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Stress and Sexual Desire #459

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On the Regular version of today’s show …

Dr Lori Brotto joins me to discuss how stress impacts life and sex. Specifically sexual desire. 

Learn more about Dr Brotto on her website – www.debunkingdesire.com also find her on social media using this #debunkingdesire

On the Xtended version …

Dr Brotto and I talk more in depth about the myths surrounding sexual desire and her research on the subject. 

Enjoy the show!

Got a question?

CALL US 214-702-9565
or email us at feedback@sexymarriageradio.com

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Corey Allan:
Welcome back to another episode of Sexy Marriage Radio. This is Dr Corey Allan alongside my wife as always, Pam.

Pam Allan:
Yeah. Good to be here.

Corey Allan:
I get a chance to steal her away during crazy season of life.

Pam Allan:
Yeah, even more interesting than taxis in is all that's going on around right now.

Corey Allan:
Right. So at the outset of today's show, what we're trying to do with Sex Marriage Radio is we want to offer honest, straightforward conversations about what goes on in married life. And obviously what goes on in our world that impacts married life.

Pam Allan:
Yeah. definitely.

Corey Allan:
So the state of what's going on here in the States and the States of what's going on in the other parts of the country, in the world. For those of you that are part of the SMR Nation from all over the world, our prayers are with you. Our thoughts are with you. And our hope is that you recognize there's still God and control.

Corey Allan:
And I heard this yesterday, Pam here in the Dallas area from I think it was the mayor made a comment of we need to have faith in two things during times like this, when you'd have faith in God and we need to have faith in the science and we need to believe in them both. And it's like that's a pretty good thought process because there's a lot of good information in the world, the way the world is and do what you can for you and your family and your neighbors. This is a chance for everybody to shine.

Pam Allan:
Yeah it is.

Corey Allan:
And for people to rally because we can and realize, "You know what, we're not in this thing alone." And the more we can see that the more we can be of service to those around us and they can be service to us and everybody's better and we all get through this. Regardless of all the uncertainties, you're not alone.

Pam Allan:
That's right.

Corey Allan:
And so what we're trying to do with Sexy Marriage Radio this week and in the coming is a little more business as usual because there's still, stresses is going to happen in marriage and so we want to address what's going to help you. And so if you've got questions or concerns, specifically what's going on or how this is impacting your life and your relationship and home life. (214) 702-9565 it's the way you can ask your questions or feedback @sexymarriageradio.com because we still want to speak to the struggles and the successes and everything that goes on in your marriage.

Pam Allan:
That's right.

Corey Allan:
And to help it be better. And then just one quick little bit of housekeeping before we jump into today's episode. What the state of things that are happening in the States and how there's businesses are looking like they're going to be grinding to a halt for a while.

Pam Allan:
Many of them. Yeah.

Corey Allan:
Schools for sure. Not knowing how long this is going to go out into the future. We've got the getaway coming up in June. It's already on the schedule planned. Things are in motion, and as of now, we're continuing that same path of nothing's changing.

Pam Allan:
We're going to wait and see what unfolds here over the next few weeks and we'll keep you guys up.

Corey Allan:
Yeah. Obviously as new information flows through all of the different areas that are effected by this COVID-19 reality that we're dealing with right now, we'll make adjustments and let everybody know if we need to, but as of now, all systems go. And if we've got to change, we'll change. We'll adjust to what's right for the SMR Nation.

Corey Allan:
So coming up on today's regular free version of Sexy Marriage Radio, I'm joined by Dr Lori Brotto who is a researcher in Canada that does a tremendous amount of work on the whole research of female sexual desire, she's been on in the past. And that's what we talked about, how meditation is akin to female Viagra.

Pam Allan:
Nice.

Corey Allan:
That was from in the archives. But this time she comes back because she's talking about just some of the myths that are surrounding desire. She's actually got a campaign going on trying to get some really good information out there called Debunking Desire, #DebunkingDesire that is just trying to address a lot of what the world and society and Hollywood has kind of proposed, that's a myth when it comes to desire.

