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Sex and Mental Health

For months now, I have been searching through blogs and books for information about sex and disability. And, each time, I find myself disappointed, but I couldn’t figure out why. I was reading a lot of material that was well-written and helpful. But. It felt lacking, and I couldn’t pinpoint why. That is until the other day.

My specific interest has been directed towards how mental illness (I use illness for lack of a better word, but I also have a gag reflex to the word) affects one’s sex life. Many books discuss how antidepressants have a number of potential side affects, which is definitely an important thing to acknowledge; however, they often stop there.

But what about how living with a mental illness or having a partner with one or more can affect sexual relationships? Sure, a lot of advice can be taken from books about other topics and used to apply. After all, mental illness is an unhealthy (read: NOT abnormal) manifestation of human behavior.


What do you do if you or your partner is clinically depressed for months? How do you handle a person (for example) who sleeps all the time, has extreme weight fluctuations due to change in appetite, and has no interest to do anything? And what if this recurs? And then again?

What if you or your partner are embarrassed by scars due to skin picking, hair pulling, or cutting? If you are looking for a casual encounter, how do you see past this shame so you can be intimate with someone you don’t know well?

What if you or your partner are crippled by negative self-image fueled by bulimia, anorexia, or any other eating disorder? How do you maintain sexual intimacy with someone who feels most comfortable with layers of clothes on?

What if you or your partner cannot focus on sex frequently because their OCD or tics are too distracting? How do you reach someone who is so lost in their heads?

If you are single, how (and when) do you go about addressing mental illness with a potential partner?

These, of course, are just examples and only skim the surface.

Relationships (or attempting to start one) are difficult, especially given how open each of us are required to be. However, it can be even harder when opening yourself up also means showing a part of yourself that remains a cultural taboo with little understanding and gross misrepresentations.

I guess what I am looking for is a more of a dialogue about this. I want to hear more people’s stories; let’s get to it, folks!

Dr. Chelsea Holland

Chelsea Holland, DHS is a sex educator and counselor based in Colorado. She is also a blogger at SEXuality Education from Dr. Chelsea. She helps individuals, partners, and groups regardless of their sexual orientation, sexual interests, ability, and age with concerns and questions around their sexuality and relationships. Further, she uses her open-minded, sex-positive, and nonjudgmental approach to help individuals become aware and accepting of who they are, to learn to be authentic in society about who they are, and to gain the skills that will help them develop and maintain positive relationships that are accepting of the individual's authenticity.

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