Leave it to sex to be unique. Most other body functions are fairly straightforward -- they either need to be activated (excited) or suppressed (relaxed) to work properly. But sex is fickle. It requires both -- relaxation to prepare the body for sexual arousal and excitement to plant the seed of arousal and reach orgasm.
A delicate balance of hormones and nerve pathways govern this complex roller-coaster. Neither excitement nor relaxation can be ignored for a successful sexual experience to occur. One key to good sex comes in learning how to control the ups and downs of the nervous system.
Stealing from sex to give to survival.
During times of heightened stress, such as a heated argument with a spouse or an embarrassing encounter, the brain can trigger the fight/flight response. What happens next can be a disaster to sex.
The brain behaves in a true Robin Hood fashion, stealing resources from the "richer", pleasurable parts of the body like sex and digestion, and giving them to the "poorer" parts used for survival. This hierarchy is necessary to save our lives. If the Robin Hood of the body could have a motto it would be "We have to be alive to enjoy sex."
Sex simply shuts down with too much stress response. How does it does it work?
1. Erotic sensations are numbed:
The stress response robs the blood flow that would otherwise rush into the smallest of vessels of the vulva (and penis). Under non-stress conditions this blood fills and nourishes delicious nerve endings enhancing sensation throughout the pelvis.
During stress, however, this blood flow is abruptly re-routed to energize the larger muscles of the arms and legs, making sure our strides become longer and more forceful, enabling us to flee or fight our way out of danger.
With less blood flow to our skin we also bleed less and feel less pain. We stay alive, but feel less of everything, including pleasure.
2. Lubrication dries up (and erections go limp):
The lack of blood flow that once allowed the walls of the vagina to fill with lubrication are left empty and dry. The penis is left limp.
3. Erotic Attention is also robbed.
Our erotic attention is stolen to be replaced by tunnel-vision directed onto danger. No matter what sexy thought was occupying our mind, if a gun is pointed in our direction, our attention will immediately zoom away from sex and refocus onto the threat - the gun. No exceptions. Danger trumps sex.
Unfortunately this stress reaction can also be triggered by less immediate danger, such as a fight with our partner or other daily anxieties.
Erotic attention is necessary to maintain arousal and reach orgasm. Without it we quickly lose erotic energy and can have difficulty reaching orgasm.
4. The stress response challenges our immune system.
The stress response also makes us more susceptible to disease and robs our vitality, especially if the stress is prolonged. The feeling of well being can be a strong aphrodisiac. Without it, the pain and lack of energy that comes with illness can quash any sexy feelings that could have been aroused.
5. The stress response stops us from connecting with our partner.
Higher stress levels are linked to more disagreements with lovers, an erotic deterrent of the highest level. In fact, in order to engage with another person on any intimate level we need to perceive enough safety. This safety helps us feel sexual arousal and bonding with our partner due to the release of the hormones oxytocin and vasopressin. Upset and stress can interfere with the sense of safety leaving sexuality to become awkward and difficult.
This save-your-life system was designed for a more dangerous life on the savannah and does not pertain to most of our modern day lives. Still, our bodies are routinely being triggered into the stress response by everyday situations, and in the process unwittingly killing our sexual responses. It is a wonder that we feel sexual at all in this overly stressful world.
The way out of this negative cycle:
First, recognize that we are having a stress response. Once we know, we can do something about it.
Second, learn ways to control our fluctuating nervous system. There are several options open to us to soothe the stress response. Learn how to soothe the stress response.
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