What to Do When Seasonal Depression Kills Your Sex Drive

Long, cold, dark winter nights are made for one thing: Spending time in your bed. But even if we’re spending most of our evenings cozied up under our blankets, we might not exactly be getting tangled up in the sheets. 

“When the days are shorter, colder and darker, seasonal depression can set in and our energy for everything in life can go down” Indigo Stray Conger, an AASECT-certified sex therapist based in Colorado shared with SheKnows. “The first items that tend to disappear from our list of priorities are self-care and optional activities that require effort. Sex fits both of those categories.”

Seasonal depression (also called seasonal affective disorder, or SAD) is most common in the winter months, though some folks experience it in the summertime, too. Its symptoms line up with depressions’ typical symptoms: low energy, difficulty sleeping, and losing interest in the things that once brought us happiness or fulfillment. The main difference is that folks who experience SAD will notice their symptoms start to arise when the seasons shift. 

That’s because fewer hours of sunlight can mean a drop in serotonin levels, which affects your mood, and a drop in melatonin levels, which affects your sleep. Seasonal depression, like its year-round cousin, can affect your levels of sexual desire too — which, in turn, can make us feel disconnected from our partners and from our own bodies. 

It’s always worth reaching out to a therapist if you’re struggling with mental health problems, even seasonally. There are treatment options for seasonal depression — like light therapy, D-vitamins and antidepressants (though the latter can also diminish your libido) — that can help you make it through the season. 

Seasonal depression may have sent your libido into hibernation, but there are things you can do to start waking it up (no sunlight alarm required). Here are five techniques you can start implementing today. 

Lean Into the Cozy

Cozyness is about comfort, but comfortable isn’t an antonym for sexy. You can have both. 

Feeling sexy doesn’t mean you have to be stripped down and cold. Crucially, “cozy” doesn’t mean “lazy” either. 

During the cooler, darker months, you might be choosing function over form when it comes to your style and your home. That’s totally okay — and it’s necessary, TBH — but find small ways to bring in details that make you feel really good and practical. Keep your flannel sheets, but add in a throw blanket that you can’t help but want to stretch your body out on. Say buh-bye (at least temporarily) to your stiletto boots and hello to lace-trimmed bralettes. 

You probably switch up your aesthetic during the summer months, so why not redefine what sexy and sensual mean to you during the winter season, too? Maybe that’s wearing lingerie and an oversized sweater or hanging twinkle lights behind your bed. Making updates to your look can help you feel more present and can set the stage for you to enjoy the little pleasures that your space brings you, even if it’s been snowing for three consecutive weeks. 

Reconnect with Your Body

You know that feeling when you first get to put on shorts or a skirt in the springtime and you think to yourself, “wow, I haven’t really seen my legs in a long time”? 

When you live somewhere cold, layering up during the winter months is essential. You’re probably wearing fleece-lined leggings under your pants, plus a tank top, light sweater, heavy coat, a scarf, hat, gloves, thick socks, and boots. Thick layers of clothing protect our body, but they can also make us feel disconnected from our body when we have to keep them on all the time. Out of sight, out of mind. 

So each day, spend some time mindfully peeling off your winter layers. Take a good long look at what your body looks like without your four layers of sweater armor. How does it feel to have your skin exposed to the open air? What is your body asking for? 

Even if you’ve spent a lot of time cuddling up this winter, chances are, you were still doing that through your layers, so you might still be experiencing skin hunger. Create a ritual that allows you to reconnect with your body through non-sexual touch. Spend 10 minutes moisturizing and massaging yourself, relaxing the muscles and feeding your own need for touch. Brush out your hair. 

Give your body time to breathe without its armor on, so that when you do finally get to wear shorts outside again, the sight of your legs won’t be a shock to you. 

Masturbate

You don’t need to be chasing down an orgasm to masturbate. Set aside some time to just, well, feel yourself. Just like reconnecting with your body sans winter layers can help you feel more physically present, masturbation can help elevate your relaxation and levels of desire. Plus, if you do have an orgasm, you get a nice little brain boost thanks to pleasure hormones oxytocin and dopamine. 

Masturbation doesn’t have to be a solo activity, either. You can masturbate alongside your partners, which can help you feel more sexually reconnected, even if you aren’t touching each other at all. Focus on how your body is reacting to certain types of touch. What does it want more of or less of? What is it ambivalent to? Are any of those reactions different from what you experience when you aren’t dealing with seasonal depression? 

You may process sensation differently when you’re dealing with depression than when you’re not. So, take note of that. What did you expect to feel great that didn’t? What felt good that you didn’t think would? What are you feeling curious about trying more of? 

Shifts in desire through our lifetime — yes, even seasonally — are totally normal, and understanding how those changes are presenting themselves to you can help you feel more in control of them. So, take your pleasure into your own hands and learn about what makes you feel good again. 

Change Your Stimuli 

Long winter nights are great for watching an entire season of your favorite show on Netflix, but marathon watch sessions aren’t great for your sex life. Being exposed to blue light (like your television, laptop, or smartphone) into the night can affect your sleep cycle, which can affect your levels of sexual desire. 

It’s easy to get stuck in the streaming rut, but often, it ends up being near (or, let’s be real, past) midnight before we know it, and that isn’t exactly setting ourselves up for sexual success. 

So, switch up your entertainment. Set a limit for how much TV you can watch each night and put your phone away after 8:30 pm. Opt for activities like board games, exercise, reading books, or doing puzzles. Not only will you be banishing the blue light-induced sleeplessness, but all of those activities require you to actually do something during them, even that “something” is just making a choice about your next move. If you want to take it a step further, try engaging with content that you find sexually stimulating, like reading erotica (either to yourself or with your partner). 

Make Time for Physical Connection

You don’t need to have sex to strengthen a physical connection with your partner. In his research, John Gottman found that couples who spent an intentional five hours per week on their relationship were the most successful. Part of that includes something they call a six-second kiss.

The six-second kiss gives you just enough time to get your brain out of work/errands/kids/task mode and into “hey, I’m here with you” mode. 

The same goes for dedicating time to make-out, even if you don’t feel up to sex. Set a timer for a few minutes and spend that time having a good old-fashioned make-out session with your partner. While yes, making out might lead you to want to explore other things, it also can just make you feel really good and wanted. The value of that feeling can’t be understated, especially during the winter season when we just might not feel great about ourselves. 

If you do decide that you want to have sex, know that it doesn’t need to be all-or-nothing. While you shouldn’t have sex just because you feel like it’s been “too long,” there isn’t actually anything wrong with having maintenance sex. 

“Maintenance sex” is the sex that you have when you know you want to feel sexually connected to your partner, but you just don’t have the energy to bang it out long into the night. Maintenance sex does what it says — it helps you maintain a connection to your partners. It can be a little lazy, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t paying attention to each other’s wants and needs. Slow down your pace, set a timer, and spend your time focusing on enjoying each other’s company. 

Here’s the thing: Sexual desire shifts throughout our lives. Yes, sometimes even with the seasons. So if your libido is lower this winter (due to seasonal depression or just because it’s freaking cold out), that’s okay. It’ll come back. In the meantime, focus on what makes you feel cozy and content. Besides, Phil the Groundhog says spring is just around the corner. 

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