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.
Other Kinds of Intimacy
It looks as though intercourse with a partner is the most beneficial form of sex for stress relief but Crow says it's important for people to understand that many different kinds of intimacy can help us distress. "Skin to skin contact can be extremely soothing, says Crow. "It's not like something has to happen that's erotic." She says that showering with a partner or taking a nap with them are other forms of intimacy that confer their own valuable physical and mental health benefits. In a 2006 study, fMRI scans showed that women's brains reacted less to stressors if they were holding hands with their husbands while being stressed.
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