Stress and Sex — A Combination Doomed to Fail

What’s Going On Here?
In some of my more recent posts and tweets, I (Mr. Secure) have discussed my upcoming move. For those of you who don’t know, I’m in the Active Duty Navy. That said, my Wife and I have to move roughly once every three years (sometimes more often than that). Our next move is taking place in mid-November (2016). We will travel 2,000 miles across the country to a new place. We are trying to close on a house immediately after arriving. We had to sell one of our cars, because, well, Mini Coopers just don’t handle weather all that well (where we’re going). Also, we’ll be moving from progressive and accepting California to the Bible Belt. (Yes, I’m Christian. I’m also very progressive and believe in equal rights. No judgement from me.)
Since coming out to my Wife and my family as a Sex and Love Addict, this is the first time I have been under this amount of distress. This article is aimed at those people who, like me, are suffering from acute distress which has resulted in a lack of libido (sex drive). I have not been able to get a solid erection in nearly two weeks. My sex drive is almost non-existent, and my tendency to overreact (get way too emotional) has gone through the roof.
Different Kinds of Stress:
“Distress? What’s that? I thought there was only stress, and that’s it!” Nope. outlines (in a very easy, almost over-simplistic view) the differences between distress and eustress.
Eustress is a positive stress that motivates us, enhances productivity, feels exciting, and only lasts for a short term. If you’re a sports athlete or fanatic (of which I am neither), you probably experienced eustress before and during a game. That eustress then dissipated after the game, leaving you relieved, euphoric (if you or your team won), and relaxed.
Distress, on the other hand, is less than helpful. This is the type of stress with which most people identify when they say, “I’m stressed out.” or “Man, I’m under a lot of stress.” This type of stress can be short or long term, almost always destructive in nature, and can lead to mental and physical problems. Think about a scenario where you are working 10 hours a day, have a 1 hour commute, you’re going through a divorce, and your kids chose to live with your soon-to-be ex-spouse. (No, that’s not what I’m going through.) But, you can see from this example a perfect picture of distress. It need not come in such a large dose. In fact, most people don’t realize how distressed they are until they start exhibiting physical and mental problems.
So, Mr. Secure, What’s Your Story?
Well, despite what people think, and what the media likes to portray, the US Military Servicemembers are just as emotionally frail as the rest of the population. We’ve just been conditioned to suck it down hard, and hide it (aka, military bearing). Over time, however, it needs to come out. According to the American Psychological Association, there are three kinds of distress (I have taken some of their exact wording to help illustrate the definitions):
  • Acute Stress: Acute stress is the most common form of stress. It comes from demands and pressures of the recent past and anticipated demands and pressures of the near future.
  • Episodic Acute Stress: There are those, however, who suffer acute stress frequently, whose lives are so disordered that they are studies in chaos and crisis. They’re always in a rush, but always late. If something can go wrong, it does. They take on too much, have too many irons in the fire, and can’t organize the slew of self-inflicted demands and pressures clamoring for their attention. They seem perpetually in the clutches of acute stress.
  • Chronic Stress: This is the grinding stress that wears people away day after day, year after year. Chronic stress destroys bodies, minds and lives. It wreaks havoc through long-term attrition. It’s the stress of poverty, of dysfunctional families, of being trapped in an unhappy marriage or in a despised job or career. Chronic stress comes when a person never sees a way out of a miserable situation. It’s the stress of unrelenting demands and pressures for seemingly interminable periods of time. With no hope, the individual gives up searching for solutions.

In the past, while deep within my sex and love addiction, I suffered from chronic stress. No matter what I did, how much bartering with God, rationalizing with myself, and white-knuckling my sex addiction, there was no escape. Chronic stress consumed me. However, after three years of 12-Step meetings, talk therapy, and a hefty dose of Zoloft, I’ve been able to get my life under control. But now, because of this upcoming move and change of duty stations, I’m suffering from episodic acute stress.

Prepping for a move, if you’ve never done it, especially to a place you don’t know, is terrifying. The amount of stressors I have encountered have, as stated above, nearly halted my sex drive (and my Wife’s) and my ability to get an erection. Although I’m writing this post to help educate you, the Reader, I’m also writing this to help me overcome the stress. Writing, promoting sex positivity, educating and helping others — these are all things that offer me an outlet for stress.
Here Is What Stress Does to Your Libido (at Least to Mine):
Psychology Today posted a fantastic article from Dr. Andrew Goliszek that outlines and details the stress-sex connection. In fact, that’s the title of the article. In my own research, and reading his article, I discovered that the problem is cyclical! Here’s an excerpt from the article that will paint this common picture for you (especially men):

You’ve had a bad day at the office and you get home late, tired and still brooding over that argument you had with your boss. When you try to have sex, your mind’s just not there and you can’t get an erection. Your partner asks if there’s something wrong, and without realizing that the problem is nothing more than stress, you try to do the impossible and force yourself into performing. It doesn’t work. The next time you try and have sex, you’re reminded of what happened last week, which only makes you fail again. The harder you try, the worse it is and the stronger your conditioning becomes. Soon, the stress of performance anxiety is an ingrained, spontaneous habit that causes erectile dysfunction whenever you think about sex. This is one of the main reasons men can avoid sexual intimacy altogether.

