Human Sexuality and Stress Management

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Quick summary: Sex has a positive impact on stress and yet stress has a negative impact on sexual frequency and desire. I have two suggestions: one, intentionally engage in practices that reduce the distracting power of stress so that you and your partner are more able to focus on the potential of sexuality in the moment, and two, allow your insight and knowledge of the relationship between sex and stress to serve as a motivator to initiate foreplay so that the resulting sex can help you to manage your stress. Either way, increasing sexuality in a committed relationship has been researched to be linked with decreased stress (an incidentally, an increased immune system). If you look at what chemicals (I will be calling hormones and neurotransmitters chemicals for simplicity) are released in the brain when you take anti-anxiety and/or depression medications you will find that your body naturally releases many of the same chemicals during sex (and exercise and unfortunately when eating high calorie foods – this is why we crave items that are not in the best interest of our bodies – increasing calorie intake was historically necessary for survival – now the opposite is often true, but our biology has not changed). Sex does not have all the side effects of medication such as a reduced libido. Sex in a committed relationship (yes the improvements are more significant in a trusting relationship… some of the positive chemicals are not released simply do to orgasm) has a wide range of positive impacts.

Disclosure – for this article I will not be talking about the impact of trauma, family of origin issues, culture, lack of proper technique,  or deeper relationship variables as related to human sexuality. The suggestions in this post are best suited for individuals in a relatively good committed relationship who are looking for practical ways to reduce stress with increased sexuality.

Most people reading this are probably not all too surprised that sex is extremely good for your mental, spiritual, and physical health.

Many of you are probably thinking, “Well I know that… I want more sex… but I have no idea how to increase frequency or desire.”

My first suggestion is insight or knowledge based – knowledge can be used to positively influence behavior.

 

  • There many people out there that are perfectly able to motivate themselves to engage in advantageous behaviors so long as they are informed as to which behaviors are advantageous and why.

 

  • This means that some people will do it if you give them a good reason to.

 

Here is what some of the research has said about human sexuality and wellness. (Note: that there is such thing as too much sex – most research seems to suggest that 2- 4 times a week is ideal for most people… of course this will vary from couple to couple.)

  • A healthy sex life has been show to increase immunity to disease in humans (humans that have sex 2-3 times a week have greater immunity than those who are not having sex). Researchers found that you produce more immunoglobin which combats flus and colds.

 

  • Use foreplay to increase desire and avoid letting desire alone dictate when you initiate foreplay. It is very common to not “feel” like having sex. If you have good communication around your foreplay needs you can use foreplay to increase the desire for sex.

  

  • Foreplay means something different for everyone; it could be kissing, a romantic dinner, engaging in a shared hobby, genital stimulation, provocative language, cuddling, emotionally supportive communication etc.

 

  • Healthy sex has a dramatic effect on promoting a positive mood. When you have sex you release the “feel good” chemicals in your brain.

  

  • A healthy sex life greatly reduces feelings of stress and anxiety.

 

  • Sex makes you feel more bonded and/or attached to your partner… sex increases your feeling of love and intimacy. Sex in a committed relationship causes your body to release Oxytocin – which gives you those love sensations.

 

  • Sexual frequency is directly related to male marital satisfaction (and therefore indirectly related to female marital satisfaction in a heterosexual relationship as your marital satisfaction is related to the marital satisfaction of your partner.)

 

  • Some spiritual teachers have commented on how sex is the only time that some people have the opportunity to live 100% in the moment without being distracted by their regular ruminating thought patterns.

 

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    • some teachers go so far as to say that sex is the only time that some people experience spirituality (many people cognitively access concepts concerning spirituality, such as engaging in theological investigation… many people never actually experience the spirituality that they might have a dedicated knowledge of…. you can read every book in the world about forgiveness and compassion without ever experiencing them.)

 

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    • Sex can be a place to access individual spirituality, deep spiritual connection to another, and an egoless state (selfless and non-judgmental presence in the moment). 

 

  • A healthy sex life is crucial for the proper function of the human reproductive organs.

 

  • A healthy sexual relationship promotes a continued healthy sexual relationship… healthy sex = less stress = more healthy sex = more stress reduction etc… this is a positive feedback loop.

 

Here are some practical behaviors and ideas that will increase the likely hood of sexuality in your relationship.

 

  • Exercise regularly and eat healthy foods.

 

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    • Exercise is the absolute best way to reduce the presence of cortisol in your brain; you need some cortisol, but too much cortisol plays a huge part in maintaining your stress cycle (people in a stress cycle have consistent feeling of anxiety and/or hyper vigilance (always looking for potential problems or dangers); people often feel like they are hopelessly trapped – exercise can break the cycle).

 

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    • Exercise reduces stress and anxiety and increases your libido.

 

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    • Eating too much high calorie food will make you lethargic and unmotivated to engage in most any activity… sex included. This makes sense – your body switches from “activity mode” to “digestive mode” – if you eat too much you will be in “digestive mode” for longer.

 

  • Make an effort to manage your ruminating or your “over thinking”. It is extraordinarily hard to be successful in the US without developing an overly active mind… It is extraordinarily difficult to live a healthy stress free life (if not near impossible) with an overly active mind.

 

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    • Set appropriate boundaries for yourself… now your limits and do your best to stay within those limits (turn your work phone off at home, don’t volunteer for extra tasks if your are already overworked, be clear with your boundaries so as to not allow friends, family or co-workers to take advantage of you, make time for yourself etc.)

 

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    • Value your leisure time as being just as important as your work time. (If you have trouble doing this consider the research which states that your effectiveness at work is directly related to your ability to take needed breaks and to avoid overworking.
      • The US work force is overworked… I find it frustrating that the research has clearly shown that we would be more effective if we worked less hours… in short our work model is somewhat insane.

 

  • Be emotionally available to your partner so that you can meet the needs of your partner…

 

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    • Generally both men and women need emotional support (empathetic listening, a hug, understanding, compassion etc) far more often than they need you to fix something. Learn to empathetically listen and you will increase the bonding and trust in your relationships while decreasing the feelings of stress that your partner carries….
      • Supportive Listening should be your default… if it is unclear what your partner needs you should ask, “do you need me to listen or do you want me to take action?”

 

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    • If your partner is less stressed and feels more secure you are more likely to engage in sex, which can further increase security and further decrease stress.

 

  • Engage in behaviors that you know will greatly reduce the stress and anxiety of your partner.

 

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    • What does your spouse need so that they can feel like they can relax? Figure it out and do it.
      • People have a tendency to label their partners as being neurotic… How does your label help your sex life?
      • Yes, most of us have our neurosis and it can be great to get some help for that…but…
        • If you want to have more sex I would suggest doing some of the little things that most positively impact the anxiety of your partner (if they need the kitchen clean – clean it, if they need the drapes closed – close um’, if they need the kids lunches packed before 5 pm – pack um’, if they need printed direction for the road trip next month – print them, if they need the gas tank always full – fill it up etc).

 

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    • John Gottman (a famous couples researcher) found that male sexual satisfaction was directly tied to the amount of house work that the male completed
      • If your spouse is doing all the housework then your spouse is probably pretty stressed. (Gottman also suggested that when men believe they are doing 100% of the housework they are typically doing around 50%)

 

Most people are distracted by things that are not present in the moment… this means that most people are distracted from having sex because they lack the ability to focus their attention on right now.

 

You can train your mind just like you can train your bicep… and just like training your bicep you must practice with regularity and continuity.

 

If you want to increase your sex life it is best that you make your self available for the moments that sex becomes relevant… practice mindfulness.

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

Relationship Sexually Stuck? – A look at your unwritten rules of engagement.

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Quick summary: a simple tweak to the unwritten rules surrounding physical intimacy can recharge the sex life in a relationship. Most people have set rules regarding sex in their relationships… “It has to be…” or “it is only appropriate when…” or “sex is supposed to be for…” A simple suggestion is to write down with your partner why, or for what reason, you usually have sex; then follow this exercise by writing a list of all the various reasons sex is a useful activity in general… use this information to generate different reasons for sex.

There are thousands of reasons why sexual activity can change in frequency and procedure over the years… children, work, libido, time etc. Many people express secondary positive outcomes to the experience of sex (reduced stress, increased relationships satisfaction, more hopeful etc), which encouraged me to write a blog concerning how you might improve your sexual relations.

First of all we usually get in our own way by unconsciously following ‘rules’ concerning sex that we might not even agree with. Rules come from many different places; you might have picked them up from your family, you might have heard a rule expressed in pop culture, or you might have misinterpreted something that your partner said to you etc… either way, I suggest that you might want to look at your rules and see if any of them are not so useful to you (though they might have been very useful in your past).

For example –

“I am too tired to have sex” – unwritten rule – ‘don’t have sex when you are tired’

“I am not in the mood for sex” – unwritten rule – ‘don’t initiate sexual relations including foreplay before you are ready to have sex’.

“I don’t feel very sexy or romantic” – unwritten rule – ‘sex is supposed to be for romance so do not have sex until the ‘romance’ check list is completed’.

“I have a lot going on at work.” – Unwritten rule – ‘life must be less complicated for sex to take place.”

‘My partner did not do the favor that I asked of her’ – Unwritten rule – ‘sex is something that is earned from meeting an expectation.’

Now it is your turn – finish the following sentences (you can use them more than once)

I only have sex if…

I never have sex if…

Sex is supposed to be for…

I don’t have sex because…

Now try and offer to yourself a reason why this rule might not always be true… you can do this using ration or you can simply look for times in your life when your rule was not true – note -critique your rules and not you partner’s rules. For example if your rule is ‘I don’t have sex when I am stressed” you might reply to yourself -” the times that I have had sex when I was stressed were always good once we started and I always feel better after”. 

We tend to be very well aware of the reason why not to have sex, but we are not always as aware of the reasons to have sex.

Before reading the list I have provided below try jotting down all the reasons why you would ever have sex with your partner.

Below is a selection of Reasons to have sex that I have heard or read about along my therapeutic journey –

1.) Physical release/orgasm

2.) Reproduction

3.) Emotional intimacy

4.) Romance

5.) Exercise

6.) Reproductive health

7.) To encourage a healthy libido (some studies suggest ‘use it or lose it’ is true)

8.) For play/ humor/ to have fun

9.) To help one partner sleep

10.) For stress of anxiety reduction

11.) Fantasy, role-playing, or experimenting

12.) To feel comforted in times of sadness

13.) To express an emotion

14.) To celebrate something

15.) To feel close to someone (we all have different ways by which we feel ‘loved’ by another).

16.) To be visually stimulated

17.) To connect spiritually

18.) For an activity when you are bored

19.) For passion

20.) For pleasure

21.) Conflict Resolution

You can have as many reasons as you would like to have sex – you don’t need to pick just one.

There is a subtle difference between ‘rules’ and ‘expectations’ – I will cover expectations in a future blog as this is also an important theme.

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.