When Is Sex Bad For Your Mental Health? (+ What To Do About It)

Published on: 01 Feb 2018
Hip couple sitting and chatting

The following is intended for readers 18+

Sex is wonderful under the right circumstances, but it can turn into something not-so-great and unhealthy when it becomes a way of acting out, or a coping mechanism for other, deeper issues.

Especially when your mental health isn’t on it’s A-game, your sex life can get out of whack.

Here are some less than ideal decisions around sex one can make … and how to avoid them.

Unhealthy Decision #1: Sex for Self-Esteem

The amount of sex you have should not determine your self-worth! Self-esteem should come from within, not from getting laid! Some people use sex as validation for multiple things. For example, you may turn to intimacy to prove to yourself that you’re sexy, or maybe to prove something even deeper, like being worthy of love. Maybe you don’t even want to have sex at all — you just want to know that people want to be intimate with you because you’re seeking approval.

How to Avoid It: Cultivate Your Self-Worth

Easier said than done, I know! But there are plenty of ways to boost confidence and body image that don’t involve sex, such as practicing great self-care and avoiding preoccupation with social media. When you want to have sex with a new partner, take a step back and ask yourself why you want to get intimate with them. Is it because you’re super attracted to them, or is it because you need an ego boost? In the grand scheme of things, you’re going to need a lot more than sex to feel good about yourself.

Unhealthy Decision #2: Sex to Fill a Void

Everyone goes through rough patches in life which can result in feelings of emptiness. We all have different ways of coping, and unfortunately, many times these involve rather unhealthy behaviors like doing drugs, excessively drinking alcohol, gambling, or — you guessed it — loads of casual sex! While sex might temporarily fill a void and make you feel some happiness, it may leave you feeling even more lonely and empty than you were before.

How to Avoid It: Find a Healthier Way to Cope

Self-care, self-care, self-care! It may take some experimentation to figure out what’s most beneficial for you, but once you find the magic fix, stick with it. You may find solace in taking extra initiative to spend more time with friends or family. You may also turn to doing good deeds, like volunteering at an animal shelter. These are things that can bring you joy and make you feel more full. You might also find a new hobby to indulge in that you can pour a lot of energy into. Try something active like kickboxing or creative like painting!

Unhealthy Decision #3: Sex to Manipulate People

Regardless of gender, people may try to have sex with their partner in hopes of getting them to like them more. Maybe sex is used to try to lure or guilt someone into commiting to a relationship. While many healthy relationships do start with a sex-first approach (it’s 2018, people!) the motive of the sex should never be to manipulate someone in any way. The harsh reality is, just because you have sex with somebody, it doesn’t mean they’re going to want a relationship with you. While sex is a big part of relationships, it isn’t the determining factor of whether or not one will blossom. Although sex is special and intimate, it doesn’t always result in a strong emotional bond.

How to Avoid it: Pursue Healthy Relationships First

Whether you’re meeting a potential mate on a dating app or in person, there are plenty ways to foster a healthy relationship, sex aside. As always, communication is key. If you’re feeling unstable, let your partner know to help them understand where you’re coming from. If that scares them away, you know they’re not the right person for you, and it’s time to move on. Remember healthy relationships are hard work, and you’ll have to put time and effort in to really commit to one.

Unhealthy Decision #4: Saying “No” to Protection

…to try to feel closer to someone.

Come on, rookie move! Physically, this is the riskiest decision out of the bunch. Not using protection can result STDs and/or unwanted pregnancy. I get it — the thought of not using a condom when “making love” to someone sounds pretty intimate, right? But, unless you’ve both talked about it in detail, been recently STD tested, are are 1000% on the same page about it, avoid it! While you might think it’s a great idea, you have no idea what the result might be, and again, this is using sex to manipulate someone.

How to Avoid It: Get Closer in Other Ways

There are plenty of other ways to feel closer and build a stronger bond with your partner besides getting it on sans protection. Find a common interest and indulge in it together. Talk about your deepest darkest secrets, fears, and dreams for the future. Have a night alone, just the two of you, no phones allowed! Stick to healthy romance and develop trust (crucial in healhy relationships). Resist temptation to “go at it raw” by always keep condoms in your purse, wallet, or bedside table. This way, you’ll be more likely to be responsible. No glove, no love — right?

Unhealthy Decision #5: Acting Out from Mental Illness

Some people who live with Bipolar Disorder experience hypersexuality during their episodes. Manic episodes in general are often characterized by “high” periods with lots of energy and higher activity levels — and this can include their sexual energy. During a manic episode, the person is more likely to have a libido through the roof, as well as be more likely to partake in unsafe sex. Borderline Personality Disorder is another culprit of risky sex. People with BPD are often impulsive with many aspects of their life — sex included. Not to mention, borderline can cause a person to feel extreme attachment to people they care about, and people they have slept with.

How to Avoid It: Channel Your Energy Elsewhere

And be proactive about communication.

If you’re in a relationship, have an open discussion with your partner about the changes in your libido during episodes so they know what to expect and be prepared to help and comfort you. Since you have more energy than usual, why not channel it into something more positive and healthy? Get in some cardio exercise. Go for a run or head to a class. If your energy still isn’t calming down, well, some masturbation never hurt anybody! If you’re borderline, it can help to communicate with your partner or partners to help them understand BPD, since it’s often so misunderstood. These characteristics of both bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder are also a great topic to work on with your therapist. If you’re working with a psychiatrist and taking medication, this is definitely something you should speak about with them, as well.

Navigating the world as a sexual being is hard enough. When you throw some unhealthy and risky behaviors in there, your overall wellness is truly put at risk. While it can be hard to think rationally in the heat of the moment, try to think about all the benefits of being responsible, and all of the pitfalls you’re avoiding. Give yourself on the back! It takes practice, but you’ll get there, and you’ll be glad you did. After all, what’s sexier than healthy sex?

Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

Our goal at Talkspace is to provide the most up-to-date, valuable, and objective information on mental health-related topics in order to help readers make informed decisions.

Articles contain trusted third-party sources that are either directly linked to in the text or listed at the bottom to take readers directly to the source.

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