Sex can be one of the great stress relievers. But what happens when stress starts to harm your love life? Agony Aunt Ingrid Miller offers some advice on handling stress when it affects your sex life.
For some people, stress is so much part of life that they may not even recognise the strain they’re living under. But stress is insidious. It has a way of coming out where you’re least expecting it. You might think you’re on top of things, but you transfer the result of stress to other areas of your life. And usually, you dump it on your nearest and dearest.
Exhausted? Tense? Irritable? Thumping that traffic warden on the nose is not an option. Nor is telling the boss where to stick her job. So you take your anger and anxiety home – and let your partner have it. Perhaps not in words, but in action. Or lack of action. Because stress can leave us feeling unloved and unloving.
A study by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) confirmed that stress can damage your sex life. More than half the partners of people working over 48 hours in a typical week admitted that it was damaging their sex life.
So what happens when stress affects your love life? Frustration all round. All you want is to put the strains of everyday life to bed, snuggle up, be soothed and stroked, then have the adrenaline rush of orgasm wash away your worries with a tidal wave of pleasure.
But you’re so uptight you can’t reach out to the person you love and that’s a vicious circle. You’re passing on the effect of your stress to them and getting it right back. Then you BOTH end up stressed and frustrated. So how do you get back on track?
Talk about it
Talking about sex when you’re stressed is not easy. If you’re feeling like a wound-up coil, it’s difficult to know how to unwind. You fear that the slightest thing could upset you and you’d explode with verbal abuse and accusations. Or perhaps stress has so undermined your confidence you feel unable to voice your feelings.
Whatever effect stress is having on your personality, the cure is the same. You need to give – and receive – tenderness. We know that love and affection is always the best basis for good sex. So, start by reminding yourself that the route to reclaiming a great sex life is by telling and showing your partner what makes the earth move for you.
The tricky bit is to get your message across without it seeming like a criticism of their behaviour. However much you love someone, if you tell them, ‘This is what I like and this is what I don’t like’, it can seem like you’re pointing out their shortcomings.
Whether stress makes you feel undermined or overwrought, loving, caring sex is the solution. So if your sex life – and ultimately your relationship – needs sorting out you are going to have to tell your partner straight.
• Talk about the action – not the person. NEVER say, ‘I don’t like it when you…’ Say, ‘I’d love it if you did this…’
• Use positive words. ‘We could try this’. Not, ‘Here’s what you’re doing wrong’.
• Talk sexy. Talking about your fantasies can really put you in the mood.
• Take sex out of the bedroom. There’s less pressure if it’s spontaneous. Sometimes the most urgent, rewarding sex can be enjoyed on the sofa, out walking in the woods or even up against the kitchen sink.
• Touch and feel. Words make up only 10 percent of human communication. Body language and tone of voice make up the rest. So back up what you say with behaviour. Hold, stroke and hug your partner. A loving touch can say a thousand words.
• The eyes are the window to the soul. Many of us make love with our eyes shut. Gaze deep into your partner’s eyes while you’re having sex. That way you’ll feel truly connected in every way – emotionally as well as physically.
• Use compliments. Positive praise is a fantastic ego booster. Telling your partner they made some terrific moves will make sure they do it again… and again.
• Never deride sexual prowess. If lovemaking has not been satisfactory, don’t make your partner feel it’s their fault. Ridicule is the biggest turn off there is.
• Say thanks. Let someone know they’ve made you happy.
Be good to yourself
Stress makes us feel physically under par. If you don’t feel active and attractive, you won’t be making the most of your sexual potential. Here’s how to boost your self-esteem, along with your body image…
• Breathe deeply. When we’re stressed, our breathing pattern changes. It becomes quick, shallow and irregular. The medical term for this is ‘hyper-ventilation’ or over-breathing, when we take in more oxygen than we need – and expel more carbon dioxide. This affects the acidity in the blood, causing shaking, dizziness, tension and a sense of panic. But you can control breathing by slowing it down. Focus on letting all the air out of your lungs. Concentrate on using the lower part of your lungs. Breathe in deeply for a count of four. Exhale deeply for a count of four. Pause for a count of four. Remember, the first step to calm, is relaxing your breathing.
• Use massage to stimulate your senses. It relaxes the body and mind. Get your partner to lie face down while you caress and stroke him from head to foot, using aromatherapy oils – or baby oil. Get him to return the favour for you.
• Try music to create a sensual mood. A tape or CD of favourite romantic songs can evoke memories of loving times past – and take you back there again. Keep a sound system in the bedroom.
• Candlelight is soothing – and flattering, far more seductive than electricity.