Sex

4 Ways Stress Can Affect Your Sex Life — For Better Or Worse

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couple in bed

As a formally trained sex therapist and coach, I can tell you that the relationship between stress and sex is a little more complicated than "stress kills desire."

Oh, it's true that stress sometimes can drain your libido like a punctured air mattress. But for some people, the opposite might be true — stress actually propels them toward sex.

The key is to acknowledge the relationship between stress and sex and take some time to recognize how that might affect your own sex life, for better or for worse.

RELATED: How To Kill Stress, Boost Testosterone, And Have Better Sex — Starting Today

What is the connection between stress and sex?

Stress can increase the sex drive in some people. 

Often, these people desire a physical connection and validation from their partner in times of stress. At times of high stress, they can experience more desire and arousal.

The more sex you have, the more loved and appreciated you feel. 

Other times, stress gets your libido going because it’s your favorite way to decompress. The act of sex releases feel-good hormones and combats stress hormones, leading you to feel more relaxed and happy.

Instead of having to wind down in order to have sex, you have sex to wind down. ​

However, while stress can spike sex drive, it more commonly does not. 

But, for others, stress impedes desire.

Stress is both a psychological and physiological experience. It floods you with both stressful thoughts as well as stress hormones. 

These hormones signal, "Danger!" to your brain. Instead of increasing desire, your body and mind become focused on leading you to safety, whether it’s about a deadline at work or an actual threat to your life. 

Stress factors that can affect your sex life

1. Work

When you're caught up in thoughts about upcoming presentations to prepare or frustrating customers, sex is the furthest thing from your mind.

And this is partly why sex and stress don’t mix well, because you're not thinking about sex when you're stressed. 

What you focus on tends to grow while the stuff you don't tend to vanish, like your sex drive. 

If all you think about is work, expecting yourself to also want sex might be like expecting a miracle.

And I don’t say this to be harsh. I say this because our view of sex drive is often skewed. And with this skewed view come unrealistic expectations of ourselves, our partner, and our sex lives. 

We expect ourselves to want sex spontaneously, out of the blue, no matter what we’ve got going on in our life or how stressed we are.

These expectations, when not managed well, can lead you to believe that there's something wrong with you — but there’s not. And when you believe that you're broken, it makes it increasingly more difficult to feel a longing for sex.

Understanding the dynamic between sex and stress can help you see there’s nothing wrong with you.

2. Taking care of your kids

Now you know how important your brain is to sexual desire, it’s probably easy to see how the day-to-day of rearing children can negatively impact your longing for a quick romp in the sack. 

If your brain needs to focus on sex to want sex, drying snotty noses or helping your kids with their homework isn’t exactly great foreplay.

Add to that the stress of upset babies or angry teenagers, it quickly becomes apparent how your state of mind can lead to low desire.

RELATED: If You're Too Stressed Out To Have Sex, Do These 3 Things

3. Relationship or marriage

Along with the daily stressors of work and children, the state of your relationship or marriage is also a key factor in whether you feel like sex or not. And this is where managing expectations in relationships is so key. 

If you want to stay close with your partner and increase intimacy, you need to get realistic about what this entails. Expecting yourself to be just as turned on by your partner 11 years into your marriage as the day you met isn’t realistic. 

This doesn’t mean long-term relationships can’t be sexually and romantically fulfilling (because they can). I wouldn’t be in this line of work if I didn’t know this to be true. 

What it does mean is getting clear on whether your expectations of your partner and yourself are fair. 

Have you been annoyed with your partner lately? Are you fighting about finances or something else?

If you’ve been struggling to find just 10 minutes where you can sit down together and look each other in the eyes, expecting these stressors to not affect your sex life isn’t fair for any of you. 

4. Sex itself

Alongside all of the day-to-day stressors, sexual stress can also negatively impact your desire.

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Feeling like you have to have sex at least weekly, like you have to perform during sex by having explosive orgasms, or that you have to get turned on as quickly as your partner does — these are all examples of stressful thoughts that can make it increasingly difficult to ever feel like you want to have sex with your partner. 

If this sounds like you, know it makes complete sense you don’t want sex right now. Understanding the relationship between sex and stress is paramount — both for you and your partner. 

How do you keep your connection strong when you have low libido?

So, if stress is a regular part of your life, what’s the solution?

It depends on what the stressor is and how you’d like to deal with it. 

When you develop stress management techniques and pair them with low-stress ways to connect with your partner, you can keep your connection strong. 

Here are a few suggestions for connecting. 

Sometimes, the connection can be boiled down to establishing a morning routine for sex and emotional connection.

Put simply, this means devising a ritual that will infuse your relationship or marriage with intimacy, even when you’re short on time or stressed. 

Other times, learning how to keep a relationship alive and your connection strong is about taking an intimacy inventory.

This requires taking a close look at your relationship from every angle and assessing what your intimacy strengths are — and where there's room for improvement. 

Whether stress kickstarts your desire or blocks it, it’s clear stress is a powerful force that you can't control. Rather, learn to recognize the role stress plays in your sex life, and plan accordingly. 

RELATED: What Sex Is Doing To Your Emotions, According To A Sex Therapist

Leigh Norén is a sex therapist and writer with a Master of Science in Sexology. She’s been featured in Women's Health, Thrive Global, The Good Men Project, Elephant Journal, Glamour, and more. For more advice on sexual desire, visit her website. If you want to increase your desire, download her free resource The Desire Test.

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This article was originally published at leighnoren.com. Reprinted with permission from the author.