Sexual Health

The Skin-Stress-Sex Connection

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

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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 for 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.

* This Website is for general skin beauty, wellness, and health information only. This Website is not to be used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment of any health condition or problem. The information provided on this Website should never be used to disregard, delay, or refuse treatment or advice from a physician or a qualified health provider.

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References

  1. Dixon LJ, Witcraft SM, McCowan NK, et al. Stress and Skin Disease Quality of Life: The Moderating Role of Anxiety Sensitivity Social Concerns. Br J Dermatol.2017;10.1111/bjd.16082PMID: 29078254 Link to research.
  2. Cohen S, Janicki-Deverts D, Miller GE. Psychological stress and disease. JAMA.2007;298(14):1685-1687; PMID: 17925521 Link to research.
  3. Schiavi RC, Segraves RT. The biology of sexual function. Psychiatr Clin North Am.1995;18(1):7-23; PMID: 7761308 Link to research.
  4. Meston CM, Gorzalka BB. Differential effects of sympathetic activation on sexual arousal in sexually dysfunctional and functional women. J Abnorm Psychol.1996;105(4):582-591; PMID: 8952191 Link to research.
  5. Meston CM. Sympathetic nervous system activity and female sexual arousal. Am J Cardiol.2000;86(2A):30F-34F; PMID: 10899275 Link to research.
  6. Saxbe D, Repetti RL. For better or worse? Coregulation of couples' cortisol levels and mood states. J Pers Soc Psychol.2010;98(1):92-103; PMID: 20053034 Link to research.
  7. McLaughlin KJ, Baran SE, Conrad CD. Chronic stress- and sex-specific neuromorphological and functional changes in limbic structures. Mol Neurobiol.2009;40(2):166-182; PMID: 19653136 Link to research.
  8. Ditzen B, Hoppmann C, Klumb P. Positive couple interactions and daily cortisol: on the stress-protecting role of intimacy. Psychosom Med.2008;70(8):883-889; PMID: 18842747 Link to research.
  9. Castellini G, Lo Sauro C, Ricca V, et al. Body Esteem as a Common Factor of a Tendency Toward Binge Eating and Sexual Dissatisfaction Among Women: The Role of Dissociation and Stress Response During Sex. J Sex Med.2017;14(8):1036-1045; PMID: 28666657 Link to research.
  10. George WH, Davis KC, Masters NT, et al. Sexual victimization, alcohol intoxication, sexual-emotional responding, and sexual risk in heavy episodic drinking women. Arch Sex Behav.2014;43(4):645-658; PMID: 23857517 Link to research.
  11. Basson R. The female sexual response: a different model. J Sex Marital Ther.2000;26(1):51-65; PMID: 10693116 Link to research.
  12. Pietromonaco PR, Collins NL. Interpersonal mechanisms linking close relationships to health. Am Psychol.2017;72(6):531-542; PMID: 28880100 Link to research.
  13. JM H, BG S, JG S. Daily Hassles, Intimacy, and Marital Quality in Later Life Marriages. The American Journal of Family Therapy.2010;28(1)PMID: Link to research.
  14. Sampogna F, Abeni D, Gieler U, et al. Impairment of Sexual Life in 3,485 Dermatological Outpatients From a Multicentre Study in 13 European Countries. Acta Derm Venereol.2017;97(4):478-482; PMID: 27819713 Link to research.
  15. Janse IC, Deckers IE, van der Maten AD, et al. Sexual health and quality of life are impaired in hidradenitis suppurativa: a multicentre cross-sectional study. Br J Dermatol.2017;176(4):1042-1047; PMID: 27534591 Link to research.
  16. Deckers IE, Kimball AB. The Handicap of Hidradenitis Suppurativa. Dermatol Clin.2016;34(1):17-22; PMID: 26617353 Link to research.
  17. Molina-Leyva A, Jimenez-Moleon JJ, Naranjo-Sintes R, et al. Sexual dysfunction in psoriasis: a systematic review. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol.2015;29(4):649-655; PMID: 25424331 Link to research.
  18. Wallwiener CW, Wallwiener LM, Seeger H, et al. Sexual Function, Contraception, Relationship, and Lifestyle in Female Medical Students. J Womens Health (Larchmt).2017;26(2):169-177; PMID: 27690283 Link to research.