We’re all familiar with the term “in the mood,” but do we actually know what it means? After a stressful day, people are less likely to desire sex or be receptive to their partner’s advances. A person may still want sex, but things don’t always go as planned in the bedroom.
It has long been held that depression and anxiety drive overall poorer sexual response in women. That is, clinically depressed and clinically anxious women alike experience:
- Less sexual desire
- Poorer sexual arousal
- Fewer orgasms
- More vaginal pain
Even when depressed or anxious moods do not evolve into clinical disorders, they can affect daily living. Recently, my team and I examined how changes in mood corresponded to day-to-day female sexual functioning. One-hundred and seventy-seven young women completed daily Web-delivered surveys rating their mood and sexual functioning for two weeks. In the end, we found that certain aspects of depression and anxiety were differently related to women’s experiences in the bedroom. The only female sexual response that was related both to depression and anxiety was difficulty reaching orgasm.
Depression and Sex
On days when women were less likely to experience pleasure and less happiness, their sexual desire was lower the same day. It appeared that feeling joyful and motivated was strongly associated with greater sexual desire. In fact, not only were feelings of happiness and enjoyment related to greater desire the same day, but these feelings carried over to the next day. That is, feeling great today can lead to high sexual desire the next day, just as feeling very unhappy and lethargic today can lead to low desire tomorrow.
Anxiety and Sex
On the other hand, on days that women experienced anxiety-related physical tension (e.g., muscle tension or shortness of breath), they reported difficulties with sexual arousal, vaginal lubrication, and greater sexual pain on that particular day. In other words, feeling physically tense, say due to stress, resulted in less psychological and genital arousal, as well as more vaginal pain during sexual activity.
Low Sex Drive? Check Your Mental Health
These findings demonstrate how inextricably linked mood and sex are. Importantly, anxiety and depression do not necessarily cause sexual problems. As changes in mood and sexual response changed at the same time, these changes may be the product of the same underlying processes.
In other words, biological processes in our brain responsible for happiness and pleasure may be the very same that control capacity for sexual desire. Also, anxiety-related physiological changes, such as increased muscle tension, occurring because of stress appear to also be responsible for arousal difficulties and sexual pain during sexual activity.
What Does it Take to be “in the Mood”?
To “be in the mood,” it helps to be happy and energetic. Daily struggles like juggling school, work, military service, and family can unintentionally result in poor self-care and relationship neglect. When is the last time you and your partner went for a walk in the park or went dancing?
Engaging in fun activities not only increases happiness and reduces stress, but can bring the two of you closer. Remember, practice makes perfect, and most things don’t change overnight. So grab your lover, and go have some fun. You’ll probably feel better no matter how the day ends.
David A. Kalmbach earned his Ph.D. in clinical psychology at Kent State University in 2014, specializing in mood disorders, human sexual response, and advanced quantitative methods. He completed his internship at the Veterans Affairs Healthcare System in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he received his training in behavioral sleep medicine and neuropsychology.
Kalmbach is currently a psychology resident at the University of Michigan Medical School focusing on the treatment of sleep disorders, such as insomnia and circadian rhythm disorders.