Let’s talk about sex… and stress

Hello readers. I hope you are having a good week. Today we are completing our exploration of stress and the body by looking at how stress affects our sexual organs. We will discover how stress can lower libido and increases risk of erectile/fertility problems and missed menstrual cycles. You will learn another important stress reducing exercise at the end of the article. So let’s talk about sex….and stress.

Stress lowers our Sex Drive

It is common for our libido to be lowered when we are stressed. Our desire to have sex is based on a complex interaction of our needs, emotions and experiences. Studies into sex have found that we are more likely to want to have sex when we are in a good mood. Stress can lower our mood thus we are less likely to want to have sex.

In addition to this, when we are stressed we are more likely to be tired or caught up thinking about our stressful situation. We are less likely to be engaging emotionally with our partners and less likely to want to give affection or initiate sexual relations. Also when we are stressed we might not be feeling great about ourselves, which can lower our self-esteem and body confidence, subsequently lowering our libido.

Our relationships may be under strain when we are stressed due to the factors mentioned above which can cause further stress and further relationship problems.

Stress leading to Erectile Problems

Stress can adversely affect our ability to get an erection. When we are aroused our brain sends messages to body to allow extra blood flow to the penis resulting in an erection. Stress interrupts this process and so we are less likely to get an erection when stressed. We might feel stressed about not being able to get an erection, which can contribute to a cycle of stress and erectile problems. There may be medical reasons for erectile dysfunction. Please see your GP if you are experiencing any problems.

Stress affecting our fertility

Stress is a common factor in reducing our fertility. Stress signals to our body that we are in danger and to prepare us for survival. Our brain does not differentiate between types of danger and stress automatically triggers the fight/flight response (please see previous article for further information on fight/flight Stress and the body). Our bodies are designed to prevent conception when we are in danger, and therefore when we are stressed. In addition to this, often when we are stressed we may choose a poor diet and lifestyle, which can further reduce our ability to conceive. For many of us there are medical reasons for not being able to conceive. I would advise seeing your GP for fertility tests if you are experiencing problems. If there is no medical reason for not conceiving, examining your stress levels and reducing stress can be beneficial.

Chemicals in Fight/Flight inhibit sex hormones

Problems relating to sex and fertility can also be explained by the chemicals in our bodies when we are stressed. The fight/flight response is triggered when we are stressed to protect us from the immediate danger our body believes we are in. Chemicals including adrenaline and cortisol are released, which can inhibit the release of sex hormones. Subsequently this may suppress ovulation in women (resulting in missed periods), signal to our body that conditions are not correct for conception in women and reduce sperm count in men (resulting in fertility problems), interrupt blood flow to sexual organs (resulting in erectile problems for men) and lower libido in both men and women. Reducing stress can counteract these health problems and improve our well-being and mood. Learning about stress and examining stress in our own lives are big steps in combating stress. I will now introduce you to a stress reducing exercise for you to try.

Stress reducing exercise – Imagining our safe place

This exercise uses our imagination and may take some practice and thought for some of us who find visualisation difficult. Don’t worry if you find this exercise hard, many of us don’t see colours or images clearly in our minds. Practice will improve your ability to visualise so please give it a few tries.

Firstly find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed and close your eyes. Begin by taking a few long slow gentle breaths in and out. When you are ready begin to think of a place you feel safe and relaxed. This might be somewhere you have visited or it might be a place you have imagined.

If you can’t think of a safe place, think of somewhere you really like. Maybe you went there on holiday or it was your favourite hiding place as a child. Maybe it is a place in your house or maybe you have heard of it from a book, film or tv programme.

You are completely in charge of this image so you can change it any way you like. If it is outside you can choose the weather exactly how you like it. You can make it quiet or with noises. You may want to be alone or you may want to have a loved one there but they are only to be there if they make you feel safe. You are to feel safe at all times while you are imagining your safe place.

Use all your senses to help you think of your safe place:

what can you see? Look all around you for colours and textures.
what can you hear? Close by sounds and far away sounds.
what can you smell? (if anything)
what can you feel? are you barefoot? sitting? lying down? holding anything in your hands? how does your body feel?
what can you taste? Do you have your favourite meal or snacks with you? or drinks?

If at any point your mind wanders, such as thoughts about what you have to do next, this is normal. When you notice this, gently bring your focus back to your breath and to your safe place. Do this as many times as your mind wanders.

Spend as much time imagining your safe place as you feel comfortable. Maybe try one minute to start and then build up to 5 minutes. When you are ready to end your practice focus on your breath for a few long slow breaths and then thank yourself for taking the time to reduce stress and improve your wellbeing.

I hope you find this article and exercise helpful. Please like and share if you do. We will start a new stress management series next week.  Until then have a great week and enjoy spending time in your safe place.

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