Despite what romantic comedies and Nicholas Sparks novels have tried to tell us, a good sex life takes some work.
These fictional depictions of love rarely factor in the complexities of real life, such as a healthy work-life balance, stress management, the dreaded dry spells — the list goes on.
As someone who's always had a pretty healthy sex life, I never expected something as mundane as a stressful job to affect me as much as it did.
I remember thinking it seemed silly for me to not be able to separate the pressures of my job from my happiness in my relationship.
Like, don't most people have sex to relieve their stress? Why couldn't I just be one of those people?
David M. Ortmann, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who practices in both New York City and San Francisco, managed to perfectly sum up the relationship between stress and sex.
"Sex, no matter how powerful or creative, is often a fragile construct vulnerable to the arrows and slings (and increased cortisol levels) from other significant parts of our life," he told Elite Daily.
Sex, no matter how powerful or creative, is often a fragile construct vulnerable to the arrows and slings (and increased cortisol levels) from other significant parts of our life.
Even though I never expected it to happen, my sex life was, indeed, not immune to the many arrows and slings that came with my past workplace. Here's how.
1. The urge to have sex just isn't there anymore.
Sex became possibly the biggest afterthought of my life.
Seriously, I just never even thought about it most of the time. Not only were my weekends and evenings (AKA prime sexy time) being swallowed whole by the demanding responsibilities of my job, but even when I did find a little free time, I never thought about having sex anymore.
Sexless weeks would just fly by, totally unbeknownst to me, but very-much-beknownst to my poor boyfriend, who found himself constantly wondering why his girlfriend wasn't sexually attracted to him anymore.
When the thought of sex did enter my mind, nothing stirred inside me. It truly felt like my sex drive had entirely disappeared.
Jennifer Uhrlass, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in New York, said stress can definitely affect your sex drive.
She told Elite Daily,
When we are anxious or consumed with worry about something, it's very difficult for us to allow ourselves to be present/responsive in our relationships, which is an important factor in initiating and enjoying sexual experiences.
To say the least, I was definitely not fully present in my relationship for a solid seven months while working at this job.
2. Staying aroused and focusing on the moment becomes nearly impossible.
No matter how much I willed myself into the mood and no matter how good the sex felt, my brain always managed to find a way to wander.
I worried about my performance at work. I worried about the next business trip I would have to take and how much money it would cost. I worried about changing my cat's litter.
I worried about worrying too much during sex.
Ortmann equates sex and work in some ways, as they both inherently relate to performance:
Work is about performance. Stress in that area affects other areas where we feel we are 'on.' No matter how well adjusted or erotically intelligent we are, sex is [also] a performance. It's ingrained. We are raised to view sex as a performance, something we are being judged, at least by ourselves, on.
Unfortunately, the very fact that I am a lady also puts me at a disadvantage when it comes to balancing stress with sexual desire.
According to a study published in the Journal of Sex Research, heterosexual women are less likely than both heterosexual and homosexual men to experience increased sexual desire when they're anxious or stressed.
Ugh. Let me tell you, nothing makes the vag dry up faster than finding yourself consumed with worry.
3. Masturbation goes out the window.
This one surprised me the most.
I wouldn't say that I frequently engage in ~self-love~, but I certainly dabble in it. However, working this job pretty much made me forget about the very notion that I even could touch myself.
As with sex, the urge to masturbate was nonexistent, even though I frequently found myself alone at night in strange European hotel rooms while away on business trips.
Despite being unable to sleep from the toxic but very familiar combination of jet lag and stress, a little diddly-doo-da was, unfortunately, eons away from my mind.
4. Creativity becomes lost in the bedroom.
My boyfriend and I have been dating for almost five years now, so we're no strangers to the concept of things getting a little stale from time to time in the bedroom.
We've always managed to find ways to keep things interesting, and my SO certainly kept trying to do that, even though my vagina may as well have been super-glued shut for more than half a year.
I wanted so badly to be able to match his unyielding attempts at spontaneity when it came to our sex life, but I just couldn't seem to do it, no matter how hard I tried.
"From a therapeutic standpoint, stress (in overwhelming amounts) has the ability to rob us of our spontaneity, sense of fun, and curiosity," Uhrlass said.
She also went on to say that many people actually find themselves desiring sex more when they're stressed, as a way to kind of relieve the pressure.
Too bad my libido decided it was a better idea to autopilot its way through nearly every sexual encounter I had, rather than at least try to mix things up a little bit.
5. You start lying to your partner when it comes to sex.
This realization hurt me the most, and I can't even imagine how it made my boyfriend feel.
I fully recognized my total lack of sex drive, and I hated it so much that I basically tried to lie my way through the whole ordeal.
I would tell my partner I was in the mood to have sex, when I actually wasn't at all, and I would proceed to do the deed anyway with him.
Not only is it terrible that I lied to my boyfriend like that, but I was doing such a huge disservice to myself and my emotions by forcing myself to have sex because being honest about everything was just too uncomfortable.
Uhrlass said true honesty and transparency about these types of issues "requires vulnerability, emotional maturity and a basic level of trust between two people to be able to share a more fragile part of yourself and risk rejection."
People may choose to withhold some part of the truth for various reasons. I think one of the main reasons it might happen in relationships is because the person is afraid that what might be shared would be rejected, or they would be made to feel unacceptable by their partner in some way. I think what begins to become problematic is that these moments are a special opportunity to increase intimacy in a relationship but instead create further distance.
Now that I've come out on the other side of my toxic workplace, I've done just that: I've tried to close the gap between me and my SO by being totally upfront and honest about my sexual desires.
Believe me, just because a relationship has stood the test of time, it doesn't automatically mean there's not room for improvement.
Citations: Cortisol (You & Your Hormones), How Stress Affects a Relationship (TwoOfUs.org), Individual Differences in the Effects of Mood on Sexuality: The Revised Mood and Sexuality Questionnaire (MSQ-R) (The Journal of Sex Research)