Stress and Reproductive Health
The Hidden Role of Stress on Hormones, Sex Drive and Fertility
Do you suffer from infertility or sexual dysfunction like low libido?
You are not alone, millions are affected by these conditions
Did you know that stress can contribute to sexual health?
There is hope.
Stress management can play an important role in addressing these conditions.
You’re sitting in yet another doctor’s office with your partner, trying to figure out why you have not been able to become pregnant. You had planned it all out, this was the year it was supposed to happen. The practitioner explains the options moving forward, and you feel overwhelmed and confused. Why is this happening? And what can I do about it?
You suffer from erectile dysfunction and low libido. You and your partner just can’t seem to connect. You wonder, what is wrong with me? Your relationship is suffering and you’re not sure what to do.
Challenges with fertility, sexual dysfunction and hormone imbalance affect millions of people. These conditions can negatively impact our self-esteem and confidence, as well as our relationships.
It’s always important to have a thorough evaluation with your physician when you experience any of these symptoms because there can often be multi-factorial causes that contribute to infertility and sexual dysfunction. One piece of the puzzle that is often overlooked is chronic stress and it’s wide ranging down stream effects on hormone and reproductive health.
What if there was a way to modulate our stress response and reduce its effects on our reproductive health? By working on all of the physiological causes of your symptoms, along with also addressing chronic stress, a more complete approach to care can be achieved to help you reach your reproductive health goals.
What are the effects of chronic stress on our hormones, libido and fertility?
Difficulties with sexual health affect millions of people
Chronic stress is one modifiable factor that can help address these symptoms
While we are all subject to stress in modern life, finding ways to manage stress through mindfulness and other stress reduction techniques can have a positive impact on sexual health
How common is infertility and sexual dysfunction?
Challenges with sexual health and fertility are more common than you may think. Estimates indicate that about 10% of the population struggle with infertility. Erectile dysfunction is also being increasingly recognized, affecting about 40% of men by age 40 and decreased sexual desire is another common experience.
While it’s always important to discuss these health challenges with a physician, a key aspect of any comprehensive approach to these issues includes looking at the importance of lifestyle factors. This would include addressing diet and nutrition, exercise, smoking, alcohol intake, and chronic stress.
How does stress affect our sexual health?
Chronic stress in the modern world can come in many forms. While we all experience major life events that can have profound effects on our health, most of us are also exposed to every day small stressors, or “daily hassles” such as never ending to do lists and deadlines at home and work, traffic jams, and overpacked schedules. These types of daily hassles can have negative effects on sexual desire, libido and reproductive health in many ways.
Chronic stress can be associated with increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol and reduced levels of hormones like estradiol and testosterone. This combination of stress and altered hormone levels can contribute to fertility challenges and low libido. With chronic stress and activation of the “fight of flight” component of our nervous system, blood flow can be decreased to the sexual organs and this itself can affect libido and arousal.
Stress is also a contributing factor in many cases of erectile dysfunction (ED) and can even affect fertility in men by decreasing the production, quality and maturation of sperm. Stress management techniques can play an important role in a more holistic approach to treating ED and infertility.
In women, excessive stress over prolonged periods of time can also contribute to an increase in PMS, irregular menstrual cycles, and increased symptoms during menopause. Chronic stress can also make it more difficult to become pregnant. Including stress management techniques as part of a comprehensive approach to fertility shows promise in improving outcomes.
Solutions to Chronic Stress: Modulating the Impact of Stress on Reproductive Health:
Stress reduction techniques make sense as part of a comprehensive approach to infertility, sexual dysfunction, low libido, and hormone related conditions. These types of therapies can include breathing techniques, relaxation therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy and hypnotherapy, among others. Overall, the goal with any of these techniques is to intentionally activate the parasympathetic “rest and digest” state of our nervous system, which can modulate the impacts of stress.
Here’s a summary of some resources to consider to modulate the stress response:
Heart Rate Variability Biofeedback [link to our resources on HRV biofeedback/app when available]
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): you can search for a practitioner that offers CBT through this directory
Yoga, tai chi
Chronic stress can affect sexual health in multiple ways and cause challenges with fertility, libido, desire, and satisfaction. An important part of addressing all of these issues is recognizing the role of stress and finding sustainable ways to incorporate stress management techniques into our daily lives.