Sex & The Brain: Undressin’ Stress

Whether you’re aware of it or not, stress can be either a trick or a treat in your body’s environment. It can be useful and detrimental to our survival.

I want to pose this article under a controversial premise. Stress is a healthy body response tailored to our survival.

Prolonged stress in the body is toxic, and a choice the majority of us entertain for far too long.

Stress is the release of the hormone cortisol. This process is a beautiful complex series of communications between our hypothalamus, pituitary glands and adrenal glands. A harmonious symphony of survival that causes our heart to beat, blood to pump, our lungs to breath at a higher frequency, and initiates the sweet, sweet release of sugar from our liver into our bloodstream. Sounds a bit tribal if you ask me.

So when is it good and/or bad?

Cortisol (a.k.a. stress) can be a beautiful and useful chord to play when you’re pursuing the love of your life, trying something new, traveling, or running for your life.

However, too much cortisol hyper-excites your neurons, which become overloaded, fire too often, and die.  

The difference between healthy stress and unhealthy stress is the duration of how long we choose to entertain whatever is stimulating stress in our body. Though this is a perfectly crafted system in the short term, long term maintenance of such an internal chemical environment is toxic. It can make your immune system weaker, raise your blood pressure, and even cause weight gain. 

On top of this, we tend to resort to stimulants like alcohol, smoking, and overeating to cope with stresswhich in turn put our bodies under MORE stress.

What else do these coping habits effect?

Your genitals. Yes, eating bad foods, smoking, and alcohol constrict your arteries by making them harder and narrower which means less blood can flow through them to the party down stairs, the junk in your trunk, the banana in yo hammock.. Okay, you get it.

So what are some things that we choose that cause us stress? It’s our jobs, how we perceive ourselves, and the relationships we have. It’s also those gender-based assumptions, and the lack of education surrounding intimacy, anatomy, and communication.

Let’s elaborate on the latter two in the list.

There are certain gender-based assumptions that we still hoard around society like unconscious bag-ladies that won’t let sh*t go. For example, we tend to think of men as always horny that will screw anyone and anything, and that they hate commitment and emotion. On the other hand, we tend think of women as mothers of life, quoting Ludacris in an Usher song “a lady in the street, but a freak in the sheets,” clean shaven, smooth, and soft.

Now, no one is saying it isn’t fun to play around with these archetypes, but the pressure we put on ourselves to fit these exaggerated standards can destroy our connection to each other. And this goes for newly met strangers or long-term lovers.

What does that mean for men?

Esther Perel divides the male perspective into three underlying stressors that haunt man:

  1. Fear of rejection
  2. Competency
  3. Whether their partners are truly enjoying themselves.

The truth is, just like women, men’s hormones fluctuate and affect whether their libido or body will stand to perform for duty when convenient.

Because men feel their masculinity is indirectly tied to their ability to perform, there’s an immense amount of  un-communicated pressure on them. This can turn into expressions of aloofness, exhaustion, and anger. Essentially, these are the body’s ways of avoiding the need to communicate the fear or stresses of sexual performance.

What does that mean for women?

Women’s excuses around hormonal fluctuations or not being in the mood are more humorously sprinkled throughout society. These too, are expressions of stress around sexuality. Maybe she won’t be able to come? Maybe she hasn’t been able to shave her legs or get herself together! The famous headache, the stressed out mama. So it’s interesting that men, too, have their own language of avoidance.

How does this affect us?

Performance anxiety gets us out of our body and into our head. We aren’t feeling the other person, and instead, we are overthinking how we look, sound, and are coming off to the other person.

Sexually, stress can affect males and females differently. For men, excess stress speeds things up. For women, stress slows things way, way down, meaning arousal and orgasm can be hard to reach or unaccessible. We are both crippled by performance.

Women want to be turned on as fast as men, and men want to be hard and last forever. The best thing we can do for ourselves and each other is to slow down, communicate, and enjoy the process of learning each unique body – regardless of the gender.

What can we do about it?

Women, get to know your body first and what gives you pleasure so you can invite someone into your home. Men, let go of the urge to perform and please – you aren’t entertaining an audience. And, to everyone out there, don’t confuse a lack of arousal for lack of interest.

The body responds in miraculous ways in order to digest what we allow to move through it through the day. Slow down and don’t take each other personally. Arousal is a result of excitement and interest, so, if you’re both naked in bed and committed to curiosity and each other, then arousal will follow once we let expectation melt away.

Until next time,


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