That stated, women are also not immune to this phenomenon. Here’s the excerpt for them to read:

Women can also be victims of the stress-sex connection. After all, sex for women is not only a physical but an intensely emotional experience. And just as it is for men, there’s not a more powerful aphrodisiac for women than the brain. It’s not surprising, then, that women can often condition themselves to think of sex in a negative way, form habits that prevent them from enjoying sex, and develop spontaneous stress responses that trigger automatic physical reactions.

There is Hope! 
Do a quick Google search (or Bing it, as if that’s ever going to catch on), and you’ll find hundreds of articles, experts, and outlets to help you alleviate stress. So, here is where my Navy training comes in quite handy. I’ve been trained over and over again how to help alleviate stress (because we experience it A LOT). Based on that training, the reading I’ve done, the experts I’ve talked to, and the videos I’ve watched, here is a list of things that work for me:
  1. Admit that you are under stress and that life is out of control. Just like Step 1 in a 12-Step program, admitting that there is a problem is the first part to recovering from it.
  2. Communicate that you have these stressors to your partner, therapist, sponsor, and/or friends. By communicating these stressors, they are no longer hidden. They no longer have the same power over you, because they are exposed. Some people (most people) will offer very shallow advice and guidance to deal with stress. Ignore them. Focus on the people who will be there for you — the people who will help you and take some of the load off your shoulders.
  3. Avoid self-medicating. Don’t drink a lot of alcohol, use drugs, smoke cigarettes, binge eat, etc. Try and maintain a healthy diet. Yes, it’s cliche. Yes, you’ve heard it over and over again. But, the cliche holds true. A healthy, whole foods diet will help you get the nourishment and nutrients you need to physically function. A healthy physical condition ties into your mind and soul. It’s all connected.
  4. Speaking of physical health, exercise! The endorphins will offer you a healthy alternative to drugs and alcohol. The vigorous workouts will also give you strength, better cardiovascular health, and energize you.
  5. Breathe. With exercise, you will naturally increase your breathing, cardio strength, and the ability to sleep deeper. But in this case, take a minute every so often, and check your breathing. Ideally, you should breath from your belly, not your chest. Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly. Do that now. Take note of which one rises more when you breathe. Now, focus on your belly, and practice breathing so that the belly rises more than the chest. These deep breaths are natural stress relievers. They will oxygenate your blood, increase O2 to the brain and vital organs, and generally make you feel euphoric. Much like exercise, the physical effects will enhance your mental and spiritual states.
  6. Sleep. Every person differs in the amount of sleep he or she needs. The average for adults is between 6 and 8 hours. Ensure you find the time to get sufficient and deep sleep. If you snore, or if your partner notices that you stop breathing in your sleep, you might have obstructive sleep apnea. Sleep apnea stops your breathing. By doing that, your body goes into panic mode. It will pump adrenaline, which will wake you up slightly to make you breathe again. Therefore, you never actually hit the deep sleep cycles that your body needs to heal. This leads to more stress.
  7. Meditate. You do not need to be a Yogispiritual person, or psychologist to learn how to meditate. There are literally tens of thousands of YouTube videos for simple mindfulness meditation techniques. You don’t need to do it for an hour. You can do a little bit (5 or 10 minutes) a few times a week.
  8. Get professional help. Seeing a therapist who specializes in sex could help you overcome these problems a lot faster (and better) than doing it on your own. They are licensed, well-read, and experienced in this field. There is no reason to be embarrassed — they’ve seen it all. Click here to go to the sex therapist directory website. The site will help you find a sex therapist in your area. It defaults for the USA, so if you’re in the USA, just click on the second drop-down menu for your state. All other countries will have to specify their country in the first drop-down menu.
  9. Medication. As a last resort (and definitely not the first), talk to your doctor about starting medication to help your condition. I take 100mg of Zoloft daily for my anxiety and impulse control. Without it, even on a 50mg dose, I’m completely out of my element. My whole world feels out of control, and I start panicking. In addition to all of the above, I will likely be on Zoloft for the rest of my life. It comes with its own set of side effects, which is why I encourage you to try all other options first. Medication (and supplements) should be a last resort that compliments a regimen of the aforementioned stress reduction practices.
Every single human being who has ever lived has experienced stress. It is no stranger to our existence, but like religion, money, sex, and politics, it’s just something we don’t talk about. That needs to change. Communicate your stress, especially with your partner. If you need professional help, get it. There is no shame regarding your condition. With seven billion people in the world (not counting the billions who have died), I can say with 100{c9c2af4b5d4a37e7f7aeb1a537bd00aa7177ada5e7073e46455833a8c363b1d6} certainty that someone has been in your shoes. You are not alone.