Nov. 25, 2013 at 3:09 PM ET
Research has recently shown what experience has unfortunately proven time and time again: Stress is not good for your sex life. But it's not just because your mind isn't in the mood — it's because of the way your body handles too much stress, finds a recent study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.
The study divided a sample of women into two groups — a high-stress group and an average-stress group — then measured their levels of arousal while they watched an erotic video. The women in the high-stress group showed lower levels of genital arousal, higher levels of distraction, and higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which researchers hypothesize contributed to decreased physical arousal. In other words, when your brain is buzzing with to-do lists and should-have-dones, your below-the-belt area isn't primed to operate at peak performance.
Ironically, the best way to take action is to get some action. "Orgasm is an amazing natural stress reliever," says Joan Price, a sex expert, creator of NakedAtOurAge.com and author of "Naked At Our Age: Talking Out Loud About Senior Sex." "Whether it's with a partner or by yourself with a toy, having sex will give you a physiological release that will make you feel better." It may sound easier said than done (after all, the last thing you need is one more thing on your to-do list). That's why Price suggests these simple steps to ensure that your sex life doesn't suffer, even when you're stressed.
Exercise. Not only is exercise a well-known stress reducer, but it increases blood flow, including to the genital area, explains Price. Consider yoga, since studies have found that a regular yoga practice may increase sexual arousal and lubrication.
Ask for a back rub. Even if you're not in the mood, skin-on-skin contact is crucial for stress relief. Not only does massage lower stress hormones, but the intimacy of the experience keeps you and your partner connected. It may even be the trigger you need to actually get into bed together. "People think that desire has to come before the physiological response, but that's not the case," says Price. "That's especially true for women and men in mid-life, when they're not driven by hormones." So start with an innocent rub down, then let your partner know if you're in the mood for more.
Put it on the calendar. A sex date may seem absurd — especially if your slammed schedule is the cause of your stress — but putting it in writing will make it more likely to happen. It'll also help get your brain and body in sync. "Thinking about what lingerie you'll wear, whether you're going to try a toy, and what you want to do ignites your anticipation and can start the physiological response of arousal," says Price. So get that hot date in mind and get ready to chill out.
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