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.
Sex with a Partner
Most research done on sex is talking only about intercourse between partners. As it turns out, whether you have sex alone or with a partner makes a big difference to your body. When you have sex with a partner – regardless of how well you know them – your body releases oxytocin. When you're alone, it doesn't. This hormone makes us feel more bonded to the person we're with and can also act a natural sedative and increase empathy. Research also shows that intercourse is associated with many health benefits that masturbation isn't, including better erectile functioning, less body fat, and reduced blood pressure spikes in reaction to stress.
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