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Can seasonal affective disorder impact sexual health?

Can seasonal affective disorder impact sexual health?

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that becomes more serious during certain times of year. For most people, SAD occurs during the autumn and winter, but it can happen during the spring and summer, too.

Experts believe SAD might be triggered by a lack of sunlight, which causes changes in the production of certain hormones, like melatonin and serotonin.

Common symptoms of SAD include the following:

  • Feeling sad and depressed much of the time

  • Sleep problems (such as oversleeping or insomnia)

  • Lethargy and fatigue

  • Changes in appetite (poor appetite or carbohydrate cravings)

  • Gaining or losing weight

  • Trouble concentrating

  • Loss of interest in activities that were previously enjoyed

  • Feelings of hopelessness or suicide

Unfortunately, people with SAD may experience sexual problems, too. They may lose interest in sex or feel too tired for sexual activity. Orgasm difficulties are common. Men might have trouble with erections.

Medications for SAD, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), and tetracyclic and tricyclic drugs may also have sexual side effects. 

Often, patients see their sexual symptoms improve when they are treated for SAD. Seeing a doctor is an important first step.

SAD treatment options might include:

  • Light therapy (phototherapy). Sitting in front of a lightbox for a prescribed amount of time can help bring brain chemicals back to normal levels. A doctor can recommend the best lightbox for this purpose.

  • Antidepressants can be an effective treatment for SAD, but there can be sexual side effects. Patients who believe their medication is causing sexual problems should let their doctor know. A change in dose or alternative medication might be appropriate, but patients should always make such changes with a doctor’s guidance.

  • Counseling (cognitive behavioral therapy). Talking with a trained professional therapist can help people with SAD learn to cope with their symptoms and manage stress.

The following lifestyle habits might relieve some SAD symptoms, too:

  • Exercising regularly

  • Socializing with friends

  • Communicating with partner

  • Continuing to have sex, or staying intimate in other ways (hand holding, cuddling, etc.)

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