We live in stressful times – the lingering effects of 2020 and the pandemic, work, kids, bills… Everyone’s a little (or a lot) stressed these days. Does that affect your sex drive? Absolutely.
Stress and libido are closely linked. This relationship can often be a catch-22 where stress prevents sex, but sex also relieves stress. How can you break out of this cycle?
The Biology of a Stress Response
Biologically, tour body’s stress response is a burst of hormones – adrenaline and cortisol – occurring during threatening situations. Or at least what your body perceives as a threat. This was extremely helpful for survival in early human history, when we were running away from predators, or any other types of physical danger.
But today, that same response to a constantly stressful environment can wreak havoc on your body – and your sex life. In our modern world we find ourselves being bombarded with new stressors. We might not be chased by bear – but we stress about being late for work or school, interpersonal conflict with family or coworkers, loud noises such as car horns or emergency vehicles, managing emails, finances, and deadlines, exposure to distressing social media posts and news reports…
When our bodies are exposed to any stimuli that “triggers” our nervous system, we experience a stress response.
Stress and Your Sex Drive
When our nervous system is constantly triggered to respond to daily stressors, it stays in a state of activation. This is literally our “survival mode”, where our bodies are programmed to keep us alive. This is commonly known as “fight, flight, or freeze”.
You can only imagine then how stress and low libido relate. When constantly activated, stress can increase our heart rate and blood pressure, and disrupt our hormone balances. Our body redirects energy towards essential bodily functions. Additionally, stress and anxiety can cause racing thoughts, lack of sleep (insomnia), and trouble focusing. These reasons alone can make it difficult to desire, much less engage in, sex.
The brain is the biggest sex organ, meaning if your brain feels overwhelmed or distracted with stressors, it has a much harder time focusing on pleasure, arousal, or orgasm.
Does Sex Relieve Stress?
Does sex relieve stress and anxiety? Yes!
The irony lies in the fact that sex and intimacy can be a great remedy for stress, but at the same time stress can lower libido. Sex produces a lot of happy hormones like endorphins and serotonin. Touch and companionship have been shown to have a positive effect on mental health. To top it off, sex is a physical activity, so it can boost energy levels.
Sex and Anxiety
But wait? You said anxiety and sex drive can be related? True!
Can anxiety cause arousal? Also yes!
Because of the positive effects of sexual acts and orgasms, sometimes stress and anxiety can actually cause you to crave sex. Stress and increased sex drive can also be related, as your body knows that sex can provide a quick hit of hormones and pleasure to distract the mind from anxiety.
Sex helps relieve anxiety, so if you find yourself actually having increased desire during a time of stress, don’t feel bad – lean into it! Orgasms and intimacy can be utilized as a natural stress reliever. When it comes to distractors, they can be useful tools as long as it’s not disrupting your day-to-day life in a detrimental way.
Can Sex Help With Anxiety?
If you’re experiencing low libido from stress and anxiety, try working with your partner. Talk about prioritizing other types of touch and pleasure together – like cuddling, hugging, cooking your favorite meal, playing a game, or going for a walk together. Be gentle and forgiving towards each other – fluctuations in libido is perfectly normal. Judging yourself or your partner for it only makes things worse.
Some may find themselves struggling with stressful thoughts, preventing them from focusing on sex. The feeling of going through the motions, or spacing out during sex, can be a sign it’s time to speak up and try switching gears. Refocus on intimacy with some cuddling or kissing to help get back on track. [ Read about the many Benefits of Sex. ]
Methods to Reduce Stress
Look for methods to reduce the stress you encounter daily. When deciding what changes to make in your routine, try and aim for what is realistic and achievable. Setting your sights on a stress-free routine is ambitious, and it’s helpful to start with small steps.
Seek advice on how to address your specific stressors. Common methods to reduce stress include spending 5-10 minutes outside each day, going on a walk, and other types of exercise. Engaging your body in movement and activity produces endorphins, and exposure to the sun has been shown to improve mood.
You may or may not notice a difference right away. But regular movement makes a huge difference for your body’s ability to produce serotonin, or the happy hormone. Prioritize grounding yourself, indulging in a treat or delicious snack, listening to music, or doing some light stretches. Engaging your senses via deep breathing, or touching yourself and give yourself pleasure can also act as great stress relievers.
Remember – there isn’t a goal for this time with yourself. If you find your thoughts slipping to deadlines, commitments, or other stressors, gently redirect your thoughts back to the present moment.
The Power of Pleasure
Also – don’t underestimate the power of buying a new sex toy to jumpstart your sex drive. Treat yourself! The novelty of having a new toy can create anticipation and excitement, helping you stay engaged and present in your partnered or self pleasure. While a novel toy isn’t a permanent solution on its own, when paired with other forms of self care, it can give your libido a much-needed boost.
You can explore how to weave eroticism into your daily life. Take moments that are normally stressors and experiment with trying to change the energy of those times. Try listening to a erotic podcast or audiobook while in the car or on your commute. This could not only lessen the stress of traffic, but make you wish you had a little more time stuck in it.
Part of self care is also looking at what to avoid. Start to pay attention to your exposure to social media and news outlets. Scrolling may temporarily district us from our anxiety, but the overload of information can keep our bodies in a constant stress cycle. Distracting ourselves from stressors perpetuates the cycle of burnout, as we are never truly allowing our bodies to gear down from the survival “fight, flight or freeze” mode.
Let Mindfulness Boost Your Libido
Prolonged exposure to our devices has also been shown to disrupt our sleep cycles, and the quality of rest we achieve is tied to our libido. If cutting internet time is not ideal for you, try adding pages and content creators who promote healing, self care, and emotional growth. Your phone can provide other distractions from anxiety, like old photo albums and meditation apps. Scrolling through old photos can give you a dose of happy memory hormones, and mindfulness apps can guide you through grounding techniques.
One of the most effective methods of regulating your nervous system is the practice of mindfulness. This means bringing your attention to the present moment, and paying attention to the details and circumstances that surround you. It can be difficult to do when you first try it, but don’t give up. Name colors or objects, feel textures, notice smells. When anxious thoughts come back, notice it, allow it, then gently guide your mind back to the present moment.
Listen – it’s normal to be stressed. Be gentle with yourself and your intimate partners. Use the tools available to you to reach your desired level of pleasure in life, in or out of the bedroom. If you need additional help negotiating your sex life, consider working with a sex coach or level up with the Somatica Personal Growth Course.