MENTAL HEALTH AND SEXUAL HEALTH
By: Folashade Ajayi
Folashade Ajayi is a life, family, relationship, sexuality and mental health Coach. She passionately educates people about the importance of mental and emotional health in leading a successful life. She has authored five books on relationship, sexuality and mental health.
Mental Health and Sexual Health
Mental Health is a state of wellbeing in which a person understands his or her own abilities, copes with the normal stresses of life, work effectively and is able to make contributions to his or her community.
“Embrace and accept the love around you, it will surely make life easier for you” Folashade Ajayi
When the demand placed on someone exceeds their resources and coping abilities, their mental health will be negatively affected. Two examples of such demands are:
1. Working long hours under difficult circumstances.
2. Caring for a chronically ill relative. Other factors like economic hardship, unemployment, underemployment and poverty also have the potential to harm mental health.
Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affect how we think, feel, and act as we cope with life it also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood to adolescence through adulthood.
“Sexual health is a state of physical, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality. It requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence. W.H.O
Being sexually healthy means you have healthier body, a satisfying sexual life, positive relationships, and peace of mind.
Sexual health includes the right to healthy and respectful relationships, health services that are inclusive, safe and appropriate, access to accurate information, and freedom from coercion, violence, stigma and discrimination. Sex is a normal, natural part of life, and nothing to be embarrassed about. Talking openly with your sexual partners and your doctor can help you take charge of your sexual health.
Safer sex practices are important for the sexual health of sexually active people of all ages. Condoms and lube can prevent most sexually transmissible infections (STIs), including Chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, HIV, and some types of hepatitis. Vaccinations can prevent some forms of hepatitis, while medications are available that prevent HIV.
Sexual intimacy is an integral aspect of life and relationships for most adults. It can be a source of fulfillment, pleasure, and closeness that adds balance to a wellness-focused life.
However, the ability to be intimate or to experience pleasure from sex is typically dependent on a healthy body and mind. And, nearly 1 in 4 African adults live with a mental illness that can impact their ability to have a healthy sex life.
There are more connections between mental health and intimacy, both positive and negative. Positive when it makes you feel good and well, negative if you feel sick, unhappy and feel stressed and interfering in your mental wellness when engaging in any sexual activities.
Effects of mental illness on sexual health:
“When you allow feelings of inadequacies, you become weak” Folashade Ajayi
Several mental illnesses can interrupt a healthy sex life. For example, depression, the most common mental disorder in adults, diminishes the ability to anticipate pleasure which can significantly affect sexual response. Additionally, certain medications for depression can cause lowered libido. These side effects can decrease overall interest in sex, and even cause sexual disorders like erectile dysfunction and anorgasmia.
Other mental health issues, like anxiety and eating disorders, can also negatively impact someone’s sex life. These disorders typically cause symptoms like low self-esteem, fatigue, and irritability that can decrease interest in physical intimacy and even cause sufferers to fear closeness.
Other issues like bipolar disorder can have similar symptoms during depressive episodes but can cause an increase in risky sexual behavior in the midst of a manic episode. During these moments of hyper sexuality, people living with bipolar disorder may masturbate excessively, have a constant stream of sexual thoughts, or participate in sex with various people or strangers. This can put their sexual health, as well as any stable relationships, at risk and cause further complications with their mental health.
Mental benefits of sex:
Yet, sex can have several positive impacts that can benefit those struggling with mental health. Sex and orgasms– reduce stress, improve mood, and boost feelings of contentment, all of which can minimize the effects of certain mental health issues. It can also improve and regulate sleep patterns, which can ease symptoms of disorders like depression and anxiety. In addition, arousal and physical touching have been shown to stimulate the pleasure center in the brain and help fight feelings of sadness. There are also relational benefits of sex: physical intimacy can encourage communication, bonding, and lowered relational anxiety.
Therefore, a healthy sex life, though sometimes challenging to maintain, can assist in improving the symptoms experienced by those living with mental illnesses.
There are numerous ways to maintain a healthy sex life while living with mental illness, although each treatment method should be based on individual needs. Couple’s counseling and individual therapy have both been proven as effective ways to relieve anxiety surrounding sex and intimacy. The use of over-the-counter products like personal lubricant can help during sex.
Furthermore, experts recommend that mental health patients who experience sexual disruption that they believe are connected to their disorder speak with their prescribing physician about how to treat side effects. This may be done by altering prescription doses or types or simply by making some lifestyle changes. No matter what, patients should never stop taking their medications without a doctor’s recommendation.
Sex and the Brain
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. Most of our sex life takes place in our brains.
Anxiety or depression can strongly affect arousal and can certainly ruin the mood sometimes. Anxiety and other related mental health struggles can make it hard to be relaxed enough to have or enjoy sex, overwhelming with a lot of worries or intrusive distractions. When we are very unwell and struggling just to function, sex is rarely at the top of our mind.
The struggle with mental illness 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 this case, defining ourselves, and seeking to rediscover our love and appreciation for our bodies and our sexual selves will help us gain
Mental Health, Medication and Sex
It’s important to know that some medication for mental illness may have side effects that can affect our sexuality. For example, several antidepressants can inhibit arousal. Other medications may cause weight gain or temporary impotence, both of which can impact a person’s sexual self-esteem.
Real sex includes creativity and laughter, confusion, mistakes, awkwardness, misunderstandings and unreliable intensity of desire. These are all healthy parts of sexuality, and by creating space for all of these in our relationships, we make it difficult for anxiety and negative thoughts to destabilize our sexual well-being.
Sharing different types of pleasure and intimacy with your partner like back rubs, intimate massage, tickling, hugging, synchronized breathing or just holding each other while naked can help people struggling with arousal or orgasm feel connected and sensual without penetrative sex.
By changing the “end point of sex,” we allow ourselves to explore the variety of experiences that exist when we sensually relate to another human being. And, we take the anxiety-inducing focus off erections, penetration and orgasms.
For people whose partners are struggling with mental illness, several common concerns can arise. When your partner’s struggle is affecting their desire level, it’s hard to not get frustrated or feel like you’ve done something wrong. Sometimes these frustrations and fears can leave you doubting your attractiveness or desirability. This can hurt the self-esteem of both parties and really impact intimacy and closeness in the relationship.
Every adult should have the ability to maintain a relationship with sex that makes them feel fulfilled .Those living with mental illness who feels their sex lives are negatively impacted by their disorder should communicate with their partner and their doctor to find a balance and reap the emotional benefits of physical intimacy.