Stress & Sex - Lahnee Pavlovich
Updated: Jul 14, 2020
Let’s just get straight to the point shall we. Stress is a bitch. It messes with our minds, our energy, our physicality, our sex life! And stress is one of those things that can either creep up on you over time, or hit you like a ton of bricks. It is also something everyone experiences in some way over the course of their life.
On a personal level, I’ve been suffering from pretty severe adrenal fatigue recently which is caused by stress both mentally, and also physically. But, silly me let things get so bad that what started as simple stress, led to thyroid and hormone issues and imbalances, malabsorption, bad gut micro biome and, basically, I feel like crap!
I don’t want anyone else to let themselves get to that point which is why I’m starting this discussion here and now. My advice to you all, if you feel overwhelmed and stressed, you need to slow down. The hustle can wait. Trust me. Because as a result of severe stress, here is what can happen on a physical level.
Headaches & Migraines, insomnia, decreased immune function, heartburn, digestive issues, bloating, diarrhoea or constipation or both, water retention and weight gain, tense, sore muscles, extreme fatigue, heavy periods, erectile dysfunction, and low libido or sex drive!
And if you think you don’t have time to take some R&R, then you certainly don’t have the time to be dealing with any of those symptoms.
For the purpose of this blog post, and in correlation with my recent podcast, I want to focus your attention to the whole lowered sex drive thing. Because what people aren’t aware of, is that stress can affect our sex lives in some pretty serious ways.
If we think about this on a very base level initially, you simply cannot have a head full of worries while also having great sex. Great sex requires presence. Also, when you don’t want sex, usually, that goes hand in hand with not wanting to be touched at all and this can have all sorts of implications on not only your relationship with yourself, but on your other relationships too both intimate and not.
When we look at sexuality as a whole, a low libido is not only affected by these stress hormones that are released into our bodies, but also by social, relational, and psychological factors. What that means, is when the stress hormones kick in, that sense of closeness we feel when we are with our loved one is commonly replaced by a feeling of absence. I mean, it is fairy impossible to be present with those around you, to listen and to be interested in what people are saying, if you’re feeling stressed out. It’s actually pretty hard to deal with anyone but yourself.
And look, it’s not all that abnormal to find your sex drive stuck in neutral from time to time. When work is crazy, or home is crazy, or you’re crazy-exhausted and just want some time alone. Low levels of everyday stress can result in feeling “not in the mood” short term, but over time, this this prolonged stress and prolonged disinterest in our sexuality, gets a little more serious.
How you ask? Well, stress can be a contributing factor in a medical condition known as Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder, or extreme low sex drive! Its ongoing, it’s been recognised in the medical community as a common sexual dysfunction in women and essentially, it is an imbalance of chemicals in the brain.
Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (or HSDD), effects 1 in 10 people and it lowers your sexual desire and leaves you feeling really frustrated. It can make you avoid intimacy, feel a lot of pressure around sex and even simple intimate contact, and this can lead to self-esteem issues and put some serious stress in your relationships.
I have spoken with many women over the years who have felt this in some degree. Including myself over periods of time. But talking about sex is still so taboo that people generally suffer in silence. Or they feel scared to bring it up with their partner or friends. There is a lot of societal pressure to put on this show in our relationships and just pretend it’s all ok. But we don’t need to put up with this and let it become our new normal. Because there is a fix for this and honestly, if you don’t seek some ways of reducing stress, or dealing with HSDD, if this is what is going on, and I recommend speaking to your doctor about it, things will get worse and your mental health will be affected negatively.
It isn’t normal to have no sex drive over prolonged periods of time and if you want some more information on HSDD or low sex drive, head to unblush.com as they have a heap of information for you to look through.
Aside from low libido or in extreme cases, HSDD, for women, stress can also affect our menstrual cycle, lead to irregular, heavier, or more painful periods and amplify PMS or menopause symptoms too. Studies also show that women with high levels of alpha-amylase, an enzyme that correlates with stress, have a harder time getting pregnant.
A recent study that took saliva samples from 274 women over six menstrual cycles (or until they got pregnant) revealed that those with the highest enzyme concentrations during the first cycle were 12 percent less likely to conceive than were women with the lowest levels. So that is something to consider if you’re trying to conceive and finding things aren’t moving forward.
When it comes to men, on a physiological level, stress can interfere with sperm production too, which will also heavily impact couples trying to conceive. Essentially, what can happen when men are highly over-stressed, is that they are more likely to have lower concentrations of sperm in their ejaculate, and the sperm they do have are more likely to be misshapen or have impaired motility. A study conducted at the Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health indicated that stress may trigger the release of steroid hormones called glucocorticoids, which in turn could blunt levels of testosterone and sperm production.
Another possibility is oxidative stress, which has been shown to affect semen quality and fertility. And this is pretty important because when a couple is trying, and struggling, to conceive, usually more stress is put on each individual. This is why a lot of couples who do need to go down the IVF route will actually fall pregnant naturally later on because the stress of conceiving is gone, so our bodies go back to their normal, healthy state. While we are on the topic of men, stress can also be a cause erectile dysfunction.
Pretty heavy stuff, right? We look at stress as such a normal thing these days without realising that when it gets to an extreme level, it affects everything in our lives. Let’s change the way we look at stress. Let’s change the conversations we have around stressful situations because, lovers, the good news is that stress is manageable with the right tools.
Managing stress is going to be different for everyone. And I want to point out that I am not a doctor, so please go see one if you feel as though stress is affecting your life on any of the levels I mentioned before. Also, go and see an integrative health practitioner because both will look at different things, and diagnose different things too. I chose to see both and implement a multi-level plan to get my stress levels down and my life back on track.
Being that I’m not huge on medication unless it’s absolutely necessary, I decided to go down the natural route first, and create what I’m calling operation CTFO (or operation chill the fuck out) where I’ll be focusing on a few different things to try and balance things out.
Food; This one is a multi-level sort of thing. I actually discovered that I had quite a few underlying intolerance's and sensitivities to different food groups, so, for me, eating better means cutting out the foods that were causing me issues, like gluten, lactose, citrus. In turn this will decrease some of the internal stress on my body and return my gut bacteria and gut function to the right levels.
A little bad news though for all my fellow coffee lovers out there, if you’re highly stressed, especially to the point of adrenal fatigue, caffeine is going to be one of those things you need to cut. Because in moderate doses, caffeine can actually boost your mood, metabolism and mental and physical performance, but, when your body is already in a heightened state of stress, caffeine has the opposite effect and can put a lot of extra pressure on your already overworked adrenal glands. If you're looking for a great coffee alternative, check out LOV Maté.
Relaxation & Fun: Ahh yes, what’s that again? I run businesses, study, am a mum and wife and I was up until this all happened, training for a body building comp so relaxation was not part of my life at all. So, something I’ve decided to implement in my own life is ‘daily rituals’. Basically, including one relaxing thing into my day, one fun thing into my day and one sensual thing into my day. So, I can reinvigorate by body and mind while also recharging.
Communication: This is a big one. Talk to your partner, your family and close friends about what’s going on because that will help them understand why you’re not feeling or acting like yourself. It will also help you by not taking it all on alone. Stress is universal so people will understand. When it comes to sex, communication is always the key but particularly in this instance because talking will allow you to work through it together.
I hope this has shed some light on this topic and if nothing else, shown you the importance of working on stress levels before they become very unhealthy.
I'm Lahnee Pavlovich; a Sex Educator, Wellness Coach, Dating & Relationship Expert, Body Image Advocate & Psychologist in the making.