The Surprising Link Between Sex and Mental Health

A good sex life is not just something that adds extra spice to life - it plays an important role in both your physical and mental health. In this article, you can read about how an active sex life can prevent stress and then get 3 tips on how to get your sex drive back when you're stressed.

February 2023
min read
08-Have Sex to Avoid Stress
Skrevet af
Written by
Samuel Kirk-Haugstrup

Psykolog, specialiseret i pædagogisk psykologi og formidling.

Samuel Kirk-Haugstrup

Psychologist, specialized in educational psychology and communication.

Prolonged stress reduces your quality of life.

You have less surplus. You are more irritable. And you get sick more easily. Both physically and mentally.

So, what can you do to avoid getting stressed? You can have sex.

You can have sex. You read that right.

Sex is a so-called " health factor " that strengthens your ability to cope with life crises. <hl>A good sex life reduces the risk of stress and depression and improves your quality of life<hl>. So, when you face challenges in life, like being made redundant or a close family member falling ill, a good sex life can help you cope.

Sex or survival?

Sex and health are linked - for better or worse. When you have a satisfying and active sex life, you're often happier and more fulfilled. Conversely, the absence of sex can be associated with an increased risk of developing lifestyle diseases, stress, and depression.  

But if sex is good for our health, well why aren't we just having lots of sex when we're stressed or otherwise not feeling well?

The short answer: Survival.

<hl>When you're stressed, your physical needs are suppressed, leaving your brain to focus on survival<hl>. That's why, for example, you can forget to eat or drink when you're buried in work, or go a whole day without going to the toilet when you're studying for an important exam. In the same way, it's the same with your need for sex. It also gets downgraded by your brain when it's working overtime.

That's because your brain is smart.

It knows that it doesn't make sense to reproduce when there's danger. And so all your energy is spent on survival.

And that's what happens when you get stressed.

When you're stressed, <hl>your brain thinks you're in danger<hl>. Stress, therefore, activates your fight/flight mechanism by releasing the stress hormones, cortisol, and adrenaline. Stress hormones are effective when you need to escape or fight a threat. However, the hormones have the (unfortunate) effect of making it harder for you to produce the sex hormones that trigger your sex drive. In other words, stress kills your sex drive.

What you can do to get your sex drive back

If you find that you have a lower sex drive than usual, it could be because you're more stressed than usual. If this is the case for you, you're far from alone.

In a large UK survey from 2018, it was found that more than one in four of those surveyed lived in a so-called "sexless" marriage - where they had sex less than 10 times in the past year. And here, it could well suggest that stress plays a big role for those married couples who weren't having sex. Indeed, among the 30-year-olds in the study, around <hl>two-thirds had less sex than they wanted because they were either too tired or had young children "in the way".<hl>

So, stress can take the sex out of you. At the same time, sex is also a powerful stress reliever. When you have sex, hormones like oxytocin and endorphin are released, which have a calming and relaxing effect on you. You could say that these hormones replace the stress hormones, so your body goes off alert and you become calmer and more relaxed.

So how do you get your sex life going when you're stressed and maybe not really feeling the desire? Here are 3 tips on how to do it.

#1: Talk to your partner about it

There's no shame in experiencing a drop in sex drive. It happens to all of us. So it's safe to talk to your partner about it. And here it can be a good idea to ask about your partner's own experience. For example, you could say:  

"I've noticed that my desire for sex comes and goes a bit here lately. And sometimes, I find it hard to feel it. Do you feel that way too?".  

When you ask about your partner's experience, you're setting the stage for a conversation about the issue, rather than presenting it as a problem between you. You just talk openly about your experience so that you can find a solution together.

#2: Accept that your sex drive comes and goes

Your sex drive will sometimes be high and sometimes it will be low. This is perfectly normal. But if you beat yourself up about it at the same time, you're helping to keep it down. <hl>You need to be able to relax to feel the sex drive<hl>, and you can't do that when you're beating yourself up.  

So, practice accepting that your sex drive will fluctuate, sometimes high, sometimes low. The sooner you accept that this is the case, the sooner you will be able to relax into it.

#3: Let go of expectations

According to licensed psychologist Frej Prahl, <hl>feelings of obligation are the biggest inhibitor of desire<hl>. That is when we feel obligated to have sex, either to please our partner or to meet certain societal norms. If you want to have a more active sex life, it is therefore important to listen to yourself and only have sex when you feel like it.

However, this does not mean that you can't do something active to get your sex drive back. Sometimes you just have to help it on its way. You can do this, for example, by agreeing to a time with your partner when you can be intimate together. And preferably a time when you have plenty of time - for example, Wednesday at 8 pm.

All you have to do is just be in each other’s company. You should be together without expectations of what will happen. And this no-expectations thing is important because expectations of a certain way of being together can be a killer of sex drive. When there are expectations, we try to live up to them, instead of feeling what we want.

It may therefore be a good idea to talk to your partner in advance about not having any expectations. The only requirement for your time together is that you spend it together. It is not certain that you will have sex. You may spend the time spooning or holding hands and talking. Whatever you do together should be okay. And you both need to be OK with that.

<hl>When you let go of expectations, you'll be able to feel, and therefore better feel your sex drive.<hl>

  • Graugaard, C., Giraldi, A. & Møhl, B. (Eds.). (2019). Sexologi: faglige perspektiver på seksualitet. Munksgård.
  • Prahl, F. (2019). Lysten til sex kan forsvinde - og genfindes.
  • Relate. (2018). Over a quarter of relationships are "sexless".

Få en gratis rapport over stressniveauet i dit team

Get a free report of your team's stress level

Identificer potentielle risici for stress – og forebyg sygefravær

Identify potential risks of stress - and prevent sick leave

Læs mereRead more

Måske du synes om

Måske du synes om

Maybe you would enjoy