Sex and Stress: The Vicious Cycle

Have you ever felt too stressed to have sex? Or, have you ever felt like not getting sex is making you stressed out? If so, know that you are not alone.

Have you ever felt too stressed to have sex?  Or, have you ever felt like not getting sex is making you stressed out?  If either of these statements sound familiar, know that you are not alone.  Stress is a growing problem in our society, and one of the lesser-known early indicators of stress is lower libidinal energy.  And equally pervasive is the fact that, with reduced access to sex and intimacy, our stress levels increase. It’s often a chicken and egg scenario, but in this case, knowing the culprit still leaves you craving sex, and feeling stressed.

What do we know about sex and intimacy?  First, human contact and intimacy are an integral part of our survival.  In fact, experiments with human contact deprivation in infants have been proven so damaging that they are almost universally classified as forbidden.  We also know that when humans engage in physical touch, and intimacy, “It helps increase the level of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, which is called the “happiness hormone”, and oxytocin, a hormone involved in human bonding.” (Source) There are many studies specifically geared towards understanding the euphoric high that occurs in the brain when we have sex with a new partner, and the thrill of butterflies when we touch someone we like for the first time.  But when you are experiencing high levels of stress, or low levels of intimacy, it is difficult to focus on anything but the lows you are experiencing. All good science and logic often go out the window when we are deprived of basic human touch and intimacy.  It is the sex and stress vicious cycle.

But what can you do about it? The first step is always recognizing that something is amiss.  Even if you are not sure about what came first, the stress or the low desire for intimacy, recognizing that they are missing or lacking is key.  Here are a few tricks that I use in my day to day life when either the stress or lack of sex gets the better of me:

Seek Out Physical Contact: This can be from a friend or a loved one.  One thing I learned as I got older is that it is okay to ask a friend or lover for a hug.  It is also completely okay to snuggle up to your furry companions. While this won’t have a long-term effect, the initial boost does wonders and will help you regain some focus, so you can better prioritize without falling further in that spiral.  With a simple hug, your body will begin to relax, and release a bit of the pent-up frustration. 

Break a Sweat:  While sex may not be an option for everyone, getting to a gym, running in a sport, or doing something as silly as picking up a hula hoop is pretty easy, and will almost immediately boost your endorphins. Find some healthy way to get the blood flowing.  There are numerous studies that prove that doing a repetitive activity like spin class, or using a treadmill, will help the body and mind to enter a trance like meditative state, allowing the person to let go of the stress for a few minutes and relax.  For myself, starting the day off with yoga and coffee has provided the clarity and relaxation I need to focus on something other than my own sex and stress spiral.

Recharge: This is the most crucial step to breaking free of the spiral.  And of course, the one that is most often overlooked, especially if you are able to be intimate with someone.  The problem is, sex will inevitably become just a quick fix if you do not take the time to recharge from the stress that you are feeling.  Take for example my own case, whereby, I knew sex would make me feel better, but I was doing nothing about my stress levels. Therefor, sex became a “happy patch”, and I would entice my partner, get my quick little high, and then feel like crap a few hours later. 

The key element that I was missing was the full recharge beyond the sex. So, ensure that you have an activity or something to look forward to during the day. A phone call with a friend, knitting, baking, a long walk with your dog, or perhaps drawing a bubble bath and putting a do not disturb sign on the door while you enjoy your favorite book.  Whatever it is, dealing with sex and stress is always easier when you have an outlet beyond them. 

So, remember when you are feeling a low libido, or overwhelmed with stress levels that there are things you can do beyond just getting laid.  Physical touch, exercising frequently, and ensuring that you take the time to recharge are key elements to reducing the stress and sex vicious cycle.

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