When your sexuality is giving you a hard time, you need to address the underlying problem.
By Maj Wismann
Do you live a stressful life? Have you ever wondered how it affects your sex drive?
If you’re stressed for extended periods of time, chances are your sex life will begin to suffer, which only adds to your to already high stress levels. Your mind is no longer focused on the things you need to get done, but instead on questions such as:
- Where has my sex drive gone?
- Why does it take me longer to get in the mood?
- Why do I lose my focus?
- Why am I having difficulties having an orgasm?
Myths do more harm than good.
Let’s be honest: people tend to keep stress to themselves. And the thing is, if you manage to muster up the courage to talk to someone about what you’re experiencing, you may find that their response only increases your anxiety about your frustrating sex life.
I’ve heard many myths about stress and sex over the years working with more than 1,000 individuals in my private practice. Here are three of the most common ones.
- If stress affects your romantic feelings for your partner, you may as well get divorced.
- Once your sex drive disappears, it doesn’t come back
- If your partner doesn’t desire you because they’re stressed, this means they don’t love you anymore.
These myths are devastating, because as soon as you convince yourself that “the damage is done,” then what’s really left but to throw in the towel? Give up? Admit defeat? You end up either surrendering to a passive attitude where you don’t look for help — or worse, you file for divorce.
This is why it’s extremely important to seek proper guidance and learn how stress affects your libido. Familiarizing yourself with the ins and outs makes it easier for you to navigate through these problems as a couple. One thing is absolutely certain: the stressed partner is not the only one who suffers.
If partners can’t manage stress as a team, the relationship suffers. So, how does stress affect your libido? Here are three ways stress affects your sex drive.
1. Human beings have two nervous systems.
The sympathetic nervous system is the accelerator and the parasympathetic nervous system is the brake. We use the accelerator when we experience difficulties and challenges in life.
Whenever this happens, our stress response (the accelerator) is released in our bodies. This happens physically: your heart rate increases, your palms get sweaty, you experience inner discomfort. All of these things are really just your body providing you with a shot of energy to either fight the problems or to run away from them.
As soon as the challenge has been dealt with, and the danger has passed, the accelerator will be relieved by the brake. Ah, another challenge has been solved. Now you can relax. But when we experience stress over a long period of time, it may actually feel as though our accelerator has gotten stuck. Our body is working overtime, all the time, and we never actually allow our brakes to kick in.
Our sexuality goes hand in hand with our brakes. Naturally, and biologically speaking, it does not make sense for us to enjoy an erotic touch or to lie around kissing our partner if our stress pedal is hitting the metal. Stress and sex drive do not mix. You simply cannot have a head full of 120 worries while also having great sex.
2. Your hormones change.
When the accelerator has been in overdrive for a long period of time, your body will actually begin to produce more cortisol — this is known as “the stress hormone.” The building blocks used in this process are the very same building blocks used to produce the male sex hormone testosterone. Therefore, for most people with long-lasting stress symptoms, their testosterone production is reduced.
According to Norwegian doctor, psychiatrist, and clinical sexologist Haakon Aars, testosterone is the sex hormone with the greatest significance to sex drive in both men and women. This means that your sex drive decreases due to completely logical physiological reasons.
3. Closeness is replaced by absence.
Your sexuality is not only affected by hormones, but also by social, relational, and psychological factors. When the stress hormones kick in, closeness is replaced by absence. It is nearly impossible to be present — to listen and to be interested in the people around you — if you’re feeling stressed out. It’s hard to deal with anyone but yourself.
The stress hormones pumping through your body are encouraging you to either fight or flight. This can even lead to you being aggressive towards your partner. You might start to snap at them or yell at them. The people you normally love having around you can suddenly feel like a source of irritation because they demand time with you.
All of this doesn’t leave much room for closeness with your partner, and slowly but surely, the intimacy starts to fall away. As days turn to weeks, what you’re usually depositing into your Emotional Bank Account, as Dr. John Gottman calls it, becomes less and less.
When your presence and your intimacy fade away, and your aggression and irritation skyrockets, it’s only natural for insecurities to increase. In most cases, this equals a considerably lowered lust for intimacy and sexual contact.
What can you do? When your sexuality is giving you a hard time, you need to address the underlying problem. Here is what I recommend you do.
1. Talk to your partner about stress.
Anyone can experience stress and there’s absolutely nothing to feel ashamed of. We’re all at risk of experiencing stress. Have a daily stress-reducing conversation.
2. Decide to handle this as a team.
The more of a team you are, fighting this stress together, the better. It will not only increase your sense of unity but also show you that this is something you were are able to get through together.
3. Accept that your sex drive will fluctuate.
Your sex drive will be low sometimes and that’s okay. Accept that it might take a little while to get back into the swing of things. This is perfectly normal and if you can accept this, you can still have a lovely sex life during this time. What you need to remember is that it’ll take longer for your body to feel aroused and you will need to focus on allowing the "brake nervous system" to kick in.
4. Focus on activating your brake.
The more you can do this, the more you’re actually fighting the stress itself. This is where cuddles, kisses, hugs, and other loving touches can help. It simply forces the body to go from stress to relaxation if you allow it. Kiss your stressed out partner a little bit more and hug them for 20 seconds longer. You could even offer them a nice 30-minute massage.
This article was originally published at The Gottman Institute. Reprinted with permission from the author.