Sexual Desire in Women: Paradoxical and Nonlinear Associations with Anxiety and Depressed Mood

Arch Sex Behav. 2022 Nov;51(8):3807-3822. doi: 10.1007/s10508-022-02400-w. Epub 2022 Sep 19.


The aim of the present study was to expand previous findings regarding paradoxical effects of negative mood on sexual desire. This was done by considering the full range of depressed mood and anxiety symptoms and using methods that are unaffected by recall bias and that don't require participants to infer causal associations between their mood and sexual desire. A convenience sample of 213 university students completed daily questionnaires for approximately two months. Multilevel random-effects models were used to estimate average effects for the entire sample and to test for variability across participants in the associations between negative mood and sexual desire, controlling also for potential influences of the menstrual cycle. Previous findings showing that some women report decreased sexual desire and others increased sexual desire when depressed or anxious were confirmed. More importantly, for both depressed mood and anxiety, results demonstrated the presence of within-person paradoxical associations, whereby there were some women for whom both low and high levels of negative mood were associated with the same change (an increase or a decrease) in sexual desire. Related to these diverse response patterns, paradoxical associations between negative mood and sexual desire were also present at low levels of negative mood. The discussion underlines the importance of considering individual variability and multifactorial nonlinear models when studying sexual desire.

Keywords: Anxiety; Depression; Sexual desire; Women.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Affect / physiology
  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Anxiety* / complications
  • Depression*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Libido / physiology
  • Sexual Behavior
  • Surveys and Questionnaires