Release stress, improve sex

Women’s lifestyle and sexual wellness

Written by Jennifer Hanson
You make all kinds of decisions every day (what to eat, who to spend time with, what to spend your money on, how to deal with stress…) but you might not be aware of how directly your lifestyle choices are affecting your sex life. Approximately 40% of women deal with some sort of sexual dysfunction in their lifetime, and sexual health is an essential facet of both physical and mental health in myriad ways. Taking some time to examine yourself and your choices will allow you to take better control of your sex life. 

Lifestyle choices  

When things get stressful, it’s easy to fall into the rhythm of old habits and forget that you have the agency to change them. The next time you go through your morning routine, ask yourself: Am I taking care of myself? Am I getting enough sleep? Do I make healthy dietary choices? Am I exercising somewhat often? 
Even though these seem like mundane habits, they are all linked to mood and basic functioning. Being more mindful of these simple things helps combat stress, which tends to put a damper on everything. Higher levels of stress are linked with higher levels of sexual issues and lower levels of sexual satisfaction. And if that wasn't bad enough, fatigue and stress have a profound effect on overall sexual well-being for women. One study showed that women who chronically experience high levels of stress report more distraction, leading to less genital arousal. Further evidence shows that psychological distraction is the biggest hindrance to orgasm among women. 
Inability to orgasm, impaired arousal, loss of desire or painful sex are all classified as sexual dysfunction, and these can overlap other issues, making smaller problems bigger. Some women suffer in silence for years and this effect is even worse for women with more restrictive cultural, social or religious values. However, when sexual health issues are ignored, it can lead to dissatisfaction in relationships, unbalanced desire and problems with communication. Ignoring the elephant in the room triggers many people to avoid intimacy altogether. 
Another part of the reason that sexual health issues can compound over time is the stigma surrounding sex in medical settings. When creating plans for medication to treat stress, it’s common for doctors to not bring up their patient’s sexual well-being. When asked why they tend to avoid initiating conversations about sex with female patients, doctors cited limited time, embarrassment, lack of effective treatment and limited training. The same study concluded that most doctors rely on their patients to ask about sex, so don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself! Sexual well-being is an integral part of a person's overall health, and it’s your responsibility to make sure you're living your best sex life.

Positive changes 

The good news? There are plenty of ways to alter your lifestyle choices in order to have a more positive sex life. Keep in mind though that habits require consistent, mindful change that takes time. Attempting to change many habits at once is difficult, so aiming for one or two improvements is a more realistic goal.
Consistent exercise is a great place to start because it positively impacts the cardiovascular system. One study showed that exercising immediately before sex boosted desire in woman who were medicated for depression. The same study concluded that 30 minutes of vigorous exercise three times per week is correlated with higher levels of overall sexual desire. Being active outside the bedroom actually improves how active you are between the sheets!
If you’re looking for a new outlet, research has suggested that yoga helps with stress reduction and decreases blood pressure, heart rate and cortisol production. And yoga is associated with both overall physical health as well as improved psychological well-being. Sexually, yoga has shown improvement across the board for arousal, lubrication, desire, orgasm, satisfaction and pain.
Yoga can also teach you to be more present in the moment. The ethos of yoga is to be present and focus on your breathing to help get you through uncomfortable poses. Once you’ve trained yourself to be mindful, you’ll improve your overall awareness of yourself and the world around you. Mindfulness improves awareness by helping you focus on bodily sensations, which leads to more thoughtful, non-judgmental sex. 

The payoff of being mindful includes better relationships, better sex, and greater understanding of yourself at the same time. Mindfulness is a powerful tool in treating low sexual desire, premature ejaculation and delayed ejaculation in men, and it increases awareness of your partner’s needs as well as your own.

Sexual healing 

You’ve gotten plenty of exercise, you’re hydrated, stress-free and mindful, but there’s still something off about your sex life. Studies suggest female sexual dysfunction is more prevalent, more difficult to define and requires more complicated treatment. While conditions like endometriosis or PCOS might be the troubling factor, other concerns like mental health, gastrointestinal issues or chronic pain could also be the culprit. Health issues do a number on your sex life, and the stigma surrounding sex can make it more difficult to get help.
If you’ve found yourself putting off sex because you’re nervous about health issues, it’s time to have a chat with your doctor. Remind yourself that you aren’t alone. Most people feel the same and find it nerve wracking to ask for help, but it’s worse to keep putting off an important part of your life. The next time you see your doctor, by straightforward about your concerns and the issues they’re causing you.They should be able to point you in the right direction.
In addition to seeking medical advice, you can also make choices during sex that might improve your overall sexual wellbeing. Vibrators have been shown to enhance sexual arousal and shorter time intervals to orgasm, and the same study showed that silicone and water-based lubricants are associated with higher ratings of pleasure and satisfaction during sex. This is especially important for older women that may cite dryness and pain during sex as the source of their sexual dysfunction. 
It’s crucial to understand the link between the lifestyle choices you make and your satisfaction with your sex life. Finding the correct balance of medication, mindfulness and more lubrication will encourage more frequent and satisfying sex. Take a thoughtful look at what could use some changing and dive right in.

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