Laurie Mintz Ph.D.

Stress and Sex

Sex

A First Hello from a High-Strung, Low Libido Therapist who Stays Calm and Has Great Sex

The stress/sex connection

Posted Jun 23, 2010

If you have lamented both your high stress level and your low sex drive, you are not alone. While, in a moment, I will tell you the statistics to prove to you just how normal you are, first I will confess that I - a professor of counseling psychology, a licensed psychologist and the author of a book on enhancing desire - am a high strung woman with a low libido. But, I don't let that get in my way: I feel generally calm and have frequent and excellent sex with my husband of 26 years. And, I don't take any pills to help me do this. I do it the good old fashioned way: by working on my stress level every day and by keeping sex on the forefront of my mind. With this blog, I want to help you do the same.

But, first, to the statistics: According to a study by the American Psychological Association, 48% of Americans report their stress level has risen over the past five years. A similarly high percentage of women say that their sex drive has gone into hibernation. Surveys report that between 20 and 52 percent of women say their sex drive isn't what it used to be. The most comprehensive survey conducted to date found that 33 percent of women between the ages of 18 and 59 say that their sex drive has diminished. That means that one of every three women you know no longer feels as interested in sex as she used to feel. So, about half of us are feeling too much stress and a third of us are experiencing too little passion!

Now that you know you are in good company, what can you do to help yourself? Since understanding is generally a good foundation to behavior change, let's start with exploring the sex/stress connection.

A high level of stress and a low libido are not separate problems. One of the often ignored consequences of stress is a diminished sex drive -- especially among women. In one survey, women were asked why they thought they were no longer interested in sex and "being too tired, busy, or stressed" was their #1 reason. Certainly, being stressed is not the only reason for a diminished libido; there are countless other reasons including health issues, side effects of medications, poor body image, and anger at one's spouse, to name a few. Still, this blog is about sex and stress - it's about how to decrease your stress, about how to increase your sex drive, and about the relationship between the two.

So, a first step towards change is simply to understand why stress diminishes libido, especially in women. Emotionally, if you are stressed out, you are going to be distracted and not interested in getting frisky between the sheets. And, even if you force yourself to "do it anyway," chances are that you will be distracted during sex. A wandering mind during sex isn't a turn-on; having an orgasm while going over your to-do list in your head is next to impossible. So, stressed out sex is generally going to be mediocre, service-type sex. And, certainly, this kind of sex isn't going to motivate you to have more sex. A vicious sex-stress emotional cycle exists.

There are also physiological reasons that stress diminishes libido. When we are stressed out, our bodies secrete the hormone cortisol. Cortisol decreases testosterone - which is a big problem because testosterone is responsible for our sex drive. And, this is even a bigger problem for women than it is for men, because men have about ten times more testosterone than women do. So, thinking of your sex drive as a tank of gas, a bit of stress-induced cortisol may take a man's tank to the half-way mark, yet take a woman's tank to empty! Interestingly, testosterone is also lowest in the evenings, and this is why so many women say that night time is not the right time for sex.

You don't have to stay in this stressed-out, low-sex mode. There are many, many things you can do to both decrease your stress and enhance your sex drive. The first thing I suggest you do is to quit beating yourself up for it and realize that you are not alone. You are in good company - including the half of us who feel stressed and the third of us whose sex drive has hit bottom.

You are in the company of me: a stressed out, low libido therapist who feels calm and has great sex. I hope that the tips I plan to give in this blog, some of which are also contained in my book, A Tired Woman's Guide to Passionate Sex, help you decrease your stress and enhance your sex life. Stay tuned.