Stress can have a pretty devastating effect on your sex life.
Stress can kill us—any doctor will agree. It wears us down, can destroy our sleep patterns, make us look older, even cause us to gain weight. It’s no surprise it can also be absolutely terrible for our sex life. "About 80 percent of my clinical caseload involves people who are over-stressed and anxious, and it can have a devastating effect on one's sex life," says John McGrail, PhD, a clinical hypnotherapist, self improvement expert and personal/relationship coach based in Los Angeles.
"Stress is a physiological and emotional response to a threat. It is biologically meant to be a short-term condition to get us out of a threatening or dangerous situation. In modern society it has become chronic and endemic and it does have a devastating effect on both the mind and body over the long-term, because the chemicals of stress—adrenaline and cortisol—are very corrosive, so it can cause all kinds of physical and emotional issues," says McGrail.
The irony is that if you can get yourself in the mood, sex actually REDUCES stress, says McGrail. "Sex actually helps reduce stress due to the secretion of endorphins. It also is good for the heart, immunity and both testosterone and estrogen levels," says McGrail.
Excessive fatigue is a by-product of stress; if you're tired you are not likely to want to engage in intimacy, which takes energy, says McGrail.
2. Physical reactions (or lack thereof)
If your mind "believes" it is under threat it can reduce libido in both men and women; even prevent a man from gaining an erection and a woman from being able to become aroused and lubricated. "Adrenaline and Cortisol (stress chemicals) are the antitheses of serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin, the feel good chemicals (endorphins) associated with happiness and intimacy," says McGrail.
Stress can be responsible for depleting your energy and destroying your desire. "It can manifest as an upset stomach, a pain in the neck, a backache that interferes with sexual intimacy, a headache that makes you too uncomfortable to be intimate," says Dr. Jane Greer, marriage and family therapist & SHRINK WRAP media commentator. If you aren’t feeling sexy yourself, sex is not likely to be on the table.
3. Ruined Mood
Everyone who has had a rough day and emerged crabby knows stress affects moods: "For example, when the economy is bad we see so many men come in and get treated for erectile dysfunction," says Sexual Health MD Dr. Jed Kaminetsky. The reason for this is that so many people's (men in particular) identity is focused on being successful, and having monetary gain. If they cannot do that, and don’t feel content, the rest of their body begins to shut down—starting with their sexual stamina.
"Stress is particularly disruptive to women, it's easier for men to be aroused. Women's environment and mood need to be appropriately set in order to enjoy sex. Stress impedes that enjoyment. Most women need to be able to clear their mind in order to experience enjoyable sex. Stress affects both genders sexually, but is more impactful on women," says Kaminetsky.
4. Relationship stress
When a couple are constantly jockeying for position and control, the hormone oxytocin (that promotes bonding, intimacy and empathy) is reduced, says Dr. Jeanette Raymond, a psychologist and expert on stress and its impact on relationships. Both parties are in defensive posture and neither wants to "give" themselves up in a vulnerable situation like sex.
"Stress hormones like cortisol and cytokines set them up for fight or flight, not close intimate connections. However sexual power games may arise—rough sex, S & M, sex where one partner ridicules the other in terms of their sexual prowess or ability to last," says Raymond.
5. Anxiety-related stress
When you stressed, are you in the mood to be ‘in the mood’? Many of us aren’t. Stress from anxiety, fear, anger results in a depletion of energy and a lack of libido, says Raymond. "Men may experience erectile dysfunction or premature ejaculation and impotency. Women may experience painful intercourse as their vaginal muscles tighten and there is no oxytocin to lubricate the vaginal walls. Foreplay is restricted and desire curbed,” says Raymond.
We also may not feel sexy, ourselves. Stress caused from the source is chronic, weakens the immune system and causes headaches, gastric and skin problems that interfere with the feeling of being attractive and desirable, says Raymond.
6. Lack of validation stress
Stress from this source alters the feeling of desire to be with the person who doesn't appreciate or validate your efforts and sacrifices, says Raymond. The need for validation supersedes libido. It changes the nature of the relationship from equal partners to parent/child, with the latter role person desperate to be noticed and attended to. In this scenario, sex is a no-no!