Pam Allan:
Love that. I think that's going to be great info because sometimes we do look at that and we just take that for being here's how it is.

Corey Allan:
Right. And so we get into a deep dive of that in the extended content today, which is deeper, longer and there's no ads and you can subscribe @smrnation.com. That's where we kind of just geek out on some of her research just because I love that kind of stuff, of how does that unfold? What are you finding? Let's talk about the nuances of this whole thing.

Pam Allan:
Geek out on desire research. I like it.

Corey Allan:
That's a good thing. And then in the regular show, the regular version, she and I talk about the impact of stress on sex and marriage and desire.

Pam Allan:
Oh, that's quite timely.

Corey Allan:
Totally, didn't even know because this was recorded a couple of weeks back when we met to record this episode. But it impacts us all, especially when you're dealing with chronic stress. It dramatically impacts your brain. And desire is one of the things that gets hit because of that.

Corey Allan:
And so she and I get into how do you deal with that pattern? What do you do to stop it? How do you address it? What does it look like? And so it's a very, very good conversation. So I think it's going to be a great show.

Pam Allan:
Looking forward to it.

Corey Allan:
So all that's coming up on today's show.

Corey Allan:
Well joining me on the episode today with Sexy Marriage Radio, I'm so honored again to be able to spend a little bit of time with Dr Lori Brotto, who she's been on in the past where we talked about mindfulness and that's almost, tell me if I'm wrong, Lori, but it seems like that was like mindfulness is akin to any kind of medical enhancement that can happen for women for desire. That there's an element, because there's no female Viagra, but mindfulness might be close. Is that...

Lori Brotto:
Agreed. And I often say, and I say it in my book, "Mindfulness is the most critical and powerful ingredient in satisfying pleasurable sexual interaction."

Corey Allan:
Okay. And so that's where we went the first time. And that was a great conversation just because I remember how vital and important it is because in the world in which a lot of the clients I see and in a lot of the people from SMR Nation, what they're running into is how do we make this pleasurable for both sides, right? That it's not just a male dominated thing for sex, that a woman absolutely needs to get all of what she can out of it too and seek what she finds pleasurable and enjoyable and life-giving even.

Corey Allan:
But I wanted to have you back on the air with me because it seems like right now you've had a little bit of a thread where stress is a part of this dynamic, right? And I'm assuming nobody that's listening to this in the SMR Nation is immune to understanding what stress means. And we live really busy lives and really hectic lives, but what are you seeing in what you've kind of come across in the research that you're doing and access to? How is stress playing out and impacting our lives and then particularly our sex life?

Lori Brotto:
Yeah. I'm so glad we're having this conversation Corey, because stress as you've mentioned is... I think we've just sort of accepted it as a normal part of our day-to-day life. "How are you doing today?" "Oh, I'm stressed." And we sort of brush it off as if it's nothing. And yet the research seeking to understand the impact of stress very clearly tells us that stress can wreak havoc on our brains, on our bodies, and my interest falls within our sex lives. So throughout the research that we've been doing over the last 15 to 20 years or so, looking at how mindfulness can be a tool for cultivating desire and improving sexual pleasure. One of the findings that's emerged from that research is that stress really plays a critical role. So mindfulness can directly target stress and in so doing that, reducing the impact of stress, sexuality.

Lori Brotto:
So let's dive a little bit deeper into stress. We might say that stress can be, say, an upcoming big event, a wedding, a birth, a move, a new job, a traumatic event, all of those can be very stressful and there's very potent changes that happened within our brain, release of cortisol, impact on our body systems, et cetera. But we also know that the day-to-day grind, the daily to-do list, the never ending list of things that we need to get through can also amount to significant stress. And in fact there's some research that shows that the impact of the day-to-day to-do lists can be more negative for our brains than say, a single traumatic event.

Corey Allan:
Really?

Lori Brotto:
So we need to pay attention to this. It's something that we can't dismiss.

