessions split over two weeks, along with mindfulness meditation at home. This period of meditation increases desire, arousal, lubrication and overall sexual satisfaction.
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Jasmine Eskenzi is the founder and CEO of The Zensory, a productivity app. “Being mindful during sex can boost your self-esteem, self-acceptance, and self-compassion,” notes Jasmine. “Try some mindful breathing before you head to the bedroom – breathe in for four seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds and breathe out for eight. Repeat this until you feel more relaxed.’
Try not to think of sex—whether in a partnership or alone—as a one-time event. Spend some time laying the groundwork, whether that involves reading an erotic book, masturbating, or watching a sexy movie. If you’re in a relationship—whatever that looks like—investing in it can be just as impactful. Prioritize regular get-togethers, whether that involves turning off the TV and cooking a nice meal together or ordering takeout. Creating these intimate memories can help strengthen your relationship both emotionally and sexually.
Communicate with your partner
Making time to bond is key, so check in regularly with your partner too. You can also practice this in your relationship with yourself – and better your solo pleasure – by exploring what turns you on. “Ask your partner what he finds sexy about you,” advises Pippa Murphy, sex and relationship expert at condoms.uk. “Not only will this boost the self-esteem of both of you, but it can also lead to better sex, as you can emphasize or focus on these things in bed.” The more confident you feel, the better sex you’re likely to have.”
Keeping the boudoir a phone-free zone can also have a poignant impact, Murphy believes. “If you’re scrolling through your phone before bed, you’re not only affecting your ability to build a deep connection with your partner, there’s a chance you’re reducing your ability to get excited by being greeted with a social feed of negative news,” says Pippa. “Keep your phone out of the bedroom and spend the last 10 minutes before bed being intimate with your partner, whether it’s through sex or talking.”
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Remember: sex can be whatever you want it to be. As West reminds us, “sex doesn’t have to be a big production or involve penetration. Intimacy can be defined however you want.” Explore what works for you: Consider keeping a DIARY sex diary, noting how you feel each day in terms of mood and libido. That way, you’ll be able to spot patterns and develop self-tailored coping mechanisms to make your boudoir so spicy and as sparing of depression as possible. Sex and TRU should not be enemies.
If you are feeling suicidal or experiencing a mental health crisis, please talk to someone. If you’re in the US, text START to the crisis text line at 741-741. You can reach the 988 Lifeline for suicides and crises at 988; Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860; or the Trevor Project at 866-488-7386. Text “START” to the crisis text line at 741-741. Contact the NAMI Helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI, Monday through Friday from 10:00 am to 10:00 pm ET, or email [email protected]. If you don’t like the phone, consider using the 988 Lifeline Chat for Suicide and Crisis on crisischat.org. Here a list of international resources. If you’re in the UK, call the Samaritans on 116 123 or contact Shout, the UK’s 24/7 free mental health service (Send SMS SHOUT to 85258).