If you've always had a fairly healthy sex drive, but lately you feel like desire's the last thing on your mind, there could be one factor putting the kibosh on your libido: stress. Let's face it, these days it feels like there's constantly a reason to feel stressed out. Maybe it's the pressure at work or school, or the news headlines, or family issues. Whatever the case may be, how stress impacts your sex life is that it can be a real mood killer, says Dr. Logan Levkoff, a sexuality and relationships expert. "Stress can definitely affect your sex life, because desire is greatly impacted by our emotional and mental states," she tells Elite Daily. Over time, this can even create a self-perpetuating cycle, she warns. "Unsatisfying sex can cause us stress and stress causes unsatisfying sex (or little desire)," Dr. Levkoff says.
The good news is that it doesn't have to stay that way forever. Even though you may feel like it now, you're not powerless in the battle between sex and your sex drive. But the first step is understanding just how stress is impacting your libido. Then you'll have a better idea of how to address and lessen its impact.
How Stress Impacts Your Sex Life.
One of the main ways in which stress affects your sex life is that it increases your emotional needs, while deceasing your sexual ones, as sex and intimacy coach Irene Fehr tells Elite Daily. “Stress introduces extra needs that may not have been present or important before — emotional needs to be reassured, to feel safe amid the turmoil, to be heard about our struggles, to be gotten and understood,” she says. The one thing we need most in times of stress, Fehr explains. is a sense of connection and to be safe. We need to feel as though we're not in the struggle alone. However, the problem is that, all too often, rather than voice those needs to our partner we turn inward. “Here's the paradox,” says Fehr. “Stress makes us bottle it up and not allow their partner to see or witness how worried, stressed, or scared they are. Stress makes us share our needs less and has us go without having our needs met. All of this creates a wall between partners — a wall that they can't penetrate emotionally and sexually.” This, in turn, leads us to feel more isolated and less sexual desire, according to Fehr.
There's also a biological factor in the way that desire is suppressed by stress, adds Dr. Levkoff. “Stress can impact and decrease desire… and increase the production of cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone that, in excess amounts, decreases the production of sex hormones,” she explains.
The impact of prolonged stress can be felt throughout the entire body, Fehr says. “It affects every system in the body, including the brain, nerves, pituitary, adrenal, kidney, blood vessels, thyroid, liver, blood vessels, and the interrelations between them. As a result, the body mounts a stress response," she explains. "Here, blood and energy are diverted to big organs and muscles that will help you outrun the threat or fight it — and away from desire and sex drive.” In other words, stress takes up a lot of your physical and mental energy, leaving you little left over to engage with your partner sexually.
When combined with the emotional and physical impacts, it's little surprise that stress has such a profound effect on your sex drive.
What To Do About It.
The good news is that you're not powerless in all of this. While eliminating all stress from your life is next to impossible, you can mitigate some of its effects, says Fehr, by addressing the emotional aspect first, by recognizing and expressing your nonsexual needs to your partner, rather than continuing to hold them back. “Getting your needs met is the key to wanting to be with your partner,” she explains. “It can be as simple as asking your partner for undivided attention as you share with them about what’s bothering you or your fears. It could be asking for extra-long hugs because they help you feel reassured,” she suggests. Another thing that can help, shares Fehr, can be simply letting your partner know that you need more space to address the causes of your stress. “Needs are individual and are appropriate to the situation. Only you will know what you need,” says Fehr. “Admitting your needs to your partner requires vulnerability and emotional risk, and it’s this vulnerability that will actually fulfill the needs of closeness that we need during stress to bring us back into desire with our partners and sex,” she concludes.
Dr. Levkoff emphasizes that there's no magic cure in this situation; it's more of a process. "However, recognizing that we're entitled to sexual pleasure and fulfillment and prioritizing our needs — emotional and physical — during stressful times is a start,” Levkoff explains. Most important, she stresses, is that you should be kind to yourself through the process, and not to criticize or be hard on yourself, as that actually can stall your progress.
While life probably won’t be getting any less stressful anytime soon, the good news is that you don’t have to settle for a sex life that's less than satisfying as a result. Solving this issue might take making yourself more emotionally vulnerable with your partner and doing a lot of self-reflection, but it's something that you can both get through. At least that’s one less thing to be stressed about.
Irene Fehr, a sex and intimacy coach
Dr. Logan Levkoff, a sexuality and relationships expert