Stress is an unavoidable part of life. Work, money, and living during an unprecedented global pandemic, for instance, can all feed a constant thrum of anxiety and worry that can have devastating implications for your libido. Stress can reduce the time you spend exploring erotic space, make it harder to become physically aroused, and lead to distractions that make it harder to stay present.
According to the authors of a study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, “Psychologically, stress can interfere with sexual activity through both emotional and cognitive changes that distract the individual from focusing on sexual cues. These psychological responses can distract the focus of the participant toward the stressful stimuli and away from the appropriate stimulus.”
The best way to enjoy sex is to stay present in your body and with your partner, and stress can get in the way of that. The impacts of stress can compound in all areas of your life, including your sex life. Everyday stress is natural, but experiencing high stress over a long period of time can affect your mental, physical, and sexual wellbeing. Some of the possible side effects include anxiety, headaches, nausea, sleep problems, heart disease, and memory and concentration problems. This perfect storm can lead to even more stress.
Sex, meanwhile, is a proven stress-reducer.
It offers pleasure, connection with our bodies and our partners, and a range of physical and psychological benefits. According to a study in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, as a physical activity, sex releases endorphins. As a sexual activity specifically, it releases oxytocin, sometimes called “the love drug,” a bonding chemical that can reduce stress. It creates the space for emotional intimacy and support, which can also help you cope.
Satisfying sex can also lead to orgasms, which have their own benefits. According to the same study, “Not only is stress relieved during intercourse and the moment of orgasm, but elevated mood may persist for some time, and have a positive impact on health.”
Still feeling too stressed out for sex? Or are you stressing about how you’re too stressed for sex? Here are a few things that help.
Decrease External Stress
Easier said than done, but decreasing your external sources of stress as much as possible can have an overall positive impact on your life. Take small daily steps where you can.
Set boundaries at work, spend time away from your screens (on purpose), and put your phone on do not disturb. Step away from the constant buzz when you have the opportunity, and use that time to focus on your partner or a friend. If there are parts of your life that you can reasonably outsource, like cleaning your house, making dinner, or support with childcare, consider doing so from time to time.
Practice saying no to things you don’t have time for or don’t want to do, and luxuriate in all the time you get back in your day.
Spend Five Minutes Relaxing
Exercise, taking a bath, cooking a great meal, or catching up with a friend are all great ways to unwind, but they can all take a little more time. If those activities seem like something you’ll have time for in a few weeks or months, start with giving yourself exactly five minutes to unwind.
Start by setting a timer.
Blast your favorite music and have a five-minute dance party. Lay on the floor and focus on your breath. Write and send a caring text to a friend. Make yourself a really great cup of coffee and drink it from your favorite mug. Play a short game with your pet or child. Light some incense. Read a poem. Masturbate without worrying about having an orgasm. Introduce small moments of relaxation into your life and notice what cumulative benefits you create.
Have Sex Anyway
Of course if you really don’t want to have sex, you really don’t want to have sex. If you do want to have sex, but you feel too stressed out for it, try having it anyway. Desire can be responsive, which means it builds as you start to sexually engage if you give it the chance to do so. Give it that chance.
To set yourself up for success, start by eliminating distractions. Take just a few minutes to declutter your space. Make sure any children or pets are occupied in another room, and lock your door between you. Put on music if you like. Ready your lube, sex toys, towels, and anything else you might need.
When you’re ready to dive in, use the five senses to stay present. What are you seeing? Smelling? Tasting? Touching? Hearing? Zero in on the hitch of your partner’s breath, the way their skin feels under your hands, the salt of their skin in your mouth. Drop into your body and the moment. Breathe. Whenever you have a distracting thought, acknowledge it, and let it move past. Return to your senses and the moment.
The more you practice, the more you’ll strengthen your ability to remain focused on your body and sensations. You’ll be more able to have sex even when you’re stressed, and that can create a positive feedback loop where sex reduces stress, which allows you to have more sex. Win-win!
For guided exercises to cultivate mindfulness and improve your sex life, download the Lover app today to start your journey.