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J Sex Med. 2012 Feb;9(2):505-13. doi: 10.1111/j.1743-6109.2011.02533.x. Epub 2011 Oct 24.

Specificity of anhedonic depression and anxious arousal with sexual problems among sexually healthy young adults.

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Department of Psychology, Kent State University in Kent, OH 44242, USA.



Past research has suggested that depression and anxiety are similarly associated with sexual problems. However, methodological limitations may have hindered the ability of prior studies to detect potential specificity between depression and anxiety with distinct sexual problems. Specifically, previous studies have frequently used measures that confound depression and anxiety, focused exclusively on populations with medical complications, and failed to account for the iatrogenic effects of antidepressants.


Clark and Watson's tripartite model was used to differentiate anxious and depressive symptoms and examine their associations with indices of sexual functioning. Specifically, we examined how general distress, anxious arousal, and anhedonia are differentially related to sexual desire, arousal, erection and lubrication difficulties, orgasm achievement, pain, satisfaction, avoidance, pleasure, concerns, and sexual self-image.


In a cross-sectional study, 1,258 young men and women completed the Female Sexual Function Index, Male Sexual Function Index (adapted for the current investigation), Profile of Female Sexual Function, and Mood and Anxiety Symptom Questionnaire.


Zero-order correlations revealed some specificity between the three affective constructs, as they were associated with sexual problems. However, multiple regression analyses revealed clearer patterns, showing that anhedonic depression was more uniquely related to most sexual problems among women, whereas the relations of anxiety and depression with male sexual problems were more mixed.


This study of young subjects not identified to have affective or sexual disorders suggests that specificity exists between depression and anxiety as they relate to sexual functioning, and that this specificity varies between genders. Such findings highlight the importance of considering the unique influences of anxiety and depression in the conceptualization and treatment of sexual dysfunction.

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