You may have heard the phrase “our brain is our biggest sex organ”. I know this is something I discuss in many of my sessions. Basically, this means that anything that impacts our brain will impact our sex life. This definitely is true for stress! According to Emily Nagoski in her book, Come As You Are, 80-90% of people experience reduced sexual interest due to stress, and all people experience reduced sexual pleasure due to stress. If stress gets in the way of your sexual desire, know that you’re not alone. In fact, you’re in the majority!

Completing the Cycle

Stress is a brain chemical and body response to stressors in our life, like work, bills, and relationships. Stress sends a message to the body that says “You’re not safe right now”. When your body doesn’t feel safe, it’s hard to engage in fun activities like sex or even play time with your kids.

Stress can still exist in the body even if the stressors have been taken care of (i.e. your work is done for the day and the dishes are all done). Moving through the brain and body feelings of stress is called completing the stress cycle. This allows your brain and body to heal from stress and think, “Now I am safe”.

The most efficient way of doing this is through exercise, although anything that uses your body will work. Some folks like physical affection, like hugs or massage, while others might like sleep or to cry it out. Once your body recognizes that you are safe, you will have the emotional space to move on to other activities, like sex.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a tool that you can use in and out of the bedroom to help manage your stress response. It helps you to notice what your brain is paying attention to and allows you to choose where you really want your attention. It’s common to have stress-related thoughts pop up during sex, like “Did I run the dishwasher? What do I have to do tomorrow? I need sleep.” Mindfulness can help you let go of those thoughts and be in the moment. The following are two examples of how to practice mindfulness. The first example is a general, everyday practice and the second is specifically for the bedroom.

How to practice mindfulness in your everyday life

Set a timer for two minutes. Bring your attention to your breath. Breathe in through your nose and breathe all the way down into your belly. Hold the breath for one or two seconds, and then breathe out completely through your mouth.
Notice any thoughts that come up. Your mind will wander, and that’s ok! When that happens, acknowledge your thoughts and set them aside until your timer goes off. Turn your attention back to your breath.

How to practice mindfulness inside the bedroom

This practice can be done alone or with a partner.
Take a few deep breaths in through your nose, down to your belly, and out through your mouth. Notice the body sensations that arise.
Using your fingers, your partner’s hands, or another item (like a scarf, a feather, an ice cube, or whatever you have laying around), lightly touch your body and notice how your body feels.
If your mind starts to wander, bring your attention back to your body. Try not to judge the thoughts or feelings that come up during this activity.
It may feel safer to complete this activity a few times alone before asking your partner to join you, and that’s perfectly fine!

Stress is a normal and important part of our lives.

It’s allowed us to survive as a species for so long, and can be motivating. However, our body can tell us when our stress level has moved from motivating to harmful. Finding ways to complete the cycle, including mindfulness, can help us to better manage our stress and give us space to have the sex life we want. As you work through these activities, you may find that you can use some more support. At Emma Schmidt and Associates, we are here to support you on this journey.