The link between depression and sex is a complicated one. It is well known that some prescription treatments for depression can lower sexual activity and interest. However, research has found that depression may be linked to higher sexual risk-taking.
It might seem logical that those with a lower severity of depression might be the ones taking more risks, while those with higher levels would have a reduction of sexual activity overall. New research has found this not true. Those with higher levels of depression reported more risk-taking behavior.
The reason for this type of behavior, as explained by a psychologist, might be in the way people cope with depression. Some people are internalizers, they cope by withdrawing from society and looking inward. These types usually have reduced sexual activity as they have less sexual opportunities. The other type of people being externalizers, coping by looking outward. This type of person can take part in risky behaviors, such as sexual risk-taking or substance abuse. The actions they take are seen as a way to temporarily relieve emotional pain or to harm themselves.
Interestingly, genetic factors can play a role in how people cope with depression. For example, those with genes that make their dopamine receptors less sensitive, may have a higher rate of depression and risky behavior. This type of behavior can be seen as a type of self medicating, trying to increase dopamine production.
References: Miltz, A. R., Rodger, A. J., Phillips, A. N., Sewell, J., Edwards, S., Allan, S., … & Lampe, F. C. (2021). Opposing associations of depression with sexual behaviour: implications for epidemiological investigation among gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men. Sexually Transmitted Infections.