As you probably know firsthand, feeling stressed out can affect everything from your performance at work to your health. The sense of overwhelm and anxiousness can also easily bleed into your personal relationships, and if you've noticed you've been finding yourself with a noticeably lowered libido lately, it's only natural to wonder if stress can impact sex drive.
There are key signs that can signal if your sex life is struggling. For one, maybe you or your partner have found yourself in a slump and are searching for ways to spice things up. You also may have noticed that the frequency of your intimacy has started to taper off. Both of these are very normal — particularly in long-term relationships — but it's worth examining of stress could be the route of the problem.
One of the most common misconceptions about sex is that there's a "normal" range of desire. That said, if you and your partner know that a lack of sex is impacting your relationship for the worse, you may want to take stock of your stress. According to a new study done by BBC Radio 5 Live, 45 percent of surveyed millennials said it was the biggest factor for their lowered libido. And given how busy modern men's and women's lives are these days — with careers and side hustles, personal relationships, and financial obligations being major burdens — it's easy to see how this happens.
But how exactly does stress effect your sex drive? As Dr. Carolina Pataky, a sex therapist and founder of South Florida's Love Discovery Institute, explains, an increase in cortisol is to blame, "As the body prepares to ward off any dangerous stimuli in the state of fight or flight, sexual drive and arousal are highly impaired," she says.
And, unfortunately, it often creates a cyclical effect. That is to say, once your sex life becomes affected by stress, it's easy to become more frustrated by the fact that your connection is suffering. And this can be the case whether you're the one with the lowered libido, or the one on the receiving end of it. "When stressed, individuals may become irritated and angry at their partner's need for closeness and connection, creating further and further distance between them," Dr. Pataky explains. "As the distance grows further, stress levels rise, and the sex drives continue to deplete."
Beyond that, the sex expert shares that someone who relies on physical intimacy to feel secure in their relationship might additionally experience exhaustion, crankiness, and shorter temper as a result of the stress. This is all the more reason to make sure you and your parter are clearly communicating — or the issue can be increasingly exacerbated.
So what's the first step if you've noticed that stress is killing your sex drive? Dr. Pataky suggests first examining the source of your stress. "Decide and identify if this stressor is something that you can control, delegate, or have to accept and work through," she explains. "Allow yourself the permission, space, and time to express and share with your partner what those stressors are and express to them something they can say or do that would help you feel supported in this time."
Because it can be tricky to talk to your partner about sex — whether it be lowered libido on your end or theirs — Dr. Pataky stresses the importance of treating the subject delicately, and with compassion. "If you notice your partner’s stress has been affecting your sexual connection, you want to be compassionate and first acknowledge your partner’s stress," she says. "Ask them about what’s stressing them out so they don’t feel alone in their stress. Ask them if there is anything you can do to help them. And then ask them if you can make some space to connect with you physically through touch that does not necessarily have to lead to sex."
Incorporating some physical contact — with or without sex being the end goal — can be especially healing. "Ask [them] to go get a massage with you and after spend some time one-on-one to just connect without any expectations except allowing yourself to feel your partner’s body again." Extended hugs or hand-holding are also some simple ways you can try to slowly reconnect through touch.
Besides the crucial communication factor, it could be helpful to try different ways to manage your stress individually, like mediation, yoga, or even some supplements. In terms of the latter, wellness brand Rae has actually created a blend specifically for low libido that's stress-induced. It's got mood boosting and stress alleviating ingredients including ginseng, ashwagandha, Vitamin D, and maca. And if you're still struggling, consider talking to a therapist, either by yourself, or with a partner, to work on a long-term solution.