We all know that stress can be a huge bummer. Unfortunately, stress can also have a serious impact on your sex life and relationship with your significant other. Everyone processes stress differently. For some, sex can seem like a great way to blow off steam and release some of that built-up tension, which may lead you to wonder, does stress make you hornier? I mean, after all, there are few things as zen-y as effortlessly drifting off to sleep post-orgasm.
But then again, the only way to achieve this happy ending is to muster up the energy to do the deed — which, let's face it, can be super difficult after a day of non-stop stress — and if you're living in New York, the battle isn't truly won until you've reached your front door two hours behind schedule, courtesy of the MTA.
Everyone responds to stress a little differently, but for the most part, we are all slaves to a complex network of biological systems that can sometimes make it hard to live our best, orgasmic lives. To find out more about the impact stress can have on intimacy, Elite Daily asked Dr. Jessica O'Reilly, creator of the @SexWithDrJess Podcast, and sex therapist Irene Fehr to weigh in.
1. Decrease In Libido
For most people, the effects of stress on the libido are overall pretty negative. Whether you're feeling overwhelmed with work or simply juggling too many commitments, from my experience, sex is usually the first thing to fall by the wayside. According to Dr. O'Reilly, "Stress is the greatest detractor from desire, arousal, and pleasure."
Dr. O'Reilly explains that the majority of positive feelings associated with intimacy are controlled by the autonomic nervous system. Too much stress inhibits our nervous system from processing the hormones that encourage "erections, lubrication, orgasmic contractions."
"Hormone levels are also disrupted by stress, and the fight or flight response (associated with stress) affects the cardiovascular, respiratory and gastrointestinal systems," notes Dr. O'Reilly. Basically, if your mind is focused on a bunch of other not-so-sexy things, it's not uncommon for your body to feel much less inclined to get your sexy on.
2. Increase In Libido
Like just about everything else in life, there are exceptions to the rule. If the source of stress is occurring from something that is positive — meaning it has possibility and excitement attached to it (i.e., an exciting new work project or a budding relationship) — Fehr says it's possible that these types of changes can actually boost your sex drive "because the challenge is perceived as exciting, even though there is stress associated with it."
"I've had clients who are more interested in sex [when] they're feeling stressed out, as sex is an opportunity for release," says Dr.O'Reilly. Though she notes that this is not necessarily the norm, there is a case to be made for all those lucky souls out there who find themselves starved for some TLC after a stressful day at work. According to Dr. O'Reilly, it's likely that "erotic associations" are to thank for stress-induced horniness. So if you have developed an association between sex and stress release, you are indeed more likely to notice an increase in your sex drive when you're feeling stressed out.
3. Trouble Getting Physically Aroused
For the majority of people who find stress to be a boner kill (fun fact: women get erections as well), this is due to similar blockages in the nervous system that are attributed to a drop in libido. Both Fehr and Dr. O'Reilly note that lack of natural lubrication for women and difficulty getting and keeping an erection for men are the most common physical ramifications of stress. Fehr explains that struggles to get aroused are mainly due to the body's fight or flight mechanism, which activates the nervous system as if there is a real life or death threat.
"Every system in the body [is affected], including brain, nerves, pituitary, adrenal, kidney, blood vessels, thyroid, liver, blood vessels and the interrelations between them. To facilitate fight or flight, blood and energy are diverted to internal organs and muscles — and away from desire and sex drive," says Fehr.
4. Difficulty Achieving An Orgasm
For many women, having a satisfactory sexual experience is heavily dependent on the ability to relax while also remaining focused on the task at hand — especially if the task is climaxing. We now know that stress inhibits blood flow to those nether regions further exasperating the issues. Fehr warns that long-term stress causes the body to perpetually trigger fight or flight, which can ultimately result in a cycle of chronic sexual dysfunction that can be hard to break.
Ways To Address The Negative Effects Of Stress
Although removing all the sources of stress in our lives would be truly amazing, the fact is that a large amount of the most common stressors are a result of things outside of our control. Both Dr. O'Reilly and Fehr recommend implementing a coping strategy to combat the negative effect stress can have on our sex drives.
"When there is stress, both men and women tend to bottle it up and not allow their partner to see or witness how worried, stressed, or scared they are. When we hold all of that in or we push our partners away from seeing and meeting us in our stress, we distance ourselves from each other, creating a wall that our partners can't penetrate — emotionally and sexually, " explains Fehr. She recommends learning to approach stress as an intimacy-building opportunity by being honest with your partner about the things that are going on in your life, not shying away from expressing your needs, and seeking their support.
Dr. O'Reilly recommends activities such as reading erotic literature, mindful masturbation, exercising, and/or journaling.
Stress can definitely be a hindrance to both sexual and emotional intimacy, but don't feel like you have to suffer in silence. It may take a few tries before you have found the best coping strategy for you, so don't be discouraged.
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