I don't know about you ladies, but when I'm not in the mood, she's not in the mood - and when I say she, I mean my treasure box. There have been countless occasions where I've wanted to be intimate with my boyfriend, but I couldn't just seem to bring myself to do it. Sometimes, I'm completely out of it and don't even want to be touched. It's not that I don't want to, but sometimes I don't want to - it may not make sense reading it, but ladies, you know what I mean, right?
During my depression spells, I usually don't want so much as an arm to be around me and the idea of sexual activity doesn't turn me on as much as it usually does. When I'm stressed out and my anxiety levels are to the roof, the last thing on my mind is to relieve my stress with body-to-body meetings with my boyfriend; and that's OK, too.
Throughout the duration of my depression spells and anxiety attacks during my stay here in quarantine with my boyfriend, we haven't been exactly getting to know each other more in the physical sense. It's not that I am not attracted to him or don't want to be intimate, but my desire for sexual pleasure is compromised and I don't feel my sexiest when my mind is elsewhere and I feel like I'm not even in control of my own body. In order to help combat the stigma surrounding sex and its relationship with mental health, I spoke with sex educators, bloggers and mental health professionals.
How Does Your Mental Health Affect Your Sex Life
Mental Health, Sex & Intimacy
"Mental health is key in arousal and libido. If there is instability with arousal, there is often an effect in libido. When anxiety, depression, or stress is high, libido can often disappear," explains Dr. Lexx Brown-James, CEO of The Institute for Sexuality and Intimacy, LLC. Mental health is an integral part of physical health and the central nervous system (CNS). When our mental health is compromised, our physical and emotional health follows, which translates into sexual activity, or lack thereof, and our inability to connect emotionally and sexually with our partners.
"When your mental health is off, it can be harder to desire sexual intimacy at all with your partner," sex educator and blexApp coach Tatyannah King states about the impact on your sexuality and confidence during the decline of your mental health. "This can create emotional and sexual distance between couples because someone may feel like their partner isn't attracted to them anymore whereas the person whose mental health is struggling truly finds it hard to stay present because their mind is preoccupied with the many things that are making them feel anxious."
Managing Medication Side Effects, Lower Sex Drive & Sexual Dysfunction
For some of us, mental health is managed through medication and traditional medicine. However, sometimes medication can have a negative side effect on intimacy and connectivity. "Some medication can cause a decrease in libido and affect the length of time it takes to be aroused, making it take longer to get aroused and hard to reach any type of desired orgasm," Dr. Lexx Brown-James adds in.
When life stressors cause distress in our physical health and are managed through prescription medication, sexual wellness can be compromised and not-so-positively affected. "Medications can be disruptive to a woman's level of sexual arousal triggering reduced vaginal lubrication thus resulting in associated pain with sex. Negative side effects of medication will influence an individual's mood swings, reduce sexual desire, lower libido, eliminate sex drive or desire to orgasm," sex eduator, blexApp coach, and founder of pauseWHAT? Robyn Harris says about the negative sexual side effects and emotions that are often paired with medication.
"Medication induced sexual dysfunctions can lead to feelings of embarrassment, severe anxiety, emotional alienation and personal distress," Robyn continues. "If intimacy and sex connectivity issues develop through the use of medication, visit your doctor and be openly candid about your concerns."
Stigmas and Sexually Liberated Women
Like Estelle once said, "I can be a freak every day of every week," and I have no shame in my game. Women are oftentimes shamed for being naturally sexually beings and labeled as "promiscuous", "too sexy" or "thirsty". "There are countless negative stigmas against women that take control of their sexuality," starts certified sex educator Irma G. "Purity culture that stresses virginity until marriage and the idea of one's worth being reduced if premarital sex was had, and even more so when one has had multiple sex partners. You're basically a Jezebel at that point - but I would like to point out that there is absolutely nothing wrong with being a Jezebel," Irma exclaims. "Hell, I'm one!"
From catcalling to slut-shaming and rape culture, the community enhances the notion of women "asking for it" by wearing "revealing" clothing and embracing their sexuality when sexually assaulted or harassed, anywhere between the workplace to a nightclub and within their own homes. Even those who are deemed as anything set apart from the heteronormative standard is put more at risk due to their occupation, sexual orientation, gender identifcation or gender performance. "Sex workers and trans-women are seen as people with no value due to either their job in sexuality or for their identity," Irma adds. "This causes violence against them to rise and for rape culture to respond with 'they asked for it' or 'they shouldn't have been doing that'.These groups are seen as less-deserving of respect for simply existing or making a living."
