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.
Not only has partnered sex been shown to reduce people's reactivity to stress but sex may actually change our brain so that we can better cope with future stress. Scientists in a 2010 study found that rats that had daily sex for two weeks stopped producing extra corticosterone (the rat-equivalent of cortisol). This led them to act less anxious in stressful situations and promoted neural growth that would have otherwise been suppressed by their cortisol-like hormones.
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