Too Stressed for Sex?
If you're over-stressed, overworked and under-sexed, you're not alone. Here are some techniques for destressing your sex life.
Like most couples, Diane and Steve make love at night, before they go to sleep. But as Diane tries to focus on their lovemaking, work worries intrude: How will she meet that deadline? How can she solve the problem on that project? Forty minutes later, Diane still hasn't climaxed.
Meanwhile, Steve becomes obsessed with the fact that he has to get up at 6:00 a.m. for work. He periodically steals glances at the clock. He's calculating how much sleep he'd get if Diane would only finally orgasm. Will she not be able to orgasm again tonight? His irritation and distraction interferes with his own sexual pleasure.
If this sounds like a familiar scenario, you're certainly not alone. Nearly half of women and nearly one-third of men experience sexual dysfunction, according to a survey analysis published in the February issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. This same analysis revealed that stress-related problems are a significant risk factor for difficulties with sexual desire, arousal and orgasm. Therapists have long reported that serious stress from life-changing situations like divorce, job loss, or the death of a loved one may interfere with sexual functioning.
But everyday stressors can wreak havoc with your sex life, too. Lloyd Sinclair, sex therapist and member of the American Society of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (ASSECT), says, "One of the greatest causes of stress that can interrupt people's sexual functioning is the pressures they place on themselves through their lifestyles. Work, child responsibilities, and conflicts with people, such as a boss, can all interfere."
How Stress Interferes With Sexual Functioning
Little is known about the physiologic effects of stress on sexual functioning. But the effects of stress on the mind are well documented. Since sexual desire originates in the brain, it's not surprising that the mind-altering effects of stress can also become libido altering.
- Negative emotions
- Stress can inspire anxiety that can obviously compete with the relaxation necessary for successful lovemaking. If left unchecked, stress can also lead to depression, a condition well known for lowering your libido. If you take anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medications, they may boost your mood but depress your sex drive or ability to achieve orgasm.
- Research has shown that certain anti-depressant medications—and especially selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Prozac, Zoloft, Celexa and Lexapromay reduce arousal and/or decrease one’s ability to climax. In fact, SSRI are frequently prescribed to men who suffer from premature ejaculation. The addition of certain medications such as the antidepressants Wellbutrin or Remeron can significantly reduce or eliminate the sexual side effects experienced by many patients.
- Concentration problems
- Under stress, you may not be able to focus on the task at hand, even if that "task" is sexual activity. Peter Sugrue, Ph.D., sex therapist and president-elect of ASSECT says, "It's important during sexual activity to focus on the eroticism of the moment. If that erotic focus is distracted or lost during love-making—if in the back of you're head you're thinking about that meeting you have scheduled tomorrow morning—that can lead to difficulty with erection, or vaginal dryness and difficulty achieving orgasm."
That's the bad news.
How to De-stress Lovemaking
The good news is that your every orgasm doesn't have to be at the whim of the rush hour traffic pattern, your boss's mood, or your child's after school activities. Weaving quality love-making into a whirlwind schedule may be challenging, but it's far from impossible.
Sinclair, Sugrue, and Whipple all recommend these techniques as starters for decreasing stress and increasing sex:
- Plan for sex
- You may jokingly say "I'll pencil you in"—but there comes a time when you should actually do it. Having sex at the end of the workday may not be the optimal time for lovemaking. As Sinclair points out, "—A couple is exhausted. In their mind's eye, they're paying attention to what time it is. This is not the ideal environment for 45 minutes of foreplay, 20 minutes of lovemaking, and 30 minutes of afterglow."
- Another reason for penciling in time for lovemaking is that over-committed people are comfortable with setting appointments. "If you can use a model where you say that from 9:00 to 10:00 on Saturday morning I'm going to be in bed enjoying my spouse, it cuts down on that sense of 'I'm wasting time. I should be working,'" he adds.
- Therapists recommend setting a date one to three times a week, even if it's only for an hour. You don't necessarily have to make love at this time, as your libido may not be in sync with your planner. Maybe you'd rather go out on a date, or create a "potentially intimate" environment at home, meaning that you could make love if the mood struck.
- Say what you feel
- To improve the intimacy needed for a good relationship—and good sex—Whipple advises saying meaningful things to your partner, even when you only have a few minutes to talk. "Once a day, tell your partner what you love about him or her. It takes one minute."
- Sinclair suggests that "It may sound sexist, but women access their sexual feelings through being emotionally close with their partners and men access closeness to a partner through the experience of sex." If this applies to your relationship, realize that saying how you feel about your partner, even if you don't feel close to her at that moment, can promote physical closeness. And even if you don't feel like being sexual, an affectionate touch might encourage him to communicate more.
- Remember the importance (and fun!) of sex
- "If you look at sex as one more thing that you should be doing as part of a good marriage then it becomes just one more stressor," Sugrue remarks. The message here is to remember how much fun sex can be, and how important genuine intimacy is amid the noise of everyday life. Sugrue suggests saying to yourself, "It won't hurt to give myself permission to take this time out—and really get in touch with something that's very important to me."
American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (ASSECT)
Canadian Psychological Association
Sex Information and Education Council of Canada
Last reviewed January 2008 by Ryan Estévez, MD, PhD, MPH
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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