Talk To Me Nice
OK, so we all remember that awkward "Birds and the Bees" talk we got about how sex works when we were younger, right? While that may have been a good breakdown for the youngins to destroy the myth about the stork dropping off our children like the United States Postal Service, we as a society need to be held accountable for driving positive conversation about the relationship between mental health and sex. "There are still massive taboos between mental health and sexual wellness, which is dangerous considering how interconnected the two are," explains writer, sex educator and podcaster Cameron Glover. "I've written about the need for us to have more conversations about how the two are interconnected before, but it bears repeating that we can't keep the two separate. Sexual wellness is part of wellness, and if we're shying away from much-needed, solution-driven conversations on how people can navigate it safely because we're afraid of touching on 'taboo' or uncomfortable topics, then we're doing a massive disservice to our communities."
"It's also important that sexuality professionals are brought forward into spaces where health and wellness are being discussed, and not just pigeonholed to talking about sex in connection to pleasure and anatomy," the Sex Ed in Color Podcast host shares. "These topics are important, but if we want to move forward with integrating sexual wellness and mental health, sex educators need to be brought into spaces where both are being discussed."
Masturbation, Self-Love and Mental Health
Everyone needs a bit of self-love, but I don't mean the spa day and glass of Chardonnay. I'm talking about self-love in a physical, seductive, natural way called masturabation. Masturbation oftentimes has a negative connotation to it that it's shameful, sinful or just downright nasty - but that's not the case at all. "Masturbation has been shown to have many mental health benefits. Masturbation may increase sexual desire and feelings of pleasure and satisfaction, improve mood, promote relaxation, relieve stress and anxiety, ease stress-related tension, and improve sleep," says Dr. Wendasha Jenkins Hall about the positive side effects of masturbation.
The women's sexual health and wellness researcher and educator continues to shed light upon the relationship between mental illnesses and masturbation. "However, masturbation is often associated with anxiety and depression. It has not been shown to cause depression or anxiety, but masturbation can exacerbate them in some people. Typically, it's our cultural, religious, or personal norms and convictions around sex and self-pleasure that can lead to feelings of guilt and shame, especially if we're taught to view sex in a negative light. If this is the case, a person may experience depression or anxiety after masturbating, or having sex in general."
She later adds that though rare, some people believe that an addiction to masturbation is possible in some people, which can then become problematic if it interferes with one's daily life, relationships, and responsibilities.
Oftentimes when I don't want to have sex, it's because my stress levels and anxiety are all over the place and my yoni can't stand the pressure of it all. As your mental health fluctuates, so can your libido and it's important to listen to the needs of your body as it ebbs and flows with your mental wellness. "I would encourage people first to listen to their bodies. While things like frequency or length of sex might feel important, resist the urge to try and shame or judge your body into behaving differently; spoiler alert – it likely won't work. Instead, center pleasure," advises Shadeen Francis, LMFT.
"What would feel good to you? Is there any way you could connect to your body that could feel pleasurable or satisfying?"
The sex and relationship therapist shares with xoNecole. "Examples might be sitting in the sun, getting spanked, taking time to lotion your skin, laying under a heavy blanket, or being tickled. Communicate with your sexual partner [or partners] about what is happening, what kind of support you need, and what kinds of play you're available for. It is not unusual for partners to be surprised, disappointed, or even frustrated by the changes, however mental health is health, and nobody should be shamed or judged for being unwell."
Featured image by Shutterstock
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Exclusive: Gabrielle Union On Radical Transparency, Being Diagnosed With Perimenopause And Embracing What’s Next
Whenever Gabrielle Union graces the movie screen, she immediately commands attention. From her unforgettable scenes in films like Bring It On and Two Can Play That Game to her most recent film, in which she stars and produces Netflix’s The Perfect Find, there’s no denying that she is that girl.
Off-screen, she uses that power for good by sharing her trials and tribulations with other women in hopes of helping those who may be going through the same things or preventing them from experiencing them altogether. Recently, the Flawless by Gabrielle Union founder partnered with Clearblue to speak at the launch of their Menopause Stage Indicator, where she also shared her experience with being perimenopausal.
In a xoNecoleexclusive, the iconic actress opens up about embracing this season of her life, new projects, and overall being a “bad motherfucker.” Gabrielle reveals that she was 37 years old when she was diagnosed with perimenopause and is still going through it at 51 years old. Mayo Clinic says perimenopause “refers to the time during which your body makes the natural transition to menopause, marking the end of the reproductive years.”
“I haven't crossed over the next phase just yet, but I think part of it is when you hear any form of menopause, you automatically think of your mother or grandmother. It feels like an old-person thing, but for me, I was 37 and like not understanding what that really meant for me. And I don't think we focus so much on the word menopause without understanding that perimenopause is just the time before menopause,” she tells us.
Photo by Brian Thomas
"But you can experience a lot of the same things during that period that people talk about, that they experienced during menopause. So you could get a hot flash, you could get the weight gain, the hair loss, depression, anxiety, like all of it, mental health challenges, all of that can come, you know, at any stage of the menopausal journey and like for me, I've been in perimenopause like 13, 14 years. When you know, most doctors are like, ‘Oh, but it's usually about ten years, and I'm like, ‘Uhh, I’m still going (laughs).’”
