We Americans are a pretty stressed out bunch. I mean, it tracks. According to the 2017 Stress in America survey, conducted by the American Psychological Association, we are. Sixty-two percent of us point to work as a significance source of stress. Other triggers involve money and crime. Oh, and there’s also politics to take into consideration. Concerns surrounding the state of our nation proved to be the most significant source of stress among those surveyed. Apparently, a majority of Americans feel as though we’re moving through one of the lowest points in our nation’s history. Yeah, that’s stressful. And it won’t be long before that weight starts to take a toll on the body, on top of the mind.
Common symptoms of stress include fatigue, headache, high blood pressure and irritability. These symptoms are typically caused by an increase in cortisol levels, the body’s natural response to stress. Unfortunately, there’s something else that this kind of jump can affect: your libido.
So it’s best to take measures to prevent stress from seeping into the bedroom. In fact, it’s one of the number one mood-killers in relationships. That’s why we turned to Jaqui Olliver. A psychosexual relationship specialist and founder of End The Problem, Olliver is a resource for couples experiencing problems pertaining to sex and intimacy. According to her, it’s often issues related to stress that land them there. We spoke to Olliver about how stress affects sex, and what couples can do to prevent the two from colliding.
How does stress typically manifest itself within a relationship?
Much of the stress and anxiety we experience in life is manufactured by our thoughts, words and actions, or lack of action. This is compounded when we are in a relationship with another person as we tend to feel emotionally triggered when we feel hurt, fearful, or disappointed. This leads to arguments, tension, anxiety and stress as we try to navigate the turbulent waters of accusations and criticism and not feeling heard or understood.
How might that affect sex, specifically?
I’ll frame this answer within the context of a concept I call “mental contamination.” Examples of mental contamination include perceiving or imagining the worst scenarios and focusing on aspects of your partner that are annoying or irritating. As well as leading you toward being judgmental, overreactive, blaming and accusing, indulging in negative thoughts makes you become more easily triggered and less fun to be around. During sex it means focusing on the wrong thing at the wrong time and activating the wrong program, such as ejaculation instead of a hard erection.
So stress can affect the actual mechanics of sex, not just the drive to have it?
Right. Hard erections, ejaculation and orgasms don’t “just happen.” If you were to break the sexual act down moment-by-moment like the frames of a movie you would see that there is a step-by-step thought-to-action sequence occurring. Now, we aren’t always taught the mental or physical mechanics of sex, which is why sexual dysfunction is so prevalent in adults. A staggering 80% of women have problems reaching orgasm during intercourse and over 30% of men suffer from sexual “malfunctions” such as premature ejaculation and erectile dysfunction.
Many men lose their desire for sex when suffering from a sexual dysfunction such as premature ejaculation or erectile dysfunction. It can contribute to a feeling of failure.
Is that something that can be easily resolved?
These sexual “malfunctions” are easily resolved with the correct knowledge and technique. Once a man understands the order in which his sexual programs need to work, he can get erect, stay erect and choose the timing of when he ejaculates. As a woman, it becomes easy for her to get turned on, stay turned on and easily reach orgasm multiples times within a sexual act. Plus, these mental mechanics can help intensify your emotional and physical connection as well.
How might the stress of having kids affect sex and intimacy within the context of a long-term commitment?
In my practice, I see many couples torn apart by conflicting parenting techniques and a lack of desire for sex after the birth of children. Sometimes, it’s relates to a partner’s unwanted sexual technique.
What can couples do to turn the situation around?
Couples need to be on the same page, knowing what you both want in life, and in your relationship. If there’s something you don’t like about your partner’s sexual technique then ask for an adjustment instead of using the children as an excuse to not have sex. While kids throw in some extra curve balls to keep you both on your toes, you can’t let them come in between you emotionally or sexually. This is why it’s important communicating respectfully toward each other in front of your children and back each other up as well. No good cop, bad cop. Keep praise and discipline on an even keel and resolve your emotional responses when you feel triggered so you both retain the desire for sexual intimacy.
Why is it important to work on sexual intimacy during stressful times?
Mutually satisfying sex helps bring two people together and can rebalance the relationship when it goes off kilter. Men connect emotionally through sexual intimacy so it is important for a woman to respect and honor this fact. And most women feel turned on when they feel a strong emotional connection. At the end of the day, intimacy and sexual desire gives more life to the relationship.
*Quotes have been lighted edited for clarity