People evolved so that our body amps up adrenaline and cortisol in response to stressors, like being chased by saber-toothed tigers back in the day. Unfortunately, the evolutionary process tends to be a little slow (and far from perfect), so our bodies can't really tell the difference between a little problem – we're running late to work – and a big one – that tiger. As a result, stressed out people are dealing with a lot of extra adrenaline and cortisol in their system and that can take a serious toll. "I think people tend to underestimate the effects of stress on their lives in general," says Cay L. Crow, a Texas-based certified sex therapist. Too much stress can make people more likely to develop high blood pressure and change our brains in ways that may contribute to anxiety, depression, and addiction.
To deal with stress, some people turn to a trigger for more positive hormones: sex. Using sex to de-stress can indeed work wonders but it affects everyone in a unique way and is not a stress cure-all. "If somebody is experiencing chronic stress I wouldn't say that problem is that they're not having enough sex and so they should have more sex and that'd fix it," says Martin Downs, public health professional and author of Penthouse magazine's Carnal Knowledge column. With all that in mind, read on to learn how sex and stress affect us and each other.
All of the hormones released during sex are pretty much perfect for improving a person's mood. They make people feel relaxed, can encourage compassion, and even act a pain relievers. A 2007 study on women also found that physical affection or sexual behavior (with a partner) one day predicted less stress and a more positive mood the next. As you might expect, the stress-sex cycle held true: positive mood one day was also a predictor of more physical affection or sexual activity with a partner the day after. "The better you feel, the happier you are, the more sex you have and the more you want to have sex," says Downs. Unfortunately, he says simply jumping into bed when stressed isn't likely to fix the problem.
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