Let’s face it: we’ve all seen the stereotype of women in the media who were ‘too tired’ or ‘too stressed’ to have sex. But what if there was more to this? What if, in fact, when your female partner says something along the lines of ‘I’ve had such a rough day with the kids, I’m too tired to have sex right now,’ it didn’t mean what we typically think it means? I.e., that she’s rejecting me, that she just doesn’t want sex, or she’s ‘frigid’? What if, for most women, stress actually had a significant neurobiological influence on sex? Turns out it does!
1. But isn’t sex all about hormones?
You’re half right. Hormones are a factor when it comes to sex, but not as much as the media would let you believe. For example, when women struggle with low desire, we are quick to blame hormones for the problem. Yet, the vast majority of research demonstrates that adjusting hormones rarely results in increased desire. Thus, why there’s no ‘pink Viagra.’ Hormones play more of a role (but not much more) for men than women.
Let’s also face this fact: learning about the human brain can be overwhelming. So, I’m going to keep this short and simple: there are two control switches when it comes to both male and female sexuality. One is the sexual excitation system (as in the accelerator) and one is the sexual inhibitory system (as in the brakes). This takes place in the central nervous system, which consists of both your brain and your spinal cord. These are similar systems to the commonly discussed fight, flight, or freeze. These systems are influenced by your genes, your life experiences, and your current context.
3. So, if it’s a biological thing, why does context matter?
So, biology plays a part. As in, some women have more sensitive brakes and some women have a more sensitive accelerator. Or some women have a sensitive brake system and a sensitive accelerator. The best part about this is that all of these are normal. What makes one woman put her foot on the accelerator and one woman put her foot on the brake has to do with, you guessed it: context For example: a woman can struggle to have sex while at home but take her on vacation and she’s all about it!
For the majority of women (and men), stress slams on the brakes. It’s hard to feel sexy and desirable when you’ve spent hours picking up after your kids, dealing with coworkers, or are struggling with grief. When you feel weighed down and overwhelmed, your nervous system is telling you ‘I can’t have sex right now. I’m just trying to survive. I’m just trying to get through each day with my sanity intact.’
5. So what do I do?
Great question. And, although the answer really is going to be different for everyone, it really does boil down to the same idea: change up your context. Where do you feel the least stressed? When do you feel the sexiest version of yourself? How do you feel closest to your partner? Do you need to let your body release this stress with a good cry, a massage, or a six mile run? What changes your context? Not all of these will work for everyone. And that’s the point: just as you are normal no matter your combination of breaks and accelerator, whatever your context is, that’s normal too.
So, ladies and gentlemen, I wish you the best on your journey to finding the context that helps you be sexually fulfilled. I’m not saying this is an easy task. It may take hard conversations, it may take trying new things, and it may take therapy. But, discovering what turns on your accelerator and turns off your breaks can be a freeing journey for both you and your partner.
About the Author
Caitlin Edwards is an Emotionally Focused Therapist and couples counselor at The Marriage and Family Clinic. She works with people within the LGBTQ+ community and in the straight community helping couples deepen their connection . In her past time she also does research helping couples understand connection and how to create that connection deliberately.