Corey Allan:
Okay. I want to add a caveat just because I got a question to for clarification, you alluded to upcoming things that can create stress and some of those upcoming things can be even things we're excited about. Huge, monumental, I can't wait. As the time of this recording, it's right on the cusp of spring break for a lot of people. And so there's this element of, "Man I can't wait, because we're going to head to the beach or we're going skiing or I've got this huge big travel plan." But is it true that even the things I'm excited about and that kind of the stress that comes alongside that versus the sames on the other side of that equation could be the stress of the weight of pressure in work and deadlines and all the different things that we could deem as heavy or negative, is the result the same on our body?

Lori Brotto:
Yeah. It's great because the brain doesn't necessarily differentiate those two situations. It on a fizzy neurophysiological level, it kind of reacts as if those two were the same. It's a big to-do, with multiple to-dos leading up to the big to-do. But difference though is our thought patterns within those two situations. So as we look forward to that big ski trip, there's excitement, there's positive anticipation, there's imagining what it's going to be like to be in that beautiful place. So a lot of positive thoughts and feelings that go along with it as opposed to the negative anticipation with the negative thoughts that can often be self judgemental. "So will I ever get through this? What if I don't?" And so the difference between the kind of positive stressful and the negative stressful are the emotions and the specific thoughts that go along with that.

Lori Brotto:
But again, cortisol would respond in exactly the same way. And that's really what we're focused on is the negative effects of this kind of prolonged release of cortisol, which as your listeners probably know is the major stress hormone.

Corey Allan:
Right. And what does that do? Because that's the stuff that people might have heard that cortisol is the issue because it floods your brain and impacts things. But what does it do? What makes cortisol so bad? I guess you could say.

Lori Brotto:
Yeah. So cortisol in and of itself is not a bad hormone. In fact if we kind of go back into say prehistoric times where our living conditions were very different and our bodies and our brains were wired to develop the fight or flight response system. And that was actually a very good and adaptive system.

Corey Allan:
Totally.

Lori Brotto:
Again, because of our hunter-gatherer kind of living situation. So if we were faced with say a saber-toothed tiger, cortisol would kick in and mobilize us to flee as fast as possible. And so it was a really good thing. These kinds of short term bursts through the fight or flight response system or the sympathetic nervous system, which is what we call it, and it was a good thing.

Lori Brotto:
What we've learned though is that chronic release of cortisol can be very, very disruptive. So first of all, it's effects on the cells of the body and the skin. It can lead to thinning of the skin. And that's also why in periods of stress, people might be more prone to have skin outbreaks, whether it's acne or eczema or psoriasis, there's that impact. Also because it's a hormone, it can interact with many of the other hormone systems of the body, right? So testosterone and estrogen.

Lori Brotto:
So women for example, under periods of stress might have unregulated menstrual cycles, right? They miss a period, they might go a few months and it's very much because of those hormone to hormone interactions. Cortisol also directly affects the brain and can impact attention and memory and learning and all kinds of other brain related processes. So small doses of cortisol is a good thing. It prepares us and mobilize us, but it's chronic stress, the chronic cortisol that can actually wreak havoc.

Corey Allan:
So then what is a person to do to deal with, and this is a million dollar question, I realize it. How do you disrupt the chronic pattern of this though? Because you're talking about almost lifestyle, you're talking about a situational choice. Some of the things that are going to be circumstantial that, I can imagine, some people could hear this and think, "Well, I can't move to a monastery or I can't just move out into the wilderness to where the body will reset. And now the only cortisol I need to really have as goes to back to good because the pack of wolves up in the wildlife, when they come through it'll help me. But other than that, my stress is gone." But what are some of the things you've seen that we can steer towards that do help disrupt this pattern?

Lori Brotto:
Yeah, and I completely validate your statement that it's not as simple as, "Well, just stop being stressed."

Corey Allan:
That's stressful even of itself when you start thinking that way.

