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The Impact of Stress on the Reproductive System

psychiatrist, sexologist, psychotherapist
  • Published:
    22 December 2023
  • Updated:
    01 February 2024
Stress in men

Stress is a state of heightened emotional and physical tension in the human body. It is a natural response that forces individuals to focus on problems and threats that arise in everyday life.

Psychology of stress

One of the dangerous psychological aspects of stress is anxiety. It brings about worry that affects productivity and the ability to "survive". It often manifests as increased irritability, distractibility, problems with concentration, depression, panic attacks, and intrusive thoughts or actions.

Another psychological factor of stress is depression, a state of complete despair, sadness, and lack of hope. Depression destroys life energy, interest in life, and lowers self-esteem.

Phases of Stress and Their Impact on the Reproductive System

The process of stress in men and women consists of several sequential phases accompanied by characteristic physiological reactions, changes in hormone production, and behavior. Each of these phases has its specificity and affects the body in various aