(Depression and Erectile Dysfunction, by David Jaynes)
When you’re suffering depression, either acute or chronic, sex is probably the last thing on your mind.
But the scary thing is, even if it was on your mind, you might not be able to do anything about it.
Because there’s evidence that depression can cause erectile dysfunction (as if you didn’t have enough problems).
To make matters worse, the common cure for depression, a series of drugs called Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, or SSRIs, is confirmed to cause ED as a side effect.
In this article, we’re going to dive into how depression causes ED, why SSRIs can exacerbate the problem, and three ways you can treat your depression naturally to get your morning wood back.
Here we go…
First, let’s get something clear…ED and depression and undeniably linked.
Depending on what study you consult, there’s a comorbidity rate of up to 82%, with studies regularly finding between 50-70% (source).
Basically, if you ask 100 men who have depression, between half and three-quarters of them are going to suffer from ED too, and vice versa.
Now the question of cause: does depression cause ED, or does ED cause depression?
That’s a little complicated. There’s definitely a biochemical case to be made that depression does cause ED though.
Depression inhibits your brain’s ability to fire neurotransmitters correctly, and to get an erection, your brain has to fire neurotransmitters to trigger the biological reaction.
The erection starts in your brain – if something is wrong there, it makes sense that your penis would be affected.
But there are other factors as well. In particular, low T levels in older men are associated with both depression and ED.
So it might be a case of a third party causing both problems.
Of course, suffering from ED is sure to send anyone on a downward spiral emotionally. It’s only natural that there would be significant overlap between depression and ED.
Regardless of which way the relationship goes, here’s the important part – if you have either ED or depression, the other one is much more likely happen.
And the worst part? The cure most doctors prescribe will actually make your ED worse, as we’re about to see.
Most depression is treated today by using SSRIs. SSRIs are drugs that affect serotonin levels in the brain.
They work by blocking the reuptake of serotonin, so there’s more of it in your brain.
This increases overall serotonin levels and can help ease the symptoms of depression and stabilize your mood.
SSRIs are incredibly common today. In 2014, 8-10% of the US population was on SSRIs, often for off-label uses.
To put that number in perspective, that’s between 25,484,800 and 31,856,000 people.
That’s a lot of prescription drugs.
Why is this a problem?
Because the link between SSRIs and ED is extremely clear. Here are some of the ways that SSRIs can cause ED:
To top all of this off, the problems don’t stop when you stop taking the SSRI.
Post-SSRI sexual dysfunction (PSSD) can linger for months or even years. In some cases, full functionality and sensitivity never return.
So what can you do? You’re damned if you have depression and you’re damned if you try and treat it!
Fortunately, there is a solution: treat depression naturally.
There’s lots of different approaches to treating depression without medication, including therapy, diet, spending time outside, mental exercises, and more.
But we’re going to focus on the three ways that are most effective for most people.
It’s worth noting here that depression isn’t like breaking your arm…
When someone breaks their arm, pretty much no matter who they are, the problem (broken bone) and how to fix it (a cast) is the same.
Depression, on the other hand, affects everyone differently.
Most people need to combine a number of natural treatments to get the best result. So play around with these until you find the right mix for you.
Using exercise to treat depression falls under what’s called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, or CBT.
CBT is a psychological-based method that aims to change how people behave so that it will eventually change how they feel.
The rationale is that when you’re suffering from depression, you’re prone to a negative internal monologue, or thought process.
For example, not seeing your friends and then internally thinking ‘I am super isolated. It must be because no one likes me.’
By changing the behaviour (e.g. ‘this week I’m going out for a coffee’) you change the internal thought process (‘I saw someone I liked today.
People must like me’). Thus, depression symptoms and eventually depression itself is reduced.
The basic method is that patients will go and talk through a problem they’re having, and work with a psychologist to overcome that problem.
These problems are often symptoms ( like not exercising enough) of depression, rather than what would normally be considered the root cause.
This structured, goal-orientated way of addressing symptoms means patients tend to feel better, regardless of what ‘caused’ the depression in the first place.
Exercise in particular is an effective execution of CBT to treat depression.
Very early case studies from the 1900s first identified this relationship, but more scientific studies since then have confirmed it.
A meta-analysis completed in 2004 summarized these findings, citing examples like:
What’s clear is that depression can be alleviated by exercise, and the impact of exercise on depression is both rapid and long-lasting – it doesn’t take much to make a big difference (source)
In the same vein as the CBT-driven recommendation to exercise to cure depression comes our second natural cure – sunlight.
First, lack of sunlight actually has its own medical diagnosis, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is essentially a seasonal bout of depression that settles in in winter and alleviates in the spring.
An estimated 20% of Americans suffer from SAD every year.
Of course, more sunlight can treat those suffering from SAD. But what about other forms of depression?
Turns out, sunlight can help those sufferers too.
First, sunlight provides vitamin D. Low levels of vitamin D correlate with higher levels of depression.
So right out of the gate, there’s a biochemical reason for the sunlight-depression link.
Second, sunlight impacts our bodies in a number of ways beyond simply providing vitamin D.
Different molecules are absorbed through your skin from the sun which goes on to have a huge variety of complex interactions in your body.
In particular, some of these interactions involve the production and use of ATP, the most common form of energy your body uses (it’s like gasoline for cells).
Lack of sunlight makes ATP less effective, leaving you tired and lethargic – key symptoms of depression.
Porn is often used by those suffering depression as a short-term fix.
They’re feeling lonely and isolated, and porn gives them a brief dopamine boost, which makes them feel better, but only temporarily.
However, while it might seem harmless to seek some short-term relief, the reality is that there are long-term consequences. When you watch porn, you get a massive hit of dopamine.
But over time, you need more dopamine to feel the same effect.
If you’re already suffering from depression, eroding the effectiveness of the little dopamine you do have will only send you deeper down the rabbit hole.
What’s more, higher levels of porn consumption correlate to higher levels of depression.
It’s not clear if depressed people watch porn more often, or if watching porn more often makes you depressed.
But what is clear is that watching porn frequently is a crutch that makes it more difficult to form solid, emotional bonds with those around you – bonds that can help you alleviate depression or even prevent you from developing it in the first place.
The question of depression causing ED or ED causing depression is really a chicken and an egg situation: it’s hard to know what comes first.
But this much is clear: depression and ED go hand in hand. The common cure for depression, SSRIs, only exacerbate any existing ED problems, reducing sexual function, feeling, and libido.
While both depression and the most common depression treatment can actually cause ED itself, you might feel like the situation is hopeless.
However, there are solutions out there. CBT and the variety of treatments that derive from it do nothing to induce ED and can even help reverse it.
Things like exercise and spending time outside and in the sun can help you fight depression without ruining your sex life.
And if you can keep off the porn, you’ll give yourself an excellent chance of fully recovering.
So maybe the silver lining is this: because depression and ED go hand-in-hand, so to do their natural cures.
Fix one, and the other should soon follow.