How does stress affect sex life?

Natalia Silina

Stress, especially long-term, really harms our health, and sexual life is no exception. How this process takes place and how to help yourself from the harmful effects of stress – further in the article.

During the coronavirus period, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) surveyed more than a thousand men and women aged 16 to 64. It was found that the pandemic as a stressor had a negative impact on the mental health of Australians.

спорт стрес stress
Stress has a negative impact on health

The body’s response to stress was developed in the course of evolution. Our ancestors needed to use all the reserves of the body when faced with danger. At that moment, the brain made a decision to attack or run, thereby activating the autonomic nervous system – the one that we cannot consciously control.

It can be assumed that this reaction was developed as a short-term one, because someone became the winner, someone died, and someone managed to hide. Therefore, prolonged stress leads to depletion of body resources.

Back in 1920, Canadian physiologist G. Selye divided our anti-stress reaction into three stages:

  • Anxiety
  • Resistance
  • Exhaustion

What happens during stress?

At the stage of anxiety, the sympathetic department stimulates the production of adrenaline. Metabolic processes in tissues accelerate, the heart beats faster, blood pressure rises – this is the same reaction that we experience during a sharp fright, for example. Also, the first stage increases the amount of oxygen supplied to the muscles, slows down the digestive processes.

Стрес stress стресс
Prolonged stress has a negative impact on health

An important part of the response to stress is an increase in cortisol levels in the blood. Cortisol is produced by the adrenal glands, it is important for the regulation of blood pressure and the normal functioning of many body systems, including cardiovascular, circulatory and reproductive. The hormone is responsible for adaptation in changing conditions, activation of the parasympathetic nervous system at the stage of resistance to reduce the manifestations of the first stage of stress.

After the stage of anxiety, cortisol in the body’s reserve becomes low and to maintain a sufficient level of the hormone in the fight against stress, the so-called “pregnenolone uptake” is triggered. Pregnenolone is a cholesterol metabolite from which both cortisol and sex hormones can be formed. Therefore, during prolonged stress, the level of dehydroepiadnrosterone sulfate (DHEA-s) decreases, which is important for both male and female health.

If the impact stops at the stage of resistance, the body returns to normal.

If stressful events last for a long time, the body is constantly alert and does not relax – then the stage of exhaustion begins.

How does stress affect sex hormones?

Endorphins block the pain when exposed to stress at any of the three stages, and also block the production of a hormone that releases luteinizing hormone (LH), the level of which decreases accordingly. Luteinizing hormone is responsible for the production of testosterone in men and provokes ovulation in women.

During stressful times, the level of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), which stimulates the formation of sperm in men, decreases. Cortisol also affects this process: it reduces the sensitivity of the testicles to luteinizing hormone (LH).

In the female body, the level of FSH, prolactin, estrogen and progesterone changes. As a result, the menstrual cycle is disturbed, and it becomes more difficult to get pregnant.

The American Psychological Association in 2020 published an article on how stress affects the body. We are interested in the male and female reproductive systems.

Stress and the female reproductive system


Severe stress can change the duration, regularity, painfulness of menstruation. In extreme cases, prolonged intense stressful events can cause even temporary cessation of the menstrual cycle.


Excessive stress can worsen premenstrual symptoms: bad mood or mood swings, cramps, fluid retention and bloating.


During pregnancy it can have a negative impact on fetal development, especially in the early stages, and after the birth of the child – cause anxiety and postpartum depression.

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During pregnancy, stress is especially harmful


Hormonal and physiological changes during menopause are themselves a source of emotional distress. Additional stress exacerbates physical symptoms, and anxious women may experience more frequent or severe hot flashes.

Diseases of the reproductive system

High stress levels increase the likelihood of exacerbation of symptoms of chronic diseases of the reproductive system, such as herpes simplex virus or polycystic ovary syndrome.

Sexual desire

Excessive cortisol levels during stress are maintained by reducing androstenolone, which is responsible for libido.

Stress, distraction and fatigue reduce sexual desire. Especially when women are caring for young children or frail family members, have chronic illnesses, feel depressed, have difficulties in relationships or suffer from violence.

Stress and the male reproductive system

Sexual desire

Prolonged stress can affect testosterone production, leading to a decrease in sex drive, and cause erectile dysfunction or even impotence.

стрес стресс stress
Stress has an equally negative impact on women and men

Diseases of the reproductive system

When stress affects the immune system, the body becomes vulnerable to infections. Testicular, prostate and urethral infections can affect a man’s normal reproductive function.


Chronic stress can negatively affect sperm production and maturation, making it harder for couples trying to conceive.

Researchers found that men who experienced two or more stressful life events last year had a lower percentage of sperm motility and a lower percentage of sperm of normal size and shape compared to men with lower levels of stress.

What to do and how to treat chronic stress

The term “stress” has negative associations for many people, but at the stage of anxiety and tension, it increases the body’s resources and provides the ability to adapt. But prolonged stressful time is really undesirable for the body, as it leads to depletion of reserves.

Unlike our ancestors, exhaustion from temperature impact does not threaten us, but prolonged psycho-emotional stress in modern conditions comes to the fore. It is important to get enough sleep, eat right, and do not forget about moderate physical activity.

Be healthy mentally, physically, sexually and reproductively.

Please share this article in your social networks, let as many people as possible know the simple things that save life and make it better, and therefore happier!

Even more information about you, your body and the processes that take place in it – in my course All About You. How it feels to be a woman.

To all ❤️ – your Natalia Silina


  1. “Stress effects on the body” , American Psychological Association, may 2020
  2. Andrew Goliszek Ph.D., “How to prevent stress from ruining your sex life”. Psychology Today, Dec 2014
  3. Juster, Robert-Paul, “Sex × Gender and Sexual Orientation in Relation to Stress Hormones and Allostatic Load”, July 9, 2019
  4. “How do stress and anxiety affect sexual performance and erectile dysfunction?” Andrology Australia, May 2020

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