How do you deal with stress? Many people turn to food, drink, or exercise for comfort, but sex can actually be one of the best ways to relax and unwind. The problem is that stress can often zap your desire for sexual connection.
Between work, family, and life’s many other demands, sex can quickly fall to the bottom of a person’s to-do list. Even when stressed-out couples do have time to connect physically, they are often so tired, worried and disconnected that sex is the last thing on their minds.
It seems that stress might also affect men and women differently. For a long time, we believed that men and women both went into “fight-or-flight” mode when faced with stressful situations, as this is what early humans would have done when confronted with dangers, such as wild animals.
However, anthropologists now believe that women actually go into “tend-or-befriend” mode when stressed. The division of labor in the early days of humankind meant that men often went out to hunt while women stayed “home” with the children. When dangerous situations arose, women weren’t out battling a saber-toothed tiger but rather caring for the young and bonding with other women in their tribe.
What does this mean for today’s relationships? Well, when confronted with stress, men tend to want to escape the situation, maybe disappearing into their man-cave with their favorite video game or a six-pack. Many men release stress with some type of physical exertion like exercise or sexual activity.
Women, on the other hand, might be more interested in bonding and curling up on the couch, wanting to cling close to their family. They might reach out to their friends for a long talk…or simply get lost in the latest episode of Scandal. Whatever their comfort of choice, sex is often the last thing on a woman’s mind after the end of a long day, especially if she is feeling physically and emotionally drained.
Of course, this isn’t always true across the board. For example, while men often use sex as a way to relieve stress, certain types of stress can also make men shut down sexually. For instance if a man is worried about his job or his financial situation, he may withdraw from sex. Many men define masculinity as an ability to take care of one’s family. If they feel as though as they are failing on that front, it often negatively impacts their desire and their ability to perform in the bedroom.
Here are some other things to keep in mind when dealing with stress and sex:
• Don’t wait until the end of the day to have sex; try finding alternate times to enjoy sexual pleasure. Instead of waiting until 11 p.m. when you are exhausted and just want to fall into bed, consider early-morning sex or having sex in the shower before heading out for work.
• Don’t write-off sexual pleasure. This doesn’t mean that you should have sex when you really aren’t in the mood. But it does mean you should be open to the idea of having sex and indulge in plenty of kissing and physical affection throughout the day. Even if it doesn’t lead to sex, affection will keep you bonded and more ready for sex when the time is right.
• Take care of your health. It’s easy to turn to food or alcohol or other substances for comfort when you are stressed, but doing so will only wreak further havoc on your sexual desire. Instead, utilize healthy stress-management tools. Exercise frequently and eat well, and make your health a priority. Sex can be an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Not only does sex burn calories and make you feel good, it also can decrease stress…a true win-win.
Laura Berman, PhD, is a world renowned sex and relationship educator and therapist; popular TV, radio and Internet host; New York Times best-selling author; and assistant clinical professor of ob-gyn and psychiatry at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago. Dr. Berman is a New York Times best-selling author of many books on sexual health and pleasure, a weekly columnist for the Chicago Sun Times, and host of the radio program "Uncovered with Dr. Laura Berman."