Chill Out — Stress and Sex Drive

Maybe you're dealing with a stressful job, or you frequently fight with your partner. Whatever it is, you're stressed out and tell your partner, "I'm just not feeling it tonight" more often than you'd like to. You aren't alone.

"A 2020 study found that while 71% of married men and 69% of married women had sex weekly from 2000 to 2002, those percentages had respectively dropped to 58% and 61% from 2016 to 2018"

‌Why is this happening? Economic uncertainty and always-on hustle culture are making Americans more stressed than ever. And it turns out that stress tends to lower your sex drive. Luckily, there are steps you can take to reduce your pressure and get your sex drive back to where you'd like it to be.

‌What Is Libido, and What Role Does It Play in Sex?

Libido is essentially another way to say "sex drive." It refers to your motivation to have sex. If you have a sudden onset of low libido or sex drive, you will likely want to have sex less often than you are used to.

how does stress affects your libido

You may also have a low baseline libido. That said, this is only a problem if it bothers you. Because everyone's libidos are different, comparing your desire to have sex with others' desire to have sex isn't particularly helpful. Instead, focus on your feelings. If you want to have sex more often, you can do things to raise your libido. But don't stress about it. As we'll learn below, stress levels can change your sex drive. 

How Does Stress Affect Your Libido? 

Stress tends to affect your sex life for several reasons negatively. 

Physical Effects

‌Stress causes your body to release cortisol and epinephrine, which essentially puts your body into survival mode. It doesn't matter if you're worried about an important work presentation or something that isn't a life-or-death situation; the hormones released are the same. When your body is concerned with survival, sex drive is deprioritized. 

In addition, chronic stress can lead to several physical side effects that discourage sexual activity. Insomnia or poor sleep quality can cause you to be fatigued, for example. You may also get tension headaches or sore spots from tensing muscles.

‌Psychological Effects

There are also psychological factors at play that can cause sex to feel less appealing during high stress. If you're feeling distracted, it can be hard to get in the mood. ‌Part of the fun of intimacy is being in the moment with someone else. If you can't stop worrying about something, it can be hard to focus on your partner. This makes sex less fun for both of you. To be fully responsive, you need to manage your stressors so you can concentrate on sensations. Self-critical feelings can also pop up during stressful times, making it harder to feel sexy. 

Gender Differences

Chronic stress is bad for everyone's sex drive, and it can lead to vaginal dryness and erectile dysfunction. Stress-induced insomnia can even lead to a reduction in sperm production. Because stress hormones and sex hormones come from the same building blocks, long periods of stress can lead to reduced testosterone levels and loss of libido in people with penises. ‌

Stress and Relationships

While external stress can certainly influence you and your partner's sex drive, internal conflict plays a more significant role. If you are frequently frustrated with each other, you will be less likely to want sex and thus have a lower libido. 

Mending any strife between you and your partner can also help reduce stress. It is essential to have someone to talk through stressful situations with. For many people, this is their romantic partner. Having a robust and communicative relationship makes it easier to ask for help when you need it. 

Can Stress Increase Sex Drive?

Treating Stress with sex

Stress and sex drive don't go together. While each individual is different, there isn't much scientific evidence to indicate that general life stress increases sex drive. 

However, conflict with a partner may lead to increased sexual desire for each other. After fighting, you and your partner may find yourselves in each other's arms in reconciliation. This "makeup sex" may happen because your biological attachment system kicks in after fights, encouraging you to get close to your partner again or risk losing them. 

Treating Stress

If you've noticed a lower libido due to stress, the first and most important thing you should do to raise your libido again is to manage your stress. Prioritize what matters to you and focus on those things, letting go of the rest. 

‌Still, there may be responsibilities that you can't give up that can feel overwhelming. In this case, stress management can help you cope.

Holistically

There are many holistic treatments for stress. Try out several to see which works for you. A few low-cost options include journaling, taking walks, drinking relaxing teas, and aromatherapy. Getting back to the basics can also help. Get eight hours of sleep a night, avoid caffeine in the evening and eat healthy whole foods. 

Medically

There aren't many specific medical treatments for stress. However, seeing a therapist could offer some relief, help you discover coping strategies, and determine whether you have a more precise diagnosis. For example, if you have major depression or anxiety, a psychiatrist can help determine if antidepressants could be an option for you. Remember that antidepressants affect everyone differently and could lead to reduced sex drive.

Work With Your Partner To Reduce Stress

Having an honest conversation with your partner about your stress and libido levels can be the first step in getting back to your desired sex life. You do not have to suffer in silence. Instead, you can work together to increase your libidos and lower your stress levels.

Work With Your Partner To Reduce Stress

‌If you both have busy schedules, make time in the week for intimacy. This may not sound as romantic as spur-of-the-moment encounters, but it helps you close the distance without adding more stress to your life. Not worrying about previous engagements can allow you to take your time, making sex much more enjoyable. 

‌If you make time for intimacy, but either of you isn't in the mood, that's OK! Spending time together in a relaxed setting can help you remember what made you fall for each other. Non-sexual touch such as hugs and massages can help your body release the same feel-good, bonding hormones as sex. 

Sex as a Mood Boost

Reducing stress can increase your libido. It turns out that having sex can also raise your mood, creating a positive feedback loop. A few reasons why sex can help you relax include:

  • ‌Improved mood the day following sex
  • ‌Lower blood pressure
  • ‌Lower heart rate and cortisol levels
  • ‌Release of feel-good hormones like oxytocin and dopamine
  • ‌Increased connection with a partner
  • ‌Improved quality of sleep‌

Conclusion

Stress is a normal part of life, and you're not always going to be in the mood. However, you can minimize stress by pinpointing stressors and likely improving your libido. Making time for intimacy can reduce your stress in the long run because the hormones your body produces after sex can help you relax.

References:

Trends in Frequency of Sexual Activity and Number of Sexual Partners Among Adults Aged 18 to 44 Years in the US, 2000-2018. (June 2020). Journal of the American Medical Association.

Charting adult development through (historically changing) daily stress processes. (2020). American Psychologist. 

‌What Is Libido? (December 2020). Verywell Health. 

Chapter 5 - Lifestyle Stress and Its Impact on Male Reproductive Health. (2018). Bioenvironmental Issues Affecting Men's Reproductive and Sexual Health.

3 Reasons Stress is Affecting Your Sex Drive and What to Do About It. (March 2017). The Gottman Institute. 

‌Can You Kiss and Hug Your Way to Better Health? Research Says Yes. (January 2018). Penn Medicine.

The Truth About Make-Up Sex. (June 2015). Psychology Today. 

10 Natural Remedies For Dealing With Stress. (November 2020). MBG Health. 

The Multiple Links Between Sex and Stress. (November 2019). Verywell Mind. 

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