Stress vs. Sex: How Stress Hinders Your Sensual Desires
We've all been there. Stressed to the point where being intimate with your partner or anyone is an idea you can't even entertain. Whether it comes from work, parenting or overall life, stress can put a choke hold on your sex life.
If you're in a relationship, stress can cause tension, especially if your partner's stress levels are different from your own. Regardless, having open and honest conversations about it can do wonders for your relationship with your partner and your relationship with stress.
So, why does stress impact our desire for sex?
Physical effects of stress
According to Lisa Dawn Hamilton, Ph.D., and Cindy M. Meston, Ph.D., in a 2013 study published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine, "chronic stressors, whether they are daily stressors or major life events, increase an individual's allostatic load (i.e., the body's response to the accumulation of chronic or recurring stressors). In turn, the individual's physiological systems need to change and adapt in an attempt to maintain allostasis."
When your body is experiencing extreme stress, it tries to compensate for the changes and level itself out, which can come at the sacrifice of sexual desire. Physical side effects can include limited blood flow to various parts of your body, including those required for a successful sexual encounter. Even if you're mentally and emotionally aroused, your body might not physically be able to cooperate.
Mental effects of stress
Stress impacts your mental health as well, which can negatively affect your sexuality just as much as physical obstacles do. In the long term, stress can increase your risk of mental health problems such as anxiety or depression, which carry their own threats to sexual well-being.
Anxiety or depression can cause your libido to plummet. If your mind is constantly thinking about a to-do list, working through problems at work or anxiously anticipating tasks for the next day, there's no room for feeling aroused.
Men vs. women
According to Ditza Katz, P.T., Ph.D., stress definitely affects sexual function, but there is a slight difference between the sexes.
"While it takes quite a bit of stress to affect a male's sexuality, it may only take a fleeting negative thought to kill it [for women]," Katz said. "For a female, stress may make climax difficult to reach or even not reach at all. Or, it may make it difficult to get into it as her mind may be too consumed with whatever is stressing her out at the time."
Tatyana Dyachenko, a sex therapist and relationship expert, said for men, extreme stress can lead to problem such as erectile dysfunction. This is a more common culprit for ED in men under 30.
"The good news is that this is a form of psychological erectile dysfunction, and if the stress is managed, the problem should go away," Dyachenko added.
Managing stress to mitigate impact on sexuality
If you've been experiencing elevated stress levels, making the prospect of sex feel burdensome or exhausting, you're not alone. There are many things you can do to decrease your stress levels and increase your libido.
"Actions that can help with stress include exercise, meditation, journaling, reading, self-care and spending time with loved ones," Dyachenko said. "If you find yourself really struggling to manage your stress levels, get in touch with a healthcare professional."
There's nothing wrong with seeking help to manage your stress, and doing so will help you feel in control of your life again.
Many people find it difficult or embarrassing to seek help, especially when it comes to something as personal and sensitive as their libido. The shouldn't. Plus, a lot of people don't have a therapist they see regularly, making that first step a bit of a mystery. Video visits have become a viable option for most people, and more physicians and therapists have added them as a service. Giddy telehealth makes it easy to get connected to a qualified healthcare professional who can help you manage stress and get your sex drive back.