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Does Stress Affect Your Sex Life?

An up-close view of a man and woman with their heads touched together
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Does too much stress ruin your love life? It’s possible. Stress produces the hormone cortisol, which can weaken your sex drive. Stress can also lead to headaches, depression, loneliness, fatigue and even, yes, indigestion — all of which dampen desire.

We’re also less likely to focus on healthy habits, such as exercising, sleeping well and eating right, which can further affect libido. Add in the usual sources of stress — work, money, family — and you’re probably not in the mood for love.

We experience stress for a reason. The stress response is part of a defense system that helps us when we’re threatened: It’s what spurred our prehistoric ancestors to run when confronted by saber-toothed tigers. Even today, stress isn’t always bad. It can motivate you, even if you’re not being chased by a predator.

Unfortunately, prolonged tension can make you unintentionally celibate. And sex has many health benefits, from boosting our immune system to reducing the risk of prostate cancer (not to mention sustaining our species).

Here are three stress-busting options that may improve your sex life.

1. Communication. Studies have found that men and women who discussed sex with their partners increased their enjoyment of sex. For both women and men, talking openly about sex increases pleasure and decreases tension.

2. Stress management. Determine what helps you relax. It could range from reading and golfing to meditation and yoga, from spending time with friends to taking a hot bath. Self-care doesn’t have to be expensive or lavish — although the occasional indulgence, such as a relaxing massage, can also help.

3. Leave work at work. In a study of married couples by researchers at Oregon State University, employees who carried stress home with them — whether answering emails or ruminating about work — were significantly less likely to have sex that night.

Learn more on AARP® Staying Sharp®

This content is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide any expert, professional or specialty advice or recommendations. Readers are urged to consult with their medical providers for all questions.

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