Lori Brotto:
It is. It's yet another thing on the to-do list, right? Stop being stressed at the bottom of 45 other items. But there are some concrete and evidence-based things that we can do. So first of all, take stock, take inventory and reflect on how you're really feeling and if you're feeling chronically run down, low energy, difficult sleeping, difficulty in engaging conversations, falling asleep at the wheel, all of these sorts of things, well forgetting things. It could be a sign of chronic stress. So the first thing is take stock and notice. And if that's challenging to do on your own, there's inventories that you can take online that are free. So measures of stress, you can talk to a healthcare provider about that as well. As long as you find someone who takes your concerns seriously and doesn't just miss it. So that's the first thing, is recognized if this is you.

Lori Brotto:
And then we do have evidence based strategies for challenging stress. So things like meditation and it doesn't have to be the 30 to 45 minute daily meditation that one does. Now with a lot of the commercially available apps, et cetera, it's something you can do for 10 minutes a day. I insert my meditation right in the middle of my workday. I closed my door and put a Do Not Disturb sign on the door and I literally take 10 minutes every single day and do a meditation. So that's one thing.

Lori Brotto:
Deep breathing is also something that you can do throughout the day. Maybe it's done in one to two minute boats, three times a day before a stressful meeting, before you walk in the house at the end of your Workday or right when you wake up in the morning.

Lori Brotto:
Then there's other more kind of cognitive or thinking related things that we can do to manage stress. These are a bit more challenging to do on your own and are often done better, together with a skilled therapist or psychologist or counselor, et cetera. And those really involve taking a look at what are some of the thought patterns that are contributing to stress. So thoughts such as, "I can't get through this, I'm not good enough. There's nothing I can do to improve my situation." And sometimes those thoughts are irrational, they're not rooted in truth. And so we want to challenge and ultimately eliminate those irrational thoughts and replace them with healthier ones. And again, that sort of the essence of cognitive therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy,

Corey Allan:
Right. Because that's getting after the whole irrational thinking distorted thoughts.

Lori Brotto:
Exactly.

Corey Allan:
And this is what's so interesting to me, having done this in the profession for a while now, alongside some of the same kind of stuff you probably see too, that meant even if I sit here and think, "You know what, I have a lot of clarity of thought. I'm a really upbeat, positive thing." There are still situations where I will jump to the worst case scenario in my thought process and I will be so disparaging to myself and so harsh and mean and just shameful of how I view me. And so it's almost recognizing in some regards to the human condition is this idea of, "How do I confront life on life terms." I love that terminology to start to see it as, "This is the reality of it." And even just this idea of you stopping to see it as, notice it, name it, claim it in the sense of, "Man, I'm really stressed right now." I just went to a training a couple of months back on brain regressions and talking about one of the patterns that you do to stop the regressions is you just literally say out loud, "I am regressed." And that's a shift of your psyche in the inner mental world going on.

Lori Brotto:
Yeah, totally agree with everything you've just said. Yes.

Corey Allan:
Okay. And so if this is one of the things that's going on, on just kind of our day-to-day living, it's not at all a shock that this impacts our sexuality, our sexual desire, our drive, all of it. So what are you seeing in that, on the correlation and more importantly, are there some specific things someone can do? Because I sit here and think of a rational thoughts and distorted thinking, "Man, that can wreak all kinds of havoc in our desire and sexuality." Because you get caught up in all these messages that may be you took hook line and sinker early that just aren't true.

Lori Brotto:
Yeah, and just picking up on the thread that you just mentioned about, you can be smart and rational and take pride in your ability to think clearly and analytically and at the same time put yourself in a stressful situation. And all of that clear, rational thinking sort of goes out the window and that's yet another impact of chronic stress and cortisol. And when you have that dominance of emotional reasoning, emotional thinking, it can be very, very challenging to think your way through a situation. So again, recognizing that when strong emotions and the stress response is at play, I almost say to folks, "You almost can't trust what you're thinking in that moment. You need to set aside any decision making, wait for the stress to come down and rethink your way through it."

Lori Brotto:
So to your second question, Corey, the question of the role of stress in sexual desire and sexual function more broadly has been a tremendous interest to me and my research team over the last many, many years. And we've done a variety of studies where we actually try and quantify the impact of stress on sexual desire. And similarly we have been examining to what extent stress impacts sexual functioning versus say, hormonal changes or other more physiological factors of the body.

