Sex and Stress

Given the Herculean task modern couples face each day as they race between jobs, children, aging parents, and myriad social and civic activities, stress has become a fact of life, as much a part of our environment as the air we breathe. And our sex lives may be suffering as a result.

What hurts sex lives?

In a random phone survey by Yankelovich and Partners, 1,000 Americans between 18 and 65 were asked what hurt their sex lives the most. Stress came first -- before kids, work, health problems, boredom, money problems, and inexperience. Twenty-five percent of men and 28 percent of women said stress was most to blame for their dampened ardor.

In his book, Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers, an in-depth examination of stress, neuroscientist Robert M. Sapolsky explains the impact of stress on our love lives.

"Stress disrupts female libido," Sapolsky reports, explaining that stress affects women's hormone levels, which in turn can inhibit sexual desire. "This is a commonplace experience among women stressed by any of a number of circumstances."

Stress and primates

For men, physical and psychological stress immediately triggers a drop in testosterone levels: "Lower the dominance rank of a social primate and down go his testosterone levels," Sapolsky reports. "Put a person or a monkey through a stressful learning task and the same occurs." Stress can also undermine sexual performance by contributing to impotence or premature ejaculation, something that Sapolsky says is extremely common: "In general, problems with erections are more disruptive than problems with testosterone secretion. ... The erectile component is exquisitely sensitive to stress in an incredible variety of species."

No wonder our sexual lives need protection from the relentless stress of modern life. Experts agree, though, that sharing domestic duties, carving out private time, turning down extra projects at work, and cherishing our relationships can go a long way toward rekindling the flames.

References

Sapolsky, Robert M. Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers: an Updated Guide to Stress, Stress-Related Diseases, and Coping. W. H. Freeman and Company. 1998.

Berman, Laura, Ph.D., and Dr. Jennifer Berman. Female Sexual Medicine Center at UCLA Medical Center. www.ABCnews.com.

Yankelovich & Partners. Phone survey for Adam & Eve Catalogue, 2000.

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