How Stress Can Cause a Low Sex Drive

Couple facing away from each other in bed

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From worrying about money to deadlines at work, everyday stress can affect your sex drive. And low libido can exacerbate stress by causing relationship issues or lowered self-confidence. So, improving the way you manage stress is important, because it may improve your sex life as well. 

In a 2017 Gallup poll:

  • 44% of Americans surveyed said they feel stressed "frequently"
  • 35% reported they “sometimes” feel stressed
  • 17% said they “rarely” do
  • Just 4% said “never”

How Stress Impacts Sex Drive

When you encounter stress, your body goes through a series of changes in order to prepare you to run away or stay and fight. This is known as the fight or flight response. As part of the fight or flight response, you may experience an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate while non-essential functions, like sex drive, are acutely diminished. 

Physiological Effects

This response also triggers the release of hormones, such as cortisol and epinephrine, which in high levels can cause decreased sex drive. When stress is chronic, the body uses sex hormones to meet the increased demands for higher cortisol production, decreasing interest in sex.

Psychological Effects

In addition to the physiological effects of stress, there is also a psychological aspect. Stress can cause you to have a busy, frazzled mind, and distract you from wanting sex or being present during sex. It can also impact your mood, leading to anxiety and depression, both of which can diminish libido.

Lifestyle Choices

Uncontrolled stress can lead to unhealthy habits such as smoking, drinking, and overeating and poor lifestyle choices like lack of self-care and exercise. These shifts can influence how you feel about yourself and interfere with a healthy sex life.

If your stress response isn’t reversed, it can contribute to a condition known as chronic stress, impacting your physical health in many ways, including causing low libido.  

Coping With Stress and Low Sex Drive

Minimizing stress and maintaining a good sex life is possible, especially if you put in time and effort. Here are a few strategies to consider.

Practice Stress Management

If you suspect that life stress is putting a damper on your libido, one of the first solutions you should consider is overall stress management. If you reverse your stress response using effective relaxation techniques, you won’t experience as many hormonal disturbances from chronic stress.

Try some proven strategies for dealing with worry or anxiety in other areas of your life so that they won't have an impact on your sex drive. A few stress management techniques to consider include:

Talking with a therapist specializing in stress management can also help you discover coping techniques for your individual situation.

Examine Your Relationship

When dealing with low libido, it's also important to look at the health of your relationship. Studies show that relationship stress and conflicts can be a stronger factor in low libido than other types of stress. This is true for both men and women.

Because their partner’s satisfaction impacts their own libido, a lack of interest from one partner can lead to a lack of interest for both partners. 

Working through relationship difficulties is important for many reasons, and your sex drive is a big one. The first step should be to make sure you’re using communication techniques that are fair and supportive of your relationship. Try to view problems as challenges you face together rather than seeing one another as "the enemy." Try to find strategies that support the needs of both partners.

If you have difficulty doing this on your own, a therapist or marriage counselor can help you develop more effective relationship skills and work through some deeper issues. 

Exercise Together

Exercising is a great way to keep stress at bay and boost your self-esteem which, in turn, can boost your libido. If you feel like you don't get enough alone time with your partner, consider working out as a couple.

A quick jog or evening walk together may help you to feel more connected while you get those endorphins going. If your partner is willing to try yoga, practicing together may help bring new energy to the bedroom. Look for a book or video specifically dedicated to partner yoga or search your local area for classes you can try together.

Practice Self-Care

It's hard to feel good about having sex if you don't feel good about yourself. Practicing self-care means eating a healthy diet, exercising, getting good sleep, practicing stress management techniques, pampering yourself, and enjoying time for self-reflection.

Additionally, aim to ditch harmful habits like smoking and excess drinking (which put your health at risk and dampen sexual desire). By taking time for self-care, you're taking time to build confidence and feel sexy, energetic, and more than worthy of your partner's affections.

Make Time for Each Other

Many of us find ourselves busier than we ever thought possible. Being constantly busy means having little downtime, which can drain your energy and make sex unappealing.

A busy schedule can also mean a busy mind—and having a lot on your mind can make it difficult to relax and "get in the mood." Packed schedules can even present difficulties in finding the time for sex ,or make it feel like just one more chore on your mile-long to-do list.

If a busy lifestyle is behind your stress and low libido, you may consider making a plan for intimacy or sexual experimentation.

While scheduling sex may not seem like the most romantic notion, you can get creative and make it exciting.

Begin flirting first thing in the morning (consider it part of your foreplay) and do your best to pick up the phone midday to let your partner know that you are looking forward to your plans with a quick text or phone call. Adding a little music or aromatherapy can also help set the tone for relaxation and romance.

