I never thought I would say this; but what if The Byrds had it right?! What if to everything there is a season?
In growing up in a place like Alaska; a place where many people experience seasonal patterned depression; I could not help but wonder how a season affects one’s sexual health, specifically one’s interest and desire in sex.
In some of the previous and current iterations of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders two things have remained relatively constant, yet disconnected from each other, which are seasonal patterned depression–formerly known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)–as specifier for Major Depressive Disorders and Bipolar Disorder and Sexual Dysfunctions, specifically Sexual Interest/Arousal/Desire Disorder.
It is true.
When a person struggles with seasonal patterned depression (usually occurs in winter and places on the globe that are at least 30 degrees latitude north or south) rarely does a clinician (such as myself) working with them stop to consider talking about sexual desire struggles they may have while struggling with seasonal depression.
Moreover, rarely, if ever, does a clinician take into consideration seasonal patterned depression when diagnosing people with sexual desire-related difficulties.
However, as a person who grew up in the upper one (AKA Alaska) where 1 in 4 people conservatively speaking experience seasonal patterned depression (in contrast about only 1-2% of the national population on average experience seasonal patterned depression) and many people experience sexual health related problems (i.e., sexual assault, sexual abuse) (Blumer, 2015;
Medred, 2013; Providence Health & Services, n.d.) I have been acutely aware of what would seem to be a correlation between seasonal patterned depression and low sexual desire.
Although the rates of low sexual desire or interest by state are not available, the national reports are that 32 percent of cisgender women and 15 percent of cisgender men lack sexual interest for several months at a time during the year (Lauman & Rosen, 1999; Montgomery, 2008).
A quick look at the relationship between sex and emotions demonstrates a potential link between the two as mediated through the season; at least for some people.
For instance, we do know that average to high levels of dopamine is thought to act as a libido and desire increase* (Montgomery, 2008). When people are low in dopamine, they are correlationally lower in sexual desire (Montgomery, 2008), and people who are depressed are low in dopamine, which can be a seasonal experience.
So if there is a link between seasonal patterned depression and low sexual desire, what do we do about it? And how can we improve* our seasonal affective sexual health?
Well, as a licensed therapist who specializes in relationship and sex therapy, here are a few tips:
It’s Not You; It’s Not Me; It’S The Season.
Just knowing that sexual desire may not be tied to interpersonal issues in a relationship or within one individual more or less than another in a relationship can help couples manage desire related issues.
With the understanding that low desire may be related to the season and not the person or couple experiencing it, we have a chance to change the sexual script from one of a shame and blame story to one that sounds more like, “Not tonight dear–it’s too cold and dark out there.”
Engage In Intimacy And Feel-Good Boosting Activities.
Sex-related activities are great for many people; don’t get me wrong, however, they are not necessary for our seasonal survival.
Engaging in other intimacy-related activities like hugging, eye gazing, holding hands, touching, kissing and hugging without the pressure or expectation of anything more sexually happening has the effect of not evoking feelings of stress or anxiety, which can be predominant feelings people experience when there are desire-related issues around sex, can elicit feelings of closeness and connectedness instead.
Indeed, when we are intimate with each other we experience a flooding of oxytocin, which makes us feel closer and more bonded to our partner(s).
This in turn, can make us feel better and in some cases less depressed, and in the long run, may improve* our seasonal affective sexual health. In addition to intimacy-related activities we can also engage in feel-good boosting activities like exercise.
We we are active through exercise or other like leisure activities we are flooded with endorphins, which has the effect of making us feel good and creating a sense of euphoria. When we exercise and experience a higher level of endorphins we feel less depressed, and often more sexually desirable.
Meditate Your Way Beyond The Season.
Researchers have found that when meditative practices are introduced into one’s life the effect is often an alleviation of stress and a clearing of the mind, which allows a person to be more present-a component often needed to experience greater sexual desire, as well as to increase* one’s levels of well-being and decrease* one’s feelings of depression. Overall, researchers have shown that deep meditation significantly improves* mental and sexual health
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