Mental Health Awareness Month: How does it impact Sexual Health
By – Eshna
May is celebrated as Mental Health Awareness Month. In this article, let’s explore the often-ignored but significantly important link between mental health and physical intimacy.
INTIMACY IS IMPORTANT
For starters, in evolutionary biology, people often speak of the four Fs which are said to be the four basic and most primal drives (motivations or instincts) that animals (including humans) are evolutionarily adapted to have, follow, and achieve: fighting, fleeing, feeding and fornicating.
Thus, humans are social creatures and are ultimately built to crave physical connection with others. Physical intimacy, be it in the form of cuddling, hugging or in the more intimate of kissing and engaging in sexual intercourse, is an important aspect of our biology, something that there is no need to be ashamed of.
Intimate experiences can have a significant effect on mental health. During sex, the brain releases dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin which are all neurotransmitters that boost feelings of happiness and relaxation, while also cutting stress hormone levels. This natural influx of chemicals can temporarily improve feelings of depression.
In fact, ‘skin hunger’ or touch deprivation is a real and pertinent problem, and people who are in lack of human touch can suffer from anxiety, stress, depression, anger and low motivation.
SEX IS A MATTER OF THE MIND, TOO
We often tend to think that sex is merely a matter of what our bodies are doing, but sex is intricately connected with the mind. It’s important to realize that, for all genders, our thoughts and feelings play a vital role in getting us turned on and keeping us that way.
The struggle with mental illness in a variety of forms can hurt a person’s self-esteem and make them feel unworthy of sexual attention. For example, a person may have an unrealistic view of their own body and may actively seek to deny or discipline the body as a way of coping. In these cases, it’s important to be critical of the beauty norms we are shown by the media, step away from the practice of measuring or defining ourselves, and to seek to rediscover our love and appreciation for our bodies and our sexual selves.
One of the biggest challenges people face is that it’s both the condition and the treatment that impacts on their sex lives, writes a blogger on SANE, a forum for discussing mental illness.
A fairly common example of this is depression, in which persons find themselves dealing with a loss in sex drive, or interest in sexual activities. In addition, when these individuals seek treatment for their depression, they are often given medication that further decimates their libido.
Some of the members of the SANE forum, also describe that their struggle with bipolar disorder has in turn caused them to engage in risk-taking sexual behaviour, which has damaged their relationship and sense of self worth. Others have revealed that their chronically low self-esteem made them doubt both their attractiveness and their partner’s desire to be with them. This is not fertile ground for sexual intimacy.
SO, WHAT IS THE END POINT?
Now that we have established how intricately intertwined sex and mental health are, and how both affect each other in their own way, the takeaway is-
We should always remember that depictions of sex in movies and pornography are not at all reflective of sex in real life. Sex can be clumsy, bumpy, full of laughter and varying intensities of desire.
We should inculcate a sense of sex-positivity within ourselves and within the people we interact with, including partners and friends. Sex positivity asserts that expression of our desire, our gender identity and sexual orientation is a basic part of a healthy lifestyle.
In the event that mental health begins to impact our sex-lives, it is a good idea to look for a sex-positive counsellor, in addition to opening lines of communication with our sexual partners and other close people in life.