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how chronic stress affects your sex life
Chronic Stress & Your Sex Life | Image Courtesy of Engin Akyurt via Unsplash

You may have heard that chronic stress takes a toll on your body. But did you know how chronic stress affects your sex life?

What is chronic stress?

Chronic psychosocial stress is defined as either a major life event that takes place over a long period of time (ie. death of a family member) or small stressors that are constant and often accumulate (ie. traffic, financial worries, work deadlines).1,2 A study by Allen Kanner, Ph.D, published in the National Library of Medicine, found that these small stressors can have more of a negative effect on health than the more severe but less common stressors.1

How does chronic stress inhibit sexual arousal?

Chronic stress can inhibit sexual arousal by affecting hormones and emotional wellbeing and leading to cognitive changes. Stress can raise a hormone called cortisol. When cortisol levels are high there is a decrease in two important sex hormones: testosterone and estradiol. These hormones are important for genital arousal in women.3,4,5 Increased blood pressure is also commonly linked to increased stress which can decrease blood flow throughout the body.6 This could in turn inhibit blood flow to the genitals which may interfere with genital arousal. The emotional and cognitive changes that happen with chronic stress can distract a person from sexual cues towards the stressors, impacting sexual arousal.7

 A study by Hamilton et al., found that women reporting high levels of stress had lower levels of genital arousal in response to an erotic film than women reporting average levels of stress. The women in the high stress group also had higher levels of cortisol. In this study, distraction increased in the high-stress level group compared to the average stress level group.8

How should your chronic stress be addressed? 

Chronic stress plays a big impact on sexual function and is a component that must be addressed to restore a normal sex life. It can be helpful to find a sex therapist or marriage and family therapist that can help guide you in this process. Many times it is not just a physical barrier and patients do well with seeing both a pelvic health physical therapist and a psychotherapist to help address sexual dysfunction. We can help guide you in seeking out your team. Stay tuned for our upcoming article on Mental Health and Sexual Pain!



1Kanner AD, Coyne JC, Schaefer C, Lazarus RS. Comparison of two modes of stress measurement: Daily hassles and uplifts versus major life events. J Behav Med. 1981;4:1–39. 

2Lazarus R. Puzzles in the study of daily hassles. J Behav Med. 1984;7:375–389

3Traish A, Kim N, Min K, Munarriz R, Goldstein I. Role of androgens in female genital sexual arousal: receptor expression, structure, and function. Fertil Steril. 2002;77(Suppl 4):S11–8

4Traish AM, Botchevar E, Kim NN. Biochemical factors modulating female genital sexual arousal physiology. J Sex Med. 2010;7:2925–2946.

5Tuiten A, van Honk J, Verbaten R, et al. Can sublingual testosterone increase subjective and physiological measures of laboratory-induced sexual arousal? Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2002;59:465–6.

6Bonne O, Grillon C, Vythilingam M, Neumeister A, Charney DS. Adaptive and maladaptive psychobiological responses to severe psychological stress: implications for the discovery of novel pharmacotherapy. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2004;28:65–94.

7Lazarus RS. Psychological Stress and the Coping Process. New York: McGraw Hill; 1966.

8Hamilton LD, Meston CM. Chronic stress and sexual function in women. J Sex Med. 2013;10(10):2443-2454. doi:10.1111/jsm.12249

What Our Patients Have to Say


Testimonial by S.B.

As someone who suffered the debilitating physical and emotional effects of vaginismus (as well as a complicated history of back injuries) for more than 15 years, I thought a "normal" life was just a fantasy. Then I found Heather.

Read more: Testimonial by S.B.

Testimonial by R.D., age 38

"I had a severe tear during childbirth that was not stitched together correctly and therefore healed poorly. Even after having a surgery a year later to remove the scar tissue, I was still having pain, and no one could explain why -- there was no overt 'reason' to explain the pain. I had tried other 'specialists' and even saw another physical therapist who had me do hip / leg stretches -- what a joke! I was about to give up and just 'live with it' until thankfully I kept searching online and found Heather.

Read more: Testimonial by R.D., age 38

Testimonial by T.C.

While pregnant with my twins, Heather took care with keeping me on my feet and pain free. She saved my back, my sanity and the holidays! I would recommend her to every “mom” looking to stay on her feet during pregnancy and post-partum.

-- T.C.

Testimonial by Rosanna R., age 35

Heather has affected my life in the MOST POSITIVE way and I am forever grateful. My husband refers to her as the "sex doctor" so you can only imagine how happy he is with my therapy outcome.

After the birth of my son I suffered from "Vaginismus", however, at the time I just thought I was broken. My "broken vagina" affected me physically but it was an emotional struggle as well. Many women in my life also suffered with pain from sex after their babies were born so I knew I wasn't alone. They told me they "just got used to it" but I couldn't see myself living that way.

Sex wasn't just painful, it was literally impossible - IT DIDNT FIT!

Read more: Testimonial by Rosanna R.,...

Testimonial by S.B.

As someone who suffered the debilitating physical and emotional effects of vaginismus (as well as a complicated history of back injuries) for more than 15 years, I thought a "normal" life was just a fantasy. Then I found Heather.

Read more: Testimonial by S.B.

Testimonial by S.S., age 54

Heather is the best! I saw her today for terrible hip/groin pain. I was so impressed with the safety measures in place and felt completely safe . Thanks for the healing hands.

S.S., age 54

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