What’s more hush-hush than sex or mental health? Both, together! As May is Mental Health Awareness Month, let’s smash taboos and unpack the intricate dance between sex and mental health. Sex—beyond the blushes and hormones—can feel like soaring through the clouds, and owning our sexuality can be downright liberating. But the harsh glare of societal judgment and the ensuing stigma can cast long shadows on our mental health. Plus, our mental state can play puppeteer with our sexual urges and experiences.
Let’s Get Physical: The Positive Impact of Sex
Alright babes, let’s start by talking about the mental perks of a little romp in the hay. When we get down and dirty, our bodies release a cocktail of chemicals—serotonin, cortisol, dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins—that can give us a natural high, ease stress, and even help us catch some quality Z’s. Plus, the intimacy and connection we feel during and after sex can help to fend off the blues and amp up relationship satisfaction. So, in a way, our bedrooms (or wherever you prefer to get it on) can be a sanctuary for mental well-being.
On the flip side, a lack of these feel-good chemicals can leave us feeling a tad blue and disconnected. Remember, it’s not a one-size-fits-all scenario. Everyone’s experience is different and YMMV, especially if you identify as demi- or asexual. Your sexual activity—or lack thereof—doesn’t define your mental health. It’s merely one piece of the intricate puzzle of your holistic well-being.
On top of the physiological benefits, sex can be a powerful source of empowerment and self-expression. Embracing our sexuality and desires can help us own our bodies, boost self-confidence, and create a stronger sense of self-worth.
The Dark Side: Stigma, Shame, and the Battle for Self-Worth
Now, let’s dive into the not-so-pretty part: our society often fumbles when it comes to sex, cloaking it in stigma and shaming those who dare to embrace their sexuality — especially those from a religious background. The result? A mental health minefield. Questioning our worth, feeling guilty about our desires — shame can be as toxic to our mental health as a diet solely composed of candy and hot chips. Over time, it can fuel stress, anxiety, and even depression. It’s high time we tossed out these outdated norms and started a candid, stigma-free dialogue about both sex AND mental health.
It’s a Two-Way Street: How Mental Health Impacts Sex
Let’s flip the script for a hot minute. Sex isn’t just a bodily function — it’s a mental endeavor. Our emotions and thoughts play a leading role in our arousal and ability to maintain it. Just as our sex lives can shape our mental health — for better or worse — it works the other way ‘round, too: our mental health has a huge impact on our sex lives, from our sex drive to our ability to orgasm.
Mental health struggles like depression and anxiety can act as roadblocks on our journey to sexual satisfaction. They can dampen our sex drive, make it harder to experience pleasure, and even hinder our ability to connect with partners. Sometimes, it can feel like a chicken-and-egg scenario: is my low mood affecting my sex drive or vice versa? Things can get even murkier if you’re on medications that can throw a wet blanket on your sexual desires or inhibit orgasms.
But it’s not all gloom and doom: a healthy mind can be the key to unlocking satisfying, empowering, and joyous sexual experiences. Nurturing our mental health is an integral part of caring for our sexual selves. And with the insights from resources like JoEllen Notte’s “The Monster Under the Bed” and Allison Raskin’s “Over-thinking About You,” we can steer through mental health hurdles and cultivate healthy, fulfilling sex lives.
Sex and mental health are inextricably linked. While stigma and shame culture can take a toll on our mental health, and our mental health can throw a wrench in our sex lives, embracing our sexuality can be a journey of empowerment and self-discovery. By pulling back the curtain on these hush-hush topics of sex and mental health, we can challenge the stigma, bust the shame, and reclaim sex for what it truly should be: a positive force. In speaking our truths, we create ripples that can turn into waves of change. Let’s start the conversation, raise the roof, and elevate sex to the realms of joy and positivity it so deserves.