Can Sexual Frustration Lead to Depression?

Michelle Overman, LMFT
February 14, 2019

A common metaphor used in psychology is the iceberg metaphor. The majority of an iceberg’s mass lies below the surface where people cannot see it. When applying it to emotions, it can shed light on the way people think and feel. A person’s secondary emotions like anger or indifference is what most people see. However, beneath the surface lies the primary emotion that is much deeper like fear, self-doubt, and pain. The iceberg metaphor provides an explanation for how something more surface level like sexual frustration can lead to a deeper emotion like depression. Sexual frustration might be the face for more primary emotions that can lead to symptoms of depression. Sexual frustration can be the secondary emotion to the following:

sexual frustration depression

Loneliness. It can come from being away from your partner. It can come from a lack of sexual intimacy. Whatever the case may be for each person, sexual frustration can be a secondary emotion to loneliness and emptiness that results from a desire to have intimacy. When that desire is left unfulfilled, it can leave a person feeling alone.

Lack of connection. Particularly if someone is in an intimate relationship, sexual frustration can be the secondary emotion to a lack of connection. Sexual intimacy can be an invaluable way people connect with one another. That closeness and intimacy can provide a deep and long-lasting connection between them. Sexual frustration can come from a desire to connect with someone else.

Feeling unwanted. When a person is not able to connect, it can leave them to create a narrative in their mind. For someone who is sexually frustrated, a primary emotion or narrative can develop of feeling unwanted. They might believe they are not connecting sexually because no one wants to be with them which can feed into loneliness as well.

Not feeling good enough. Similarly to feeling unwanted, a person can develop the narrative that they are not good enough. In their mind, they might feel and believe they are not worthy enough to have someone want to be with them. They might think through what they feel they are lacking as an individual and ruminate on their flaws. These feelings can mix with feeling unwanted and lonely.

Sexual frustration can seem superficial and like a surface level type of problem. That is why it is helpful to look at the iceberg metaphor. When looking at some of the primary emotions that could be beneath sexual frustration, it makes sense how someone might become depressed. Loneliness, a lack of connection, feeling unwanted or not good enough, and isolation can spark symptoms of depression.

Most people are relational beings and relationships can be the driving force in a person’s life. People tend to be relationally motivated. Sexual intimacy is often a key part in most relationships. When sexual intimacy is lost, infrequent, or non-existent, sexual frustration can occur. However, if you look beneath the surface at sexual frustration, you will often see much more. It is important to take sexual frustration seriously by looking beyond it to the primary emotion that might be present. Simply satisfying the physical desire might not address the deeper issue. However, by addressing the deeper issue and the primary emotion, symptoms of depression can be addressed and improved.

Michelle Overman, LMFT

Michelle is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist working as a counselor for students, faculty, and staff at Abilene Christian University in Texas. She works with athletes, bridging the gap between athletics and mental health at ACU. Michelle ran her own private practice in Austin, Texas where she worked with a diverse population, including couples and families.