Everyday stressors like lack of sleep, financial anxiety, problems at work or with family, and societal pressure can interfere with all aspects of your life—including sex—especially as you age. Few issues have a more chilling effect on sex than stress, tension, and anxiety. These forces exact a heavy toll over time, both on your own well-being and on your intimate relationships, polluting the bedroom with emotional toxins. They can also impact the physiological processes that make good sex possible. Let’s take a closer look at how stress can diminish sexual function as you age and how you can reduce stress to enjoy a long, sexy life.
The Vicious Cycle of Stress
Stress has medical consequences that work against normal sexual function. During the stress response, blood moves away from the genitals to supply large muscle groups of arms and legs. Stress can increase the activity of the nervous system, boosting the flow of norepinephrine, a chemical that constricts blood vessels. This condition is precisely the opposite of what is necessary for a man to achieve an erection—a smooth flow of blood through open vascular channels. In addition, chronic stress may impact a man’s sperm production, which can cause infertility.
Cultural or personal ideals and expectations for perfect relationships and perfectly proportioned bodies can compound the stress that dampens people’s sex drive. Millions of relationships turn into no-win situations when people aim for some imaginary standard of satisfaction. From my clinical observations as a men’s health specialist, the single biggest sexual worry of contemporary men is that they will not provide their partners with orgasms of spectacular quantity and quality. Ironically, that performance anxiety can be the very thing to cause poor sexual performance.
It’s true that as men age, it can take longer to achieve an erection and longer to reach and recover from an orgasm, but this is perfectly normal. The good news is that with age comes increased experience, wisdom, and seasoning, which should be a boon to your sex life. Aging men and women may simply have to adjust their style of lovemaking. As you age, the muscles in your back, legs, and arms might tire more quickly than they used to, and your joints and ligaments might not be as flexible. This may mean you have to rest, change positions more often, or try new positions.
But none of this means that you can’t enjoy sex! By relaxing into the changes of aging and fending off life’s daily challenges, we can reduce the stress that makes it harder to enjoy sex in the first place.
What You Can Do
To continue enjoying a happy, healthy, sexy life as you get older, you must say no to stress and learn how to relax. Here are some simple ways you can reduce the stress level in your life:
Get plenty of rest. Happy and healthy individuals lead balanced lives. You can be energetic, busy, and productive without being a workaholic. Make sure your capacity for fun and relaxation is just as big as your capacity for work, and always prioritize a good night’s sleep.
Don’t compare yourself to others. It can be tempting to see images of sleek, fit bodies with gorgeous partners at their sides and feel that you don’t measure up. Striving for an unrealistic, ideal body type or relationship can damage your mental health. Avoid the unnecessary stress that comes from comparing yourself, and focus instead on being comfortable in your own skin.
Have sex. If you are feeling anxious or tense and want to steer your mind away from burdensome thoughts, having sex could be the best antidote. Vigorous sex increases the volume of oxygen in your lungs, quickens your heart rate, and raises your effective circulating blood volume, all of which benefit your general health.
Keep stress out of the bedroom. Eliminating stressful situations altogether might be impossible, but that doesn’t mean you have to let outside stress impact your personal life. Develop the capacity to prevent negative emotions from impeding your ability to become aroused. If you start to feel anxious, turn that feeling into positive energy and convert your edginess into stimulation.
Eat healthy. It’s much easier to operate smoothly and vigorously in bed if you are not carrying a belt of blubber around your waist. Maintaining a healthy body weight encourages self-confidence and promotes a positive outlook on life. Focus your diet on fresh, colorful fruits and vegetables, ocean-caught fish (a great source of unsaturated fat), and whole grains rather than processed foods that rely on sugar, salt, and fat for flavor.
The Importance of Chilling Out
Reducing stress and learning to relax is essential to maintaining good mental health and physical health. Numerous studies have shown that people who undergo major traumas, such as the loss of a loved one or an accident, are much more likely to experience a serious illness. I have seen many patients suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome, and I can tell you that their sex life can also be affected.
With some patients, however, even serious traumas do not seem to have a devastating effect. These individuals deal with a crisis in a healthy, effective way. When the crisis resolves, they put it behind them, and their stressful encounter fades quickly from their minds. Practices like yoga and meditation can be invaluable in helping people recover from trauma and manage their day-to-day stress levels. It takes strength, confidence, and self-awareness to say no to stress, but your life—and your sex life—will be better for it now and long into the future.
Dudley S. Danoff, MD, FACS is the attending urologic surgeon and founder/president of the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center Tower Urology Group in Los Angeles, California. He is the author of The Ultimate Guide To Male Sexual Health. Visit www.theultimateguidetomenshealth.com for more information from Dr. Danoff and to learn about his book.