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Q&A: Why holiday stress can affect men’s sexual health and how to manage it

Taking care of yourself means minimizing stressful situations. You do not have to accept every invitation that comes along.

A man expressing sadness with his head in his hands. Image by Tellmeimok. (CC BY-SA 4.0)
A man expressing sadness with his head in his hands. Image by Tellmeimok. (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Many men experience a much lower sex drive during the holiday season. Holiday stress, spending time with extended family (maybe in unfamiliar and less private surroundings), excessive drinking and overly-indulgent food – are all contributing factors to a lack of interest.

To discuss the many factors that affect the male libido, particularly during the holiday season, and how to address and manage them, Digital Journal sat down with Michael Werner, M.D, FACS, a board certified urologist and Medical Director and Founder of Maze Men’s Sexual & Reproductive Health in New York.

Digital Journal: We’ve been hearing more and more about erectile dysfunction (ED) lately. Is it becoming more common, or are people just more willing to talk about it?

Dr. Michael Werner: I think it safe to say it is a combination of both. Men are living longer, and with higher expectations of having a quality life, including a robust sex life, complete with a rigid erection. We have learned from research that ED is far more prevalent in younger men than we previously thought. For example, 20 percent of men in their 20s have some sort of erection problems. At the same time, it is pushed into the forefront through proliferation of online medication and support services, men’s magazines, and media in general.

This has all made the topic more approachable. Nationally, 1 out of 3 men have some sort of sexual function problem. It does takes men a much shorter time to come to terms with the fact that they have a sexual issue, and to seek treatment, even if it is just to access drugs on line.

DJ: Why is there is an increase in ED during the Holiday Season?

Werner: Stress is probably the #1 culprit here. Not only the stress of events and family get-togethers, but financial pressures of couples. In our practice we hear a lot of friction in couples worrying about how much money is being spent on holidays. Nothing kills sex like resentment or anger. Add to this, overeating, too much alcohol, and being overtired will all put a damper on any sex life.

DJ: Let’s talk about the stress – how can men best manage that when a lot of the holiday pressure seems out of their control?

Werner: Breathe! Taking care of yourself means minimizing stressful situations. You do not have to accept every invitation that comes along. It means stepping outdoors for a breath of fresh air or going for a walk when you have had enough of family dynamics. Better yet, go for a walk with your partner. Commiserating and talking about your stress with your partner, being open about your feelings, will often bring you closer together. Misery loves company! Laugh about the insanity around you.

It is important to maintain as much of your normal routine as possible. Work harder on getting to bed on time, exercise, avoid overeating and certainly avoid over drinking.

DJ: The holidays are known to increase symptoms of depression. Is this part of the equation as well?

Werner: Virtually all holidays have a lot of expectations around them. We have this ideal of what any holiday is supposed to look like. If our expectations are a Hallmark movie but reality more closely resembles Mad Magazine, we can get pretty frustrated. Holidays can also amplify feelings of loneliness or loss. Holidays are associated with memories and not all memories are pleasant. We encourage our patients to get involved in helping other people such as a soup kitchen or volunteering in their religious community.

DJ: You say we should avoid overeating and drinking too much. Isn’t that difficult during the holidays?

Werner: I really feel that for most people it’s not simply over-eating, it is that they are eating food in quantities they normally would not. Instead of one candy, it’s so easy to pop another candy, cookie, or holiday treat into your mouth as you walk by the kitchen counter. Pretty soon, the cookie tray is empty, and you are in a carb crash and feeling bloated.

Alcohol can be the same situation. It’s a party? Have another drink! The good news is that not drinking alcohol is very common in our culture now. Most people will respect your choice to not imbibe. If they don’t? You’re at the wrong party.

DJ: What steps can men take to improve sexual health during the holidays?

Werner: Eat well, sleep well, exercise well! The magic trio of good health applies to sex organs as well. But sexual health is not just body parts. Maintain physical intimacy. This is a good time to explore pleasure focused sex: massages, baths, and other non-penetrative activities. I think sometimes we don’t acknowledge that intercourse often requires a lot of energy and endurance for everyone! Buy each other a sex gift of some kind. Sexual health is emotional health and mental health as well.

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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