Conversations about perimenopause, fibroids, and all the things that are associated with women’s bodies have often been considered taboo and thus not discussed publicly. However, times are changing, and thanks to the Gabrielle’s and the Tia Mowry’s, more women are having an authentic discourse about women’s health. These open discussions lead to the creation of more safe spaces and support for one another.
“I want to be in community with folks. I don't ever want to feel like I'm on an island about anything. So, if I can help create community where we are lacking, I want to be a part of that,” she says. “So, it's like there's no harm in talking about it. You know what I mean? Like, I was a bad motherfucker before perimenopause. I’m a bad motherfucker now, and I'll be a bad motherfucker after menopause. Know what I’m saying? None of that has to change. How I’m a bad motherfucker, I welcome that part of the change. I'm just getting better and stronger and more intelligent, more wise, more patient, more compassionate, more empathetic. All of that is very, very welcomed, and none of it should be scary.”
The Being Mary Jane star hasn’t been shy about her stance on therapy. If you don’t know, here’s a hint: she’s all for it, and she encourages others to try it as well. She likens therapy to dating by suggesting that you keep looking for the right therapist to match your needs. Two other essential keys to her growth are radical transparency and radical acceptance (though she admits she is still working on the latter).
"I was a bad motherfucker before perimenopause. I’m a bad motherfucker now, and I'll be a bad motherfucker after menopause. Know what I’m saying? None of that has to change. How I’m a bad motherfucker, I welcome that part of the change."
Gabrielle Union and Kaavia Union-Wade
Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images
“I hope that a.) you recognize that you're not alone. Seek out help and know that it's okay to be honest about what the hell is happening in your life. That's the only way that you know you can get help, and that's also the only other way that people know that you are in need if there's something going on,” she says, “because we have all these big, very wild, high expectations of people, but if they don't know what they're actually dealing with, they're always going to be failing, and you will always be disappointed. So how about just tell the truth, be transparent, and let people know where you are. So they can be of service, they can be compassionate.”
Gabrielle’s transparency is what makes her so relatable, and has so many people root for her. Whether through her TV and film projects, her memoirs, or her social media, the actress has a knack for making you feel like she’s your homegirl. Scrolling through her Instagram, you see the special moments with her family, exciting new business ventures, and jaw-dropping fashion moments. Throughout her life and career, we’ve seen her evolve in a multitude of ways. From producing films to starting a haircare line to marriage and motherhood, her journey is a story of courage and triumph. And right now, in this season, she’s asking, “What’s next?”
“This is a season of discovery and change. In a billion ways,” says the NAACP Image Award winner. “The notion of like, ‘Oh, so and so changed. They got brand new.’ I want you to be brand new. I want me to be brand new. I want us to be always constantly growing, evolving. Having more clarity, moving with different purpose, like, and all of that is for me very, very welcomed."
"I want you to be brand new. I want me to be brand new. I want us to be always constantly growing, evolving. Having more clarity, moving with different purpose, like, and all of that is for me very, very welcomed."
She continues, “So I'm just trying to figure out what's next. You know what I mean? I'm jumping into what's next. I'm excited going into what's next and new. I'm just sort of embracing all of what life has to offer.”
Look out for Gabrielle in the upcoming indie film Riff Raff, which is a crime comedy starring her and Jennifer Coolidge, and she will also produce The Idea of You, which stars Anne Hathaway.
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Feature image by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images
Victoria Monét has had an incredible year. Thanks to the success of the widely popular “On My Mama” that went viral, the singer/ songwriter’s Jaguar II album debuted in the top 10 of Billboard’s Top R&B Albums chart. She also went on to headline her own sold-out tour. So, when the MTV VMAs happened in September, everyone was surprised to learn that Victoria’s team was told that it was “too early” for the “Smoke” artist to perform at the award show. However, a couple of months later, the mom of one received seven Grammy nominations, including “Best R&B Album” and “Record Of The Year.”
Victoria is currently in London and stopped by The Dotty Show on Apple Music and shared how she feels “validated” after being dismissed by the VMAs.
“It really does feel nice and validating because, in my head, the reason why I wanted to be a performer at the VMAs or award ceremonies like that is because I felt like I am at the place where I should. I would work really hard to put on the best show that I could, and I was excited to do so,” she said.
“And I guess the best way to describe it for me is like when you're like on a sports team, and the coach is like, ‘No, you gotta sit this one out.’ When they finally put you in, and then you score all these points, and it feels like that feeling. You're like, yes, I knew it wasn't tripping, but I knew I worked hard for this, and so it's been super validating to just have these accolades come after a moment like that, and I know the fans feel vindicated for me.
While her fans called the VMAs out on their decision, the “Moment” singer kept it cute and is still open to performing at the iconic award show. “I feel no ill towards them because it's just maybe that's just truly how they felt at the time, but I hope their mind has changed,” she admitted.
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Feature image by Amy Sussman/WireImage for Parkwood