Sex and Mental Health: What's the Connection?

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Throughout life, situations pop up that can create stress, anxiety, trauma, and possibly depression. Stress can result from many psychological factors and can vary among individuals. Mental health can be affected by external and internal circumstances. 2020 has been a stressful year for many people and your mental state may reflect the emotions that you’re feeling and trying to process. 


As with many things, how you feel may directly affect your life, including your sex life.  

How’s Your Mental Health?

Mental illness is common, with approximately 1 in 5 adults being affected at any given time. The Mayo Clinic states there are standard signs when someone is suffering from mental health issues. 

6 Warning Signs of Mental Health Issues


    • Changes in eating or sleeping patterns
    • Social withdrawal
    • Extreme changes in mood
    • Sadness or extended irritability
    • Anxiety
    • Sex drive changes

Dramatic changes should be considered. Many people feeling detached or confused may turn to alcohol and drugs rather than address the emotions they are dealing with. 

Know that it’s important to seek help if you feel you’re dealing with signs or symptoms that may be associated with mental health issues. Mental health professionals are not the only ones that can offer help. Physicians, friends, ministers, and others can be helpful in finding support and assistance. 

Many people keep stress, anxiety, and frustrations to themselves. It can take courage to share your feelings, but know that unless this step is taken, you won’t make progress towards a healing process. 

The Connection between Sex & Mental Health

Heathline reports sexual activity, with a partner or through masturbation, can provide important psychological and emotional benefits. Like exercise, sex can help reduce stress and anxiety, and increase happiness. 

It’s been reported that stress can decrease sex drives. The American Psychological Association states ongoing stress over an extended period can affect testosterone production, resulting in a decline in sex drive or libido, and can even cause erectile dysfunction or impotence. Chronic stress may also negatively impact healthy sperm production. Researchers have found that men with stressful lives have lower sperm quality. 

According to research published by the US National Library of Medicine, stress can affect hormones, causing irregular menstrual cycles and infertility in women. And because stress also triggers irritability, hormonal imbalances can lead to personal problems. 

Regardless of gender, chronic stress can put your overall health at risk. The body’s innate stress response system is usually self-regulating but dealing with anxiety over an extended period can disrupt several of your body’s processes, including your feelings towards sexual pleasure. 

Benefits of Sexual Activities in Helping Cope with Stress

Intimate activities don’t have to include sexual intercourse or a sexual partner. Solo sexual pleasure can also provide benefits for mental health. 

At its heart, there is a biochemical basis for the positive effects of masturbation. Practicing personal pleasure releases feel-good neurochemicals like dopamine and oxytocin that lift moods and spirits. 

In addition, orgasms also release DHEA, a hormone known to improve cognition and boost the immune system. And research has found sexual activities may also benefit cardiovascular health, which can be advantageous because stress has been known to raise blood pressure and may lead to heart disease with increased glucose levels that can clump and block blood vessels. 

Masturbation and Mental Health

While masturbation by itself is not a complete treatment for combating mental health risks, it has been shown to help relieve stress and provide other benefits. 

Masturbation helps remove sexual tension and alleviate stress–so much so that a person’s heart is often reduced to a resting heart rate for up to 12 hours after an orgasm. Some of my own patients have shared that masturbation helps them to fall asleep faster.

Planned Parenthood states “it’s totally normal to touch yourself for sexual pleasure” and lists multiple health benefits of masturbation, including creating a sense of well-being, enhancing sex with partners both physically and emotionally, improving sleep, increasing self-esteem, improving body image, reducing stress, and releasing sexual tension. Many of these stated benefits can help a person deal with everyday stresses that everyone encounters.

Your Longest Relationship

Keep in mind that your longest relationship will be with yourself. This is why it’s essential to get in touch with yourself, your sexual intimacy, and your emotional wellbeing. 

Being healthy should be part of your overall lifestyle. Living a healthy lifestyle helps prevent illnesses. Feeling good about yourself and taking care of yourself are important for your self-esteem and emotional health. Maintain your overall health by doing what is right for your mind and body, including providing it with pleasure. Embrace your sexual health. 

Do you check in with yourself and your feelings? Do you monitor your psychological wellbeing? I would love to hear what works for you. Please send me your questions and comments. I’m always here to help you!

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Dr. Sunny Rodgers is a clinician, author, and speaker who has worked in the wellness industry since 2000. She holds a Ph.D. in Human Sexuality, a Master of Arts in Clinical Sexology, and is an accredited Sexual Health Educator. She is the Founder of The Institute of Intimate Health, an Ambassador for the American Sexual Health Association, regular lecturer for the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine, Sexual Confidence Coach for the Marigold App, and a professional Sex Toy Concierge™. Rodgers hosted a popular weekly show on Playboy Radio, has been an expert guest on several TV and radio programs, and is a regular contributor to HuffPost, Men's Health, Cosmo, Bustle, and many more publications.