The Link Between Depression, Low Libido & Hormonal Changes
Many of the women that we work with take on the responsibility and the blame for their sexual dysfunction; like most things in their lives. It usually starts with lack of desire and sometimes builds to be complete aversion to sex, maybe inability to find pleasure in sex, maybe even pain. However, they don’t know the fundamentals of how their bodies work and internalize the blame due to societal messaging, lack of adequate sexual education, shame and/or lack of support, not knowing where to turn.
Research shows women with low sexual desire are far more likely to experience depressive disorder or symptoms of depression, than women who do not experience low sexual desire.
One of these symptoms, that we see in our patients all of the time, is anhedonia. Anhedonia is an inability to feel pleasure or a lack of interest in activities you once found pleasurable and that often includes sex too.
She usually doesn’t even notice that she is experiencing this until she is sitting in front of me in my office and I ask, “what do you enjoy doing for yourself?” I am returned with silence, and a blank stare, followed by tears. “I never used. To be like this,” she often replies.
If you are depressed, you have anhedonia and don’t feel pleasure. You have less desire for sex. But the burden this creates for women is so much more than the depression that she feels initially. There are often relationship pressures attached to this lack of joy, making her feel even more depressed because she does not desire sex. With this lack of desire for sex there is often guilt, a drop in intimacy in general and then grief over the woman that she once was.
Hormones can often be linked to depression in woman and because of this association, it generally comes at a time in a woman’s life where she can blame it away, after a baby or in perimenopause. If she is post-partum she finds herself saying, “well its normal post-partum,” or “I am just busy with the baby,” or “it’s just the sleepless nights.” If it is in perimenopause maybe she starts to think “maybe I’m no longer happy in my relationship,” or “there is just so much to do in a day that I am too tired to think of sex,” or “I guess this is just what comes with age.” This leads to one of 2 things: She never seeks help or she is inappropriately assessed and put on an antidepressant which lowers libido further!
The WHO states that gender stereotypes regarding emotional problems in women reinforces social stigma creating a barrier to accurate identification and treatment of psychological disorders. Women are 2 times more likely to be diagnosed with depression compared to men.
So, what is missing here from a health standpoint? What could be at the root of this downward libido spiral?
The emotional labour of a woman is REAL. Stress can cause physical and mental symptoms; exhausted, empty, burned out, and unable to cope. Chronic stress causes a steady state of cortisol (the body’s stress hormone) release. Chronic cortisol release affects hormones, mood, weight gain, and mental function! It can affect the production of our other hormones as well (see below for information about low estrogen.) The result is a woman who feels irritable or angry, sad, fatigued, lacking motivation, anxious and does not even think about intimacy.
#2 Thyroid disorders
Thyroid underactivity is 4 times higher in women than men. It is also one of the most underdiagnosed conditions in the world. It is estimated that 50-60% of people affected by thyroid disease in North America are not aware of their condition. This doesn’t account for the many women who have thyroid levels that are just within the reference range and are refused treatment despite all of the symptoms. Under-functioning thyroid comes with fatigue, depression, sleep disturbance, anxiety and brain fog. These women know that something is wrong, but are often diagnosed with depression without relief of symptoms. This often furthers her depression and anhedonia.
#3 Low estrogen
As estrogen waxes and wanes in perimenopause (anywhere between ages 40 and 54) women can feel less and less like themselves. In these years, women can experience new onset depression and anxiety. She can also have vaginal dryness and irritation, weight gain, sleep disturbance, joint pain and fatigue among some symptoms. The problem is that these women are not yet “in menopause” and are therefore not offered the treatment that will benefit them the most (estrogen). These women don’t feel like themselves, feel like something is wrong with them, are told they are depressed and told that their lack of sexual desire is just “something that happens.”
You DON’T have to feel this way. You don’t have to resign yourself to a life without pleasure, without intimacy, without sex. You can learn more about how your body works and you can take control of your pleasure and your sex life again.
At Health Over All, we use a health framework that assesses a woman completely and treats her mentally, emotionally and spiritually. This framework is explained in the book “The Pink Canary” written by our own Dr. Jordin Wiggins. You can pick up this book from our office directly or order it online. If you want more information this is the best place to start!
If you are the woman in this article, I know that we can help you. Book your free Alignment Call HERE to find out how you can work with us.
Dr. Lisa Maddalena, ND