Lori Brotto:
So we just finished a big study and we've published a number of studies coming out of it where we looked at low desire in women and we measured two hormones, DHEA, which is part of the androgen family. That's also the family of hormones where testosterone is part of, and for a long time the science has assumed that testosterone is a major player in sexual desire. So when desire is low, it's because testosterone is low and desire is high is because testosterone is high. There's a bit more kind of credence of that in men's desire and none of it in women's desire, but we were still interested in measuring testosterone. That's measuring DHEA.

Lori Brotto:
And then we also measured cortisol. And cortisol again is being the stress hormone and how we measured cortisol in this study was we compared when we wake up in the morning, it's healthy to have high levels of cortisol and then over the course of the day our cortisol levels should come down. So there's that kind of drop in cortisol, we call it the diurnal rhythm of cortisol. Wake up with high, comes down and that's because if we have a good stress response system, it'll bring it down over the course of the day.

Lori Brotto:
What we found in women with low is they woke up with high levels of cortisol and those cortisol levels stayed high throughout the day. So basically their brains were unable to regulate their stress response system resulting in chronically high levels of cortisol. And when we've looked at how that impacted their sexual desire versus some of the androgen hormones, we found that cortisol was a major player. So when we put all these different pieces together, what we concluded from that body of research is that chronic stress probably from a young age. That's another piece of the puzzle that we can get at in just a bit. But chronic levels of stress and our inability to regulate our stress response system is a huge contributor to loss of desire in women. And these series of studies, we only recruited women. It probably is the case that a similar picture emerges for men. But we have yet to do that particular study.

Corey Allan:
Okay. That's fascinating to me because you're sitting there talking about, it's the way we opened our conversation of that. Busy, has become a badge of honor. Stress has become a badge of honor and yet we sit back and wonder, "Why are things not functioning like they used to?" Or "Why are things so difficult when I thought they would be easy? Because if we kind of wrap up this segment, I almost see it as, tell me if I'm wrong and now maybe you've researched into this arena a little bit or not, I'm not sure, but when you're, when you're in new love, you're in a new relationship and you get the chemicals that are produced in that which produced that obsessive longing, chemical high, almost. Because there's a lot of correlations to some of the different on the market medications or illicit drugs you can get that have similar properties that would seem like that's going to cut through and cover all of that and make it to where the cortisol's, that's not the issue, right. That it'll flood that even-

Lori Brotto:
Yeah. It would.

Corey Allan:
... and tip the scales. Then as that starts to subside, you get back to the normal levels of what your cortisol is in your system at that moment, which then that starts wreaking the havoc of, "Okay, now that can't get through it because there's not enough of it and cortisol wins out and it bosses everybody else out." And that makes your issues then.

Lori Brotto:
Yeah. Yeah, definitely. And the kind of dopamine high, it's that reward system of being where everything is new and novel and exciting, which happens at the start of a relationship. And so as sex therapist and sex researchers, the question is often how do we re-inject novelty and excitement into a long standing relationship and can some of the hormonal effects of doing that, can you reintroduce a dopamine high even in a 20, 30, 40, 50 year relationship? And the answer is yes, but what happens is because is we've become so kind of habitual and stagnant in patterns also maybe reluctant to do things that are novel and new. But I would argue, and I think the science would back this up, that if we can be creative and do those things, even in a longterm relationship, it probably will overcome or offset some of the negative effects of stress.

Corey Allan:
Yeah. Okay. And so if you could, it's almost like the goal then is, because most of SMR Nation's going to be, they're into a longterm committed relationship. That's the Nation. And so it's seeing it as, I've got two different sides of this coin, I can go after. One, I can deal with my chronic levels of stress better and I could try to get my stress relief systems back to what they were intended to be possibly. And so that's lifestyle, that's choice.

Lori Brotto:
Sure.

Corey Allan:
That's probably sleep and diet. I keep coming across this where I'm telling almost every client, "How's your sleep? How's your exercise? How's your diet?" Because if we don't get some of that stuff squared away, all this other stuff is just trying to put holes in a dam where there's too many going on.

Lori Brotto:
Right. I 100% agree with you Corey.

Corey Allan:
So sometimes let's just make it simple to start, right? But then the other side of that is, I could also be introducing some of this newness, some of this variety, some of the novelty, some of the unknowns and expand us that way. And so maybe through both simultaneously we get a bigger hit out of life and our sexual in our sex life and our relationship.

Lori Brotto:
Yeah. And it shouldn't be stressful. So in a couples quest to discover what are those new things, you know what, I want to validate that for many of the [inaudible 00:28:59], just even the thought of that might be stressful.

Corey Allan:
Sure, it would be.

Lori Brotto:
So start small, maybe go to the library and pick up a book, browse the sexuality shelves at the bookstore or the library.

Corey Allan:
Yeah. Or some of them, the stressful move is the spouse listening to Sexy Marriage Radio. It's like, "Oh, okay." So in that kind of wigs [crosstalk 00:00:29:26].

Lori Brotto:
"What's trying to tell me?" Yeah, exactly.

Corey Allan:
Yeah, that happens too. But I get it. Because that's the interesting thing to at least end this segment with you is, the stuff that we're also talking about has a level of stress associated with it. But it seems like those are the things that on the other side the body can regulate maybe a little different because you're dealing with you better than your environment. You're almost interjecting yourself into your environment better, rather than trying to control your environment.

Lori Brotto:
Yeah, absolutely.

Corey Allan:
Okay. Well Lori, because you've got some cool things coming up. So tell people how they can find you and then promote what the campaign you've got going on right now.

Lori Brotto:
You bet. So folks can find me pretty easily on Twitter @drloribrotto, we have been running a big social media campaign called #DebunkingDesire. If you insert that into Twitter or Instagram or even just search on the web, www.debunkingdesire.com. Basically what we're doing is we're taking the science that has looked at the role of stress in sexuality and we're distilling it down into some key messages that people can use and implement in their lives and learn from. So the social media campaign is really intended to debunk problematic ideas about sexual desire, of which there are many of them that permeate our society and it's intended to replace it with accurate evidence-based information and a lot of it is focused on the role of stress. So #DebunkingDesire can also follow us at our research website on Twitter, which is at UBCSHR, so that's UBC Sexual Health Research.

Corey Allan:
Perfect. Lori, thank you so much. It's such an honor and privilege to have you back on the air with me again and I want to geek out a little bit in the extended content with you here in just a second. Is that cool with you?

Lori Brotto:
I'd love to.

Corey Allan:
Thanks again Lori.

Lori Brotto:
My pleasure.

Corey Allan:
Well, I love it when we get extra voices on the air with us that are bringing their A game with what it is they do in their little lane of work and research and desire and interest and passion that they have.

Pam Allan:
Right. And hopefully the nation just finds it so useful, right?

Corey Allan:
Yeah.

Pam Allan:
When someone's bringing their passion and their drive and it's totally applicable to everyday life.

Corey Allan:
Right. Because this is one of those things that if you're talking about just the whole concept of desires, take it out of sexual arena and just put it into life, it is such a dramatic part of who we are as people and how do I start to get more in touch with that, but also how do I recognize what stress does to it, right? Because stress is such a killer in so many ways. And if I can start to see it as, "All right, I've got to own some of this, acknowledge it, see it, breathe into it, it'll help level set me."

Pam Allan:
Right. Right. And don't let the fear own you.

Corey Allan:
And that's a good concept for what's going on today. Because the fear of what's uncertain right now in our society can definitely own you. So limit what's your input is, get some information to stay educated of what's going on around in your community and your world with the virus and uncertainty and economy and everything, but also disconnect and connect with the people that are around you and be a support and be a help to those that need it in this time.

Corey Allan:
Well, this has been Sexy Marriage Radio. If we left something undone or something's going on that you need our assistance, our thoughts, our quests, our comments on let us know. (214) 702-9565 or feedback @sexymergeradio.com wherever you are, whatever you've been doing, stay safe. Look out for those around you and we'll see you next time.

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