Focus on Sensation, Not Sex

The power of touch is a pretty powerful stress reliever and doesn't have to include sex. Hold hands, make time to cuddle more (when you hug someone, the stress-busting hormone oxytocin is released), or explore each other through partner massage.

Touching is a great way to show affection to your partner without any added pressure from the expectation of sex.

Focusing on touch, rather than sex, can help you relax and find pleasure and intimacy, which can increase your desire for closeness and, ultimately, sex.

How to Talk to Your Partner

When talking to your partner about low libido, take extra care to avoid directing blame at yourself or your partner. The best approach is one that sees low libido as a problem you will overcome together.

This will require open and honest communication about the possible causes of your stress as well as the physical and emotional symptoms of low libido.

Consider these tips for having a healthy conversation:

  • Let your partner know that you want to talk about your sex life and set a time and neutral place (i.e., not your bedroom) that’s comfortable for both of you.
  • Don’t bring up the topic after sex or when either of you is rushed or distracted.
  • Consider doing some meditation or breathing exercises prior to your talk so you're in a calm state of mind. When you're stressed, it's easy to get defensive.
  • Be honest and open. Share your expectations, fears, desires, and concerns.
  • Give your partner a chance to tell their side and use active listening skills like repeating back what your partner said. Do your best to validate your partner's feelings with words of understanding.
  • Ensure your conversation is balanced by asking open-ended questions along the way. For example: "What do you think of all this?"
  • Know when to stop talking. If your conversation becomes too heated, it's likely time to wrap it up. This may be a sign that you need a mediator such as a counselor or sex therapist to help you work through this.

When to Consider Therapy

Communication is a crucial part of a healthy sex life, so if you and your partner are having a difficult time talking about issues related to stress and sex drive, therapy might be a good choice. Individual therapy may also be a good option if any negative thought patterns are contributing to your stress.

Individual Therapy

Cognitive therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy for stress is based on the concept that it’s not simply the events in our lives that cause us stress, but the way we think about those events. You'll work one-on-one with a therapist to explore what's behind your stress and to define and meet your goals for better managing stress so it doesn't interfere with your sex life.

Couples Therapy

In marriage counseling or couples therapy, you and your partner will work with a therapist in joint sessions. The primary goals of joint therapy are to foster open communication, recognize and resolve conflicts, strengthen your relationship, and gain a better understanding of each other.

Sex Therapy

Sex therapy is a specialized type of talk therapy that focuses on sexual issues. Through sex therapy, which is offered in both individual and joint partner sessions, you can learn to express your concerns clearly and better understand your and your partner's sexual needs.


When considering therapy as an option, look for a therapist you're comfortable with who specializes in the type of therapy you're seeking. A cognitive therapist may encourage you to begin journaling to record the emotions you're feeling before, during, or after sex or to track the times when you're most stressed as well as what does (and does not) work to help you relax.

A sex therapist may give you homework to do as a couple, such as role-playing or communication exercises.

Other Causes

If you’re still experiencing low libido after trying some lifestyle modifications and working with a therapist to better manage stress, consider speaking to a healthcare provider about the possible medical cause of your loss of sexual interest.

Underlying medical issues that can affect sex drive include:

  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Chronic pain
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Hormone imbalances
  • Peri-menopause and menopause
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Sleep disorders
  • Thyroid disease
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Vaginismus

Sexual Desire Disorders

If low libido and lack of interest in sex are causing significant distress and impacting your relationship or self-esteem, and it's not due to medical or other psychiatric causes, you may be diagnosed with hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD).

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), used by mental health professionals to make diagnoses, split HSDD into two categories: female sexual interest/arousal disorder and male hypoactive sexual desire disorder. For a diagnosis of either disorder, symptoms must last for at least six months and cause a significant amount of distress.

Symptoms of female sexual interest/arousal disorder include:

  • Disinterest in initiating sex
  • Few to no sexual thoughts or fantasies
  • Loss of spontaneous sexual desire
  • The inability to respond to sexual cues
  • The inability to maintain interest during sex

Symptoms of male hypoactive sexual desire disorder include:

  • Deficient or absent desire for sexual activity
  • Few to no sexual thoughts or fantasies

A Word From Verywell

It's important to remember that it's natural to experience fluctuations in sexual desire. But if stress is negatively impacting your sex life, don't hesitate to confide in your partner and seek help. Together, you can test out strategies to lower your stress levels and boost your sex drive. By doing so, you may even end up strengthening your relationship and improving your overall health.

10 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Elizabeth Scott, PhD
Elizabeth Scott, PhD is an author, workshop leader, educator, and award-winning blogger on stress management, positive psychology, relationships, and emotional wellbeing.