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May is Mental Health Awareness Month and we want to get real with you.

The percentage of those suffering from anxiety and depression are four times higher now than they were in 2019. What’s often not talked about is how some of that anxiety and depression could be working in tandem with sexual dysfunction. Or for those who are on antidepressants, it could create or heighten sexual dysfunction that may not have been there prior. Let’s examine the role our sexual health plays on our overall well-being.

You may already be familiar with the mood-boosting benefits of sex and emotional intimacy. Orgasms help elevate your body’s dopamine, endorphins and oxytocin levels. But what about the 43% of women that suffer from sexual dysfunction? Desire (Hypoactive sexual desire disorder), arousal (Sexual arousal disorder), and orgasm (Anorgasmia) are greatly impacted and often times leads to pain during sex (dyspareunia). 

Add mental illness into the mix and what is supposed to feel good may end up feeling like a burden.  This study from the National Library of Medicine finds that “the most common type of sexual pain is 10 times more common in women with previous diagnoses of anxiety disorder” due to anxiety cancelling out the body’s pleasure responses. The sexual pain this study is referring to is known as dyspareunia: persistent or recurring pain just before, during, or after sex. This pain can be felt internally or externally. Dyspareunia can be linked to conditions like vaginismus. We dive deeper into vaginismus and treatment options here

We sat down with our friend and sex therapist, Emma Schmidt, to discuss sex and the mind-body connection. According to Emma’s research, she found that “the number 1 piece to vaginismus is anxiety.” She elaborates further by saying, “in the brain there’s this section called the limbic system and that’s where we hold our emotions…and that part of your brain is connected right to your spinal cord. So if I’m experiencing anxiety over a negative sexual message, that triggers the spinal cord and that goes all the way down to your pelvic floor and impacts pain.”

Most sexually active uterus owners can attest to just how closely linked the mind and the body are during sex. There is great pride in making your mental health a priority. And if you are struggling sexually, know that there is nothing to be ashamed of. Things like counseling, regular gynecological appointments, laser therapy, and lubricant can all help. Sexual medicine is a critical tenet to your overall well-being and deserves to be treated as such.

Caro Carmichael

Caro is the Director of Content and Partnerships for HerMD and has spent the majority of her career in the digital marketing space collaborating with small, agile teams in fast-paced working environments.

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