We’re all familiar with the stereotypical entrepreneur. In today’s world, they work very hard, rest little, and put the job before themselves. They place faith in hardened mantras like “sleep is for the weak” or “the hustle doesn’t stop”. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s a lifestyle that often negatively impacts the mental health of those who do it. A study before the coronavirus pandemic found that two-thirds of Canadian entrepreneurs feel depressed at least once a week.

And that was before the pandemic – today, the full effect of the crisis is far graver. More than half of Canadian startups report their industry as being “affected significantly” by the pandemic and 84% of the wider population have seen a decline in mental health.

It is clear that today’s widespread uncertainty is manifesting in rising levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. What is not so clear – nor widely considered – is how this impacts an immensely important aspect of entrepreneurs’ private lives: their sexual health. Mental health is often a powerful predictor of one’s sexual health, with poor mental well-being associated with sexual risk behaviours, reduced sexual function, and increased use of sexual health services. For example, research shows that up to 20 percent of ED cases are psychological.

The connection between the mind and the body is strong, and it is especially delicate during times like these for entrepreneurs. This is one group which is significantly more likely to report a lifetime history of depression, ADHD, substance use conditions and bipolar diagnosis compared to non-entrepreneurs, and they are one group which is particularly vulnerable to the economic impacts of this pandemic.

Sex: A Matter Of The Mind

Sex is often thought of as purely physical. However, much of our sex lives happen in our brains. Getting turned on and staying that way is, for all genders, something which is strongly impacted by one’s thoughts and feelings. Anxiety or depression do not help people to get into the “mood” – so to speak – and this is an important consideration when 49 percent of entrepreneurs report suffering from one or more mental health conditions.

In reality, sex is a matter of the mind. Just like when someone is physically sick and unable to have sex, mental wellness or lack thereof prevents many from sexual activity. Anxiety or depression can strongly affect arousal, for example, and cause erectile dysfunction. Meanwhile, impairment of mental health is the most important risk factor for female sexual dysfunction, with studies confirming depression’s negative effects upon orgasmic experience and its association with increased sexual risk behaviors.

Poor mental wellbeing typically leads people to have less sex and less enjoyable sex. For example, this UK study found that individuals reporting treatment for depression were much more likely than those without any depression to have low sexual function. Likewise, those with depression were twice as likely to be dissatisfied with their sex lives compared to those without depression. The body might be engaging in the physical act of sex, but it is the mind which makes or breaks sexual fulfilment.

Love In The Time Of Coronavirus

The sexual health impact of poor mental wellbeing is thrown into relief by dual crises which have no end in sight. Societal states of flux only serve to intensify any negative emotional, psychological, and behavioural outcomes. Unfortunately, one does not need to look far – from people battling with insomnia to lowering work productivity at home – to witness signs of mental fatigue and consider their sexual repercussions.

For example, alcohol and cannabis users have increased their consumption during the pandemic – an alarming statistic when entrepreneurs are three times more likely than non-entrepreneurs to have substance abuse problems. Substance abuse never promotes positive mental health outcomes and often puts limitations or restrictions upon one’s sexual interest. This is because alcohol, cannabis, and other drugs can affect our brain in ways that make us less able to feel pleasure from sex for periods of time after their use. 

Meanwhile, many of us are sleeping less than ever before. The National Sleep Foundation recommends adults get at least seven hours of sleep a night to stay healthy. But researchers say more than one-third of American workers were not getting enough sleep in 2018, and now, during the pandemic, those numbers are increasing. Sleep and mental health are closely connected, with studies suggesting that a good night’s sleep helps foster both mental and emotional resilience. On the other hand, chronic sleep deprivation – something which many entrepreneurs struggle with – sets the stage for negative thinking and emotional vulnerability.

Setting Up For A Healthier Tomorrow

Entrepreneurs create new jobs, pull economies out of recessions, introduce useful products and create prosperity – but entrepreneurs are human, too. Thankfully, each and every entrepreneur can make informed decisions to improve their well-being. Amidst all of the noise, I encourage entrepreneurs to focus on what they can control. Drink water, exercise regularly, eat better food – we all know the cornerstones of good health, but simple elements like these often fall to the wayside during difficult moments.

One of the best pieces of advice for entrepreneurs at this moment is to educate themselves about their sexual health and mental health. This is especially important since only one in five entrepreneurs seek professional help. Those struggling in silence should know that there are plenty of great resources and “sex-positive” counsellors who are ready to help them to the other side of this pandemic and beyond.

Battling mental health issues does not mean losing one’s sexuality. At the same time, however, a lack of information surrounding sex and mental well-being can force entrepreneurs in this position to struggle far more than necessary. So, let’s take this moment to open up the conversation surrounding mental health and sexual health. Many today are already dealing with myriad other issues, let’s do our part not to add sexual health to the list.