Our first paper in this field of research -- based on an earlier study on depression, anxiety and sexual problems -- has just been accepted for publication. This preliminary research suggested that depression, anxiety and sexual dysfunction symptoms (i.e. mood, stress and sex) are closely related for women, and may actually share an underlying factor. These strong relationships we found for women were generally in line with others' research. In the same study we found that depression and anxiety are closely related in men, but that sexual problems are almost entirely unrelated to men's mood and stress levels. This was in contrast to a lot of other research, and in spite of the effects performance anxiety and fear of failure are expected to have on erectile function. Similarly, relationship expectations around desire, and erectile function and orgasmic function (erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation) for men can lead to depression for sexually dysfunctional men, so we were surprised the fact that our results didn't show these effects.
We should be careful about over-simplifying these relationships though. They are obviously complex, and everyone will experience them differently. Despite the fact that these disorders have such a strong negative impact for so many people, we don't really know how they're related to each other, or whether one type of disorder is actually causing another. For example: some studies have found that depression and anxiety mean people are less likely to be in the mood for sex, find it harder to get (and stay) aroused, find it harder to orgasm, or control orgasm (e.g., premature ejaculation in men), and/or are more likely to experience sexual pain. For some people depression and/or anxiety will have the opposite effect, and actually lead to increased sexual desire and activity, which is known as ‘self-soothing’ (people seek intimacy to soothe their depression/anxiety symptoms). Other studies have found that sexual dysfunction can make people feel worried that something is wrong with them, worried about their sex lives and not being able to meet their partner’s needs, anxious that the symptoms won’t pass, down about themselves or that they are a failure, etc. (i.e. feel depressed and/or anxious). Some people may experience no association between these feelings at all.
The main thing I got out of this early research is that it’s crazy we don’t know more about these relationships that affect all of us on a day-to-day basis (and more than half of the Australian population at clinical symptom levels). So with this current study, we’re trying to untangle these relationships and figure out whether there are causal associations between the symptoms of these disorders. We're hoping that a better understanding of the relationships between these disorders will have significant implications for treatment.
You fine people are making it possible for us to learn more about these questions. By learning more about the relationships between positive feelings, relaxation and healthy sexual lives -- as well as the relationships between low mood, stress, and sexual problems -- we're taking important steps towards more effective treatment and diagnosis of these disorders, and learning strategies and techniques to foster and maintain a positive and highly-functional lifestyle.
So thank you all -- again, very much -- for your ongoing involvement and enthusiasm.
All the best,