Can depression kill your sex life?
During the five years I was thoroughly incapacitated by it, my body did what bodies do to survive — breathe, drink, eat, sleep — while my mind tried to figure out how to stop this farce once and for all.
Alas, sex wasn’t included in the basic functions that kept me alive. Had it been, it stands to reason depression wouldn’t have tightened its grip on my psyche until all I could think about what dying.
Human warmth and connection were also in short supply.
Whether I needed sex in the years since my sex life died sometime around the summer of 2013 is something I can only try and figure out with hindsight. At the time, I had no desire whatsoever for it and libido became a word without meaning.
Sex no longer applied to me and yet it was something I had always enjoyed. I’m reasonably comfortable in my own skin and somehow grew into a sexually confident woman despite a history of abuse. I know what I like, I have no problem communicating this to a partner, and I am curious to a fault.
But for me, sex starts in the brain.
Therein, perhaps, lies a clue.
Connecting deeply with a fellow human needn’t even involve nakedness.
In the age of the internet, it can happen by remote, without being in the same country or even on the same continent. Connection is an intellectual process; another person makes your brain tingle and light up like a Christmas tree on steroids.
Two minds mesh, communication happens, creativity goes through the roof, and before you know it, you’re feeling a whole lot better because you’re no longer isolated.
We humans are naturally inclined to share. Have you ever noticed how much better food tastes when someone else is eating it with you? How much happier the moment when you’re not experiencing it alone? How much more powerful the song when there’s another pair of ears around? How much more impactful the book you’ve read when you can discuss it?
Connection can give you wings.
Having another fellow human around who engages with every aspect of what makes you who you are, encourages you, and provides feedback goes a long way toward helping you both becoming your best selves and grow.
You end up co-creating something bigger than the sum of its parts, pure energy you can both use to transcend difficulty. This energy is a form of mutual appreciation that leads to inspiration, friendship, love or even something you might not even have a name for yet…
All that matters is that the connection is here and endures, something to rely on and draw strength from when the going gets tough.
To me, this is what mutually fulfilling relationships are made of, be they friendships or any kind of romantic partnerships, including — but not limited to — marriage.
But two lonelinesses in parallel do not a marriage make.
When there’s no connection, there’s zero chance of you seeing me in my birthday suit at this stage in my life.
Therein lies another clue.
For years, I regarded sex as the highest possible level of communication between two people.
As a peripatetic human infinitely fond of languages, I’ve always been obsessed with communication and have dedicated my life to it.
Over the years however, my stance on sex only seemed to confuse the people I met. Here I was sanctifying a basic physiological need many engaged in without second thoughts, guided by hormones, lust, or even habit.
Emerging from the last five years have restored me to default factory settings in many more ways than one. I’ve come to reconnect with the various parts of my identity, question everything again, and value what intellectual freedom I’ve managed to reclaim from the parasite in my head.
And the human connections it has the power to facilitate.
Depression can turn life into a long trek through an affective and sexual desert with no oasis in sight. Not even the mirage of masturbation served to coax my fingers into administering relief until very recently. It took conversations to get in touch with that side of my humanness again, humanness that illness and resentment had eroded.
Masturbation is useful and enjoyable and some will even sing its praises as the safest sex there is for a woman because, obviously, your own hand can’t impregnate you but I find it lacking. This isn’t a matter of technique, I know what works for me and how to go about achieving desired results in record time.
The problem with masturbation is that it’s just me having sex with me; it’s not exactly interactive.
To see your sex life reduced to your mind, your fingers, and your clitoris is immensely disheartening.
And the saddest thing for a woman in her prime.
After spending over five years convinced my life was over, I had to accept that my marriage was the very definition of a dead bedroom.
It happens but the topic remains taboo. How do you even begin to parse the absence of desire, yours for another human or theirs for you? How can you not take it so personally when it feels like rejection and abandonment all at the same time?
Much as I’d like to understand what went wrong and when and why, all I have to go on for now is depression, which can’t possibly be the whole story as there are always two people in a marriage.
And contrary to what I thought, I’m not dead yet, not even from the waist down, nor have I become invisible to all creatures but my cats. This was a revelation. Building bridges with words has returned me to life and to the world at large after a long absence.
I can feel again but with even more intensity now, as if I were playing catch up with life.
Managing the kind of depression I suffer from requires leaving no stone unturned to understand it. Despite my initial reluctance, I started looking at my sexuality a few months ago. While I was loath to tackle something so private and shameful in public, writing about it has been both humbling and liberating even though it makes for harrowing soul-searching.
As a bonus, shame left me, too, when I realized I hadn’t lost my ability to connect with fellow humans after all.
While celibacy can be both a choice and a disposition, perhaps we wouldn’t let it crush us when it happens involuntarily if it weren’t so stigmatized.
We can change this by documenting it, one conversation, one essay at a time so why don’t we?
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.