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The Skin-Stress-Sex Connection

Your skin health and stress can have a profound effect on your intimacy and relationships

Published on 02/11/2018
Mind and BodySexual HealthSexualityFemale Sexual HealthMale Sexual HealthStress ReductionMental HealthWesternNaturopathy
couple sex stress connection

We all know that too much stress is unhealthy. Chronically high stress is associated with weight gain, poor mental alertness, and even worsening of skin conditions like acne and psoriasis.[1] It is important to know that stress doesn’t just affect us mentally, but can have profound physical effects as well. The sensation of stress involves a complex network of hormones and signaling that affects every single organ system! Did you know that prolonged high-stress levels have even been shown to increase the risk of cancer?[2]

In our busy society today, chronic stress has become the norm for many people, leading to a problem that is more common than you may think. Read this article to learn about how stress may be destroying your sex life!

Stress Reduces Libido

The stress response naturally reduces or even eliminates libido.[3] In stressful situations, or body naturally goes into a fight-or-flight response in order to survive.[4] The body’s physiological response to acute stress is to increase heart rate and blood flow, not non-essential responses like a sex-drive.[5]

Chronic Stress Leads to Elevated Cortisol

Prolonged stress for a long duration of time can lead to chronically elevated levels of the hormone called cortisol.[6] Cortisol is essential and our bodies need it, in small doses. However, excessively elevated cortisol has been shown to reduce libido, and ultimately may lead to less frequent intimacy.[7] Not only does cortisol reduce sex drive, but can significantly disturb menstruation cycles and also contribute to women feeling less in the “mood.”[8]

Stress Can Make the Mind Distracted During Sex

Being frazzled with stressful thoughts can be a real hindrance during sex. The brain is vitally important for an enjoyable sexual experience and distraction caused by stress can lead to a poor focus on your partner, less arousal, and can even prevent orgasm.

Stress Can Cause Weight Gain and Indirectly Affect Your Sex Life

Chronic stress hormones can disrupt metabolism, leading to weight fluctuations and even changes in weight distribution. For instance, chronically elevated cortisol is associated with the excess fat on the back and neck called a “buffalo hump” and excess abdominal fat, which can negatively affect body image.[9] It is only natural for people to feel less willing to engage in sexual activity if they are uncomfortable with their body. A poor self-image can lead to less sex, and less sex may negatively affect your relationship.

Stress Is Associated with Anxiety and Depression

It is well known that stress can go hand in hand with anxiety and depression. Many people who suffer from these conditions say they don’t feel like having sex at all. On top of this, excessive alcohol intake to escape or soothe feelings of anxiety or depression can also negatively impact your sex life.[10] Excessive or prolonged alcohol intake can actually dull sex! In addition, alcohol leads to dehydration and may noticeably impact lubrication.[11]

Chronic Skin Conditions Can Profoundly Affect Sexuality

It is especially common for people with skin diseases to have a higher rate of sexual troubles for a variety of reasons. In fact, researchers have surveyed thousands of people with dermatological conditions and found that sexual problems are very common in people with psoriasis, hidradenitis suppurativa, and even eczema.[14] For some patients, they feel insecure about their partner seeing their rash so they refrain from engaging in sexual activity.  In some conditions, such as hidradenitis suppurativa, painful skin sores and lesions in the genital region may physically prevent them from having sex.[15,16] In people with psoriasis, there is a significantly increased risk for sexual dysfunction.[17] Skin conditions that cause an impaired sex life are strongly linked with depression, anxiety, and even suicidal ideation. This is why it is especially important to inform your dermatologist and/or health provider if you are experiencing sexual problems because it is an important component of your well being.

How Can I Reduce Stress and Have a Healthier Sex Life?

It is normal to experience stress on a daily basis. We all have finances, school, work, family issues, travel, and more that would be impossible to eliminate as sources of stress. Even when couples do find time to connect physically, they are often too tired, frazzled, or disconnected to make sex a priority.[12] This is why it is vitally important to find regular stress outlets that ease your mind and permit for a healthier sex life. In fact, intimacy itself is actually one way that has been shown to reduce stress, by producing feelings like closeness and calmness![8,13]

Find healthy stress outlets

There are many ways to reduce stress when made a regular part of your daily routine!  Here are a few ideas to reduce stress:

  • Exercise – regular exercise can promote much better sex lives and stamina.[18]
  • Practice mindfulness – breathing exercises, meditation, and yoga are all ways to promote relaxation and alleviate stress and tension.
  • Do your favorite hobby
  • Read a book or watch a short television show

Take care of your health

Avoid turning to unhealthy foods or alcohol to relieve stress. Junk food and alcohol will only wreak havoc on your self-body image and sexual desire, so turn to regular exercise, sufficient sleep, and nutritious meals instead!

Share lots of affection with your partner

Even if cuddling and kissing do not lead to sex, it will promote affection, intimacy, and stronger bonding for when the time is right!

Set the mood

Promote a relaxing and romantic environment with music, scented candles, soft lighting, and even a massage for your loved one.

If you have tried multiple methods of stress relief, but are still feeling a damper on your sex life do not be afraid to reach out for help! There are experts trained specifically in helping people understand their own personal hurdles in order to have a better sex life.


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