How stress can affect your love life

You know stress is bad for your health but it can also be bad for your relationship. Here are some solutions

It’s been a bad day at work, and your stress levels are already through the roof. You’re late, and your partner has a face like thunder. You’d like to kiss and make up, but you’re not sure if you’ll be up to the job: it seems as your stress levels go up, your sex drive goes down. Don’t panic; you’re not alone.

Low libido is incredibly common. In a two-year study, experts at Southampton University quizzed 11,500 British men and women about their interest in having sex with their long- term partner: 15% of men and 34% of women said that for at least three months of the last year, they just hadn’t had the urge.1 Experts think that stress plays some part in that. A different study, published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine, looked at more than 2000 men, and found they were nearly twice as likely to have problems in the bedroom if they were under stress at work.2

Why does stress affect your sex drive?

There are a few reasons that stress stops you from having the urge to get close to your partner:

Fight or flight

Frankly, your inner caveman has a lot to answer for. Despite the fact that it hasn’t seen a sabre-toothed tiger for some years now, your brain classes stress as a physical threat that you will either need to run from or fight. As such, when you’re under stress, it doesn’t want you lying around having a kiss and a cuddle – which is why you simply don’t feel the urge.3

It’s hormonal

At the same time, stress triggers hormonal changes in the body, producing higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol is made from the same building blocks as testosterone – and if your body is making one hormone, it can interfere with the production of the other, so if testosterone levels fall, so does libido.4

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Stress = more arguments

A 2009 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology reported that when we’re stressed, we’re more likely to fly off the handle with our partner.5 And frankly, no-one wants to get jiggy with someone they’re angry at – even if you’re in the mood, your partner may not be. Female libido is very much linked to state of mind.

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Science-backed ways to fight stress – and improve your sex life

The good news is there are a few tactics that can help reduce both your stress, improve your relationship and rev up your libido. Try introducing some of these into your relationship:

1. Get closer The scent of a partner calms us down in times of stress, according to 2018 research at the University of British Columbia. Their theory was that the familiar odour makes you feel safe – and this lowers cortisol levels.6 2. Rediscover kissing Not only does this also lower cortisol levels in the body, but saliva passed from men to women during kissing contains testosterone, which may raise female libido.7 3. Give her a massage It’s a cliché but it does work. And what’s more, the giver gets a psychological boost from the activity too, say researchers at the UK’s Northumbria University. Plus, it works fast – couples who introduced the idea found they suffered less stress and greater overall wellbeing in just three weeks.8 Try an aromatherapy oil containing lavender, traditionally used for its calming effects.9 4. Try some herbs A 2017 study, published in Nutrire, found that Korean ginseng raises energy levels and helps to dilate blood vessels, which may improve blood flow for arousal.10 5. Lastly, have a regular date night According to the USA’s National Marriage Project, nights out together reduce stress, improve your relationship and make you more likely to get jiggy, too. Their report looked at data from more than 12,000 couples, and found those who went out together at least once a week were also more than three times more likely to be satisfied with their sex life. That’s got to be worth the price of a cinema ticket!11

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Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies.
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1. Graham CA, et al. What factors are associated with reporting lacking interest in sex and how do these vary by gender? Findings from the third British national survey of sexual attitudes and lifestyles. Available from:
2. Stulhofer A, Træen B and Carvalheira A. Job-Related Strain and Sexual Health Difficulties among Heterosexual Men from Three European Countries: The Role of Culture and Emotional Support. Available from:
3. Goliszek A. The Stress-Sex Connection. Available from:
4. Brownlee KK, Moore AW, Hackney AC. Relationship Between Circulating Cortisol and Testosterone: Influence of Physical Exercise. Available from:
5. Neff LA and Karney BR. Stress and Reactivity to Daily Relationship Experiences. How Stress Hinders Adaptive Processes in Marriage. Available from:
6. Hofer M, et al. Olfactory cues from romantic partners and strangers influence women’s responses to stress. Available from:
7. Time. The Science of Smooching: Why Men and Women Kiss Differently. Available from:
8. Science Daily. Rub each other up the right way. Available from:
9. Koulivand PH, Ghadiri MK, Gorji A. Lavender and the Nervous System. Available from:
10. Da Cruz AC, et al. The Action of Herbal Medicine on the Libido: Aspects of Nutritional Intervention in Increasing Sexual Desire. Available from:
11. Bradford Wilcox W and Dew J. The Date Night Opportunity. What Does Couple Time Tell Us About the Potential Value of Date Nights? Available from: