Depression, Sex and Shame

Making pleasure part of your recovery.

For eight years we had worked really hard to disprove the myth that marriage ruins sex. Before depression followed me into our bedroom like a cartoonish rain cloud, we had a sex life that I couldn’t have imagined my younger self having.

Somehow my depression and the accompanying shame convinced me that I wasn’t only the worst human in history, but also unworthy of pleasure. My husband remembers a time when I asked him “are we sex addicts” after realizing it had been a particularly long stretch without a night off. These doubts and questions I’d never even considered were gnawing at me and I didn’t have the awareness to stop and ask where that voice came from. Depression is a dirty liar and this was just the beginning of the damage it would do.

When depression comes to stay, sex goes away.

Over the next two years those whispers of depression turned my once healthy sexual desires into a sinister trigger for shame. The shame I felt seemed almost inexplicable — how could I go from being proud of my healthy sex life to hyper-critical and ashamed in a matter of months? EVERYTHING became overwhelming, emotionally draining and spirit sucking.

It took years to realize that my depression had not only been a great liar, but it found my weaknesses and soft spots and expertly exposed them. Sex was one of my weak spots and served as a perfect way for depression to gain entry. It manipulated my current views on sex and sexuality and brought back all of the feelings I had when I saw the scribbled Sharpie message “Rachel is a SLUT” in the bathroom in high school.

Depression made it so that I no longer knew how to make pleasure a part of my life. I had simply stopped enjoying everything — and there was nothing sexy about that.

If sex and the shame surrounding it was the way depression made it’s debut — could it also be the key to setting my mind free? As it turns out, yes — partially. By placing an emphasis on finding and enjoying pleasure again, my renewed interest in sex was the first sign of my recovery.

As part of my recovery I vowed to focus on the following things to improve my relationship with sex:

  • Mindfulness: Spend time loving yourself — meditation, masturbation, mindfulness. Just do it.
  • Exercise: a fit body (or in my case one that’s on the way to being fit) exudes confidence.
  • Cuddle/Snuggle: If you aren’t in the mood for sex, try to keep physical touch available for yourself and your partner.
  • Don’t force it: Sex is always a choice, never a chore and if you’re lucky it should always end in climax…if it doesn’t — don’t allow the doubt and shame to creep in. You’ll do better next time.
  • Talk: Don’t let sex become an off-limits topic — even when you aren’t having any.

Your brain may be your biggest enemy right now, but it is also your biggest sex organ. Take the time to include intimacy and touch in your recovery efforts — it might just help to undo some of the destructive effects of this devastating disease.

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