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How stress impacts your sex life

And what you can do about it

Stress has a way of piling up, from little things like your commute and your annoying co-workers to bigger things like your finances and the never-ending news cycle. Unsurprisingly, all of these stressors can affect your mental health.

But repeatedly feeling stressed out can also affect your physical health; it can contribute to heart disease and other health problems, for example. And (surprise!) your sex life is also in jeopardy if your stress goes unmanaged.

“Stress has the potential to impact us physically, emotionally, and relationally,” says Florida psychologist and certified sex therapist Rachel Needle. “Chronic stress can lead to too much cortisol being produced over long periods of time, which can lower libido.”

Here’s how it works. Under stress, your body goes into survival mode, and it reacts by producing more cortisol instead of sex hormones. Cortisol is known as the “stress hormone” because it boosts your body’s response to stress by controlling blood sugar levels, regulating metabolism and reducing inflammation. And sex hormones (estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone) influence sexual desire and functioning.

In other words, when you’re stressed, your body focuses on essential functions rather than non-essential ones (like sex). In addition to libido loss, people who are stressed may also experience anxiety and headaches, and people with vaginas might experience irregular menstrual cycles.

As this plays out over and over again in our sex lives, psychologists believe it conditions our bodies and minds to not be able to perform sexually. And that’s too bad, because sex is actually a great stress reliever.

Fortunately, if you suspect that stress is getting in the way of getting busy, there are ways to tackle the issue:

1. Talk to your partner.

Perhaps the best thing you can do is to talk honestly and open with your partner. If you’ve been less interested in sex lately, your partner might not understand why and may be feeling rejected or unwanted.

Talking to your partner can go a long way toward avoiding misunderstandings and hurt feelings, and it also presents an opportunity to talk about what might help you get in the mood. (See also: How to get in the mood when you’re not feeling so frisky.)

2. Exercise.

From dancing to running, pretty much every form of exercise can help reduce stress. According to the Mayo Clinic, physical activity increases the production of endorphins, chemicals in your brain that trigger positive feelings. Endorphins also improve your mood and sleep. So you’ll not only be more likely to be in the mood, but you’ll also be better rested, so you won’t have to skip out on sex to go to bed early.

3. Try other stress relievers.

Experts recommend deep breathing and other relaxation exercises to alleviate stress, improve your mood, and/or reduce anxiety.

4. Seek help from a professional.

You can also try talking to your health care provider or a mental health expert. An expert can offer treatments and strategies to manage stress so that you can enjoy a healthier sex life; but getting help for stress goes far beyond that. It’s important for your mental health and well-being to be able to cope with the daily grind and life events as they occur.

Looking for more ways to destress? Bedsider’s got you covered.

Julissa Treviño is a freelance science and health journalist based in Texas. She has written for Popular Science, Medium, Vice, Smithsonian and other outlets.

read more about: better sex, health, how-to, problem solving

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