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So, Cortisol Can Really Mess With Your Sex Life — Here Are 7 Tips To Manage Your Stress

Wendie Trubow, M.D., MBA
Functional Medicine Gynecologist By Wendie Trubow, M.D., MBA
Functional Medicine Gynecologist
Wendie Trubow is a functional medicine gynecologist with almost 10 years of training in the field. She received her M.D. from Tufts University.
Middle Aged Couple Enjoying An Intimate Moment Together
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Cortisol is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, you do need it in your body. Without it, you die. However, for optimum health, your cortisol can't be too high (or too low).

Unrelieved stress can make it go high and stay high. When you're thinking about the things you need to order, the appointments you need to schedule, the interactions you had with your neighbor about fixing the fence, and so on, you're jacking up your cortisol by stressing yourself out. And that has nothing to do with external factors, like a pandemic or recession, an election year, and so on, constantly boosting the cortisol output.

How cortisol messes with your sex life.

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The thing is, your body is programmed to thrive when things are balanced. When one hormone is off, then many others get thrown off. And cortisol is no exception. When it remains elevated, it can unbalance many of your other hormones, including your sex hormones, which will tank your sex drive. 

Seriously, especially for women in menopause, you cannot produce cortisol at the same time as you produce your sex hormones. As women enter menopause, the ovaries hand over the responsibility of making sex hormones (estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone) to the adrenals. When your adrenals are in the fight-flight-or-freeze mode, they don't have the capacity to make cortisol and fuel your sex drive. That's why when you're a stress ball, the last thing you want is for the hubs to wink at you over the dinner table. 

The imbalance of those sex hormones coming from your adrenals also fuels your hot flashes and night sweats—everybody says "my hormones are off," and they think it's normal menopause. It's not. It's stress! 

The same can be said about cortisol for men (granted, not the menopause part). For men, the big worry is cortisol "steal." See, cortisol uses the same pathways in your body as testosterone, and there's only room for one hormone in that pathway! So if men are making too much cortisol, they are decreasing their testosterone production. In other words, either you're stressing out and pushing cortisol through your body or you're chilling and letting the testosterone come out to play. 

Sex or stress? It's your choice!

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How to manage your stress.

We could write an entire separate book—hell, we could write a series of books—about how to manage stress. Though that's not the point of this book, we do want to give you a direction in which to go. So here are some of the top methods for easing stress that many of our clients have found success with: 

  • Regular exercise, particularly yoga.
  • Talk therapy. 
  • Setting yourself up for a good night's sleep. Maybe some soothing herbal tea or a relaxing bath before bed. Eliminating your exposure to blue light from electronic devices. Writing in a gratitude journal for a few minutes before tucking in for the night. 
  • Meditation. There is a related practice called "forest bathing" that Qing Li describes in his book Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness. Basically, you choose a natural place or forest where it would be safe for you to walk—leaving your phone behind you or on do-not-disturb. Enter the forest and walk aimlessly, slowly; with no intention of getting to someplace in particular, let your body be your guide. Be mindful and aware of the sights, sounds, smells, and everything you can experience. Let nature and the forest be a peaceful sanctuary for you.
  • Ask for help! Many of us just don't think to ask our partners, friends, or family for help. Get the kids involved, even. None of us should own a superhero cape! We need to stop expecting ourselves to do it all and to set boundaries for what we can realistically do. That means no more overcommitting and learning to say no
  • Laugh. Finding something so humorous that you get a good belly laugh actually improves your circulation and helps your muscles relax, both of which are excellent de-stressors. 
  • Be kind to yourself. While the old Stuart Smalley skits might provide some laughter, the idea behind his practices can actually be a stress reliever. Repeating positive affirmations to give yourself encouragement, to treat yourself with compassion, and to speak with unconditional acceptance and love to yourself attenuates stress.

The above ideas are just a few to get you started. Choose any of them as a starting point to ameliorate your stress level now. Then make a plan to tackle the actual stressors in your life. 

Adapted from Dirty Girl by Wendie Trubow and Edward Levitan copyright © 2021. Reprinted in arrangement with Lioncrest Publishing

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