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.
A good place to start if you're looking to understand the relationship between sex and stress is understanding that it's a cyclical one. On one side, sex can reduce stress, which can motivate people to want more sex. On the other side, stress can make people not want to have sex, which can create more stress (particularly in a partner relationship). "It's a complicated relationship and they're so tightly related that it can be hard to separate out the stress from sexual problems and vice versa," says Downs. That is why it's important to look at both your sex life and stress level if you're experiencing problems in either area.
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