The Intersection of Stress & Sex

stress & sex

 At the beginning of the pandemic, when many couples were quarantined at home together, there was talk of a potential “COVID baby boom” to be expected 9 months later. However, there was no baby boom. And here’s the reason why:

“Two zebras won’t mate in front of a lion.” Translation: in the presence of a threat, our drive to have sex is lowered.

Of course, this varies significantly between individuals and couples, but the science is there – stress affects our sex lives, usually for the worse. 


Back to the strange and scary early days of COVID, you may remember (or have experienced personally) the “honeymoon period” associated with newfound time at home together. This period was short-lived for many couples, as the reality of living together 24/7 set in. But amidst a backdrop of uncertainty, fear, and anxiety, many of us turned to sex as a stress reliever or a way to feel connected during a time of isolation.

During sex, your body releases endorphins and oxytocin, elevating your mood. It also is a form of physical exercise, which in itself can relieve stress and enhance your well-being. But stress can also lower our sex drive.

If the pandemic gave us anything, it gave us the chance to see how we (both individually and/or as a partnership) react to prolonged stress. 

Of course, we all experienced stress before the pandemic, and we will continue to experience it — the death of a loved one, physical health scares, problems at work. Life events that bring us joy also often bring us stress and anxiety – the birth of a child, moving to a new city, starting a new job. 

For most of us, sex is an important part of our lives, but the intersection of stress and sex is not often explicitly spoken about. We don’t always evaluate the ways in which external factors affect our sex lives. Becoming aware of the relationship between sex and stress is key in not only your romantic well-being, but your personal and physical well-being as well. 


In this clip, Dr. Joy  sums up some of the questions you can ask yourself in order to evaluate your personal experience with stress and sex:

  • When you’re stressed, what happens for you? What do you notice in your body? 
  • How is your sex drive impacted in times of prolonged stress?
  • Is this healthy for you, or for others? 
  • Are you communicating with your partner(s) about the way in which stress impacts you?

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