I know I’m depressed when I start masturbating not out of horniness, but out of a desire to just feel something. I know I’m really depressed when I stop masturbating completely.
Heads up: this one talks about severe depression and briefly mentions suicidal ideation. I also discuss needle play in a kink context. Please take care of yourselves.
The reasons for the former are perhaps self-explanatory. When you’re depressed, you can feel adrift, listless and lost. Finding a way to simply become grounded in your body again can be tremendously helpful. Orgasm releases endorphines and dopamine, the body’s natural “happy” chemicals. That’s why you sometimes feel spacey and euphoric after really good sex.
As both a writer and a person with a laundry list of mental health issues, I spend a lot of my life in my head. And my head isn’t always a calm and happy place to be. This means that the opportunity to get out of my head and into my body is precious. Masturbation can be a way to give that to myself.
Even if I don’t really want to masturbate, I sometimes make myself because I know it will help. It’s a bit like making yourself drink a glass of water when you’re feeling crappy. You don’t wanna, exactly, but you know it’ll make you feel better so you do it. And usually it does help, at least for a short while.
The latter, though, is harder to both explain and deal with.
When I’m in my deepest, darkest pit of depression – the kind where I either cry for days or lie on the sofa doing nothing while I seriously contemplate killing myself – I sort of lose the ability to properly feel anything physical. I’ll know intellectually that I am, for example, hungry or thirsty or needing to pee or that my left arm has gone to sleep. But I don’t really feel it, at least not in the usual way. It’s like all sensation is masked under a thick layer of cotton wool or a heavy fog. The best way I can describe it is that my sadness is so dense that it sits around my body like a physical barrier.
It’s at this point in depression that my sexuality completely vanishes. It’s at this stage where I’ll recoil if a lover touches me, and beg my partners not to talk about anything sexy. “I can’t bear it,” I wrote to one of my lovers the last time I was this sort of depressed. “Can we just forget I even have genitals for a bit?”
It’s at times like this that I neglect this blog and my social media accounts and seriously consider just shutting it all down because I’ll never ever want to have sex again anyway , right?
I think there’s another element to it, too. Depression, for many sufferers, is intimately bound up with feelings of worthlessness and self-loathing. This is definitely the case for me. When I’m in the grips of it, I feel on a deep level that I’m somehow bad, broken, not worthy. And of course that drives a feeling that I don’t deserve pleasure, so why would I have sex or masturbate?
I’ve tried, in the past, to use kink to pull myself out of this headspace. The results have been mixed. Partners are often, very understandably, reluctant to do things like hit me when my ability to consent may be compromised by my mental state. This is especially true when I’m in the aforementioned self-loathing spiral. On at least one occasion, a Dominant partner has realised that I’m asking them to hurt me not out of kinky desire, but out of a feeling that I need to be punished for some fundamental flaw in me… and, rightfully, refused to play under those circumstances.
On another occasion a few years ago, I invited Fondlebeast over when I was in the depths of this kind of depression. I asked him to do play piercing (sometimes called needle play) on me. The express reason I asked for this was “I want to feel something so I know I’m still alive”. And you know what? It actually did help.
As an educator I don’t necessarily advocate for this approach. But in that instance and in that time, it was what I needed and it worked. There was also a very specific relational context at play. I’ve known Fondlebeast for well over a decade and we’ve played together dozens if not hundreds of times.
To bring this back around to masturbation, though, I really don’t have any easy conclusions or solutions. When the fog of depression is this dense, I don’t think the “just make yourself masturbate because you know it’ll help” would be effective. Chances are I wouldn’t physically be able to reach orgasm or probably even feel much pleasure anyway.
Sometimes mental illness just fucking sucks and all we can do is sit in the suckyness, waiting for it to pass. One of the most useful coping strategies I’ve found is to remember that it is always temporary. The fog always does lift. My sex drive always does come back. Eventually, I feel wanting of and deserving of pleasure again.
Something else I’ve found helpful is to think of my sex drive as the canary in the coal mine of my mental health. Under this schema, losing all desire is a warning light to heed, rather than a symptom to manage away.
How do you handle masturbation and sex when you’re depressed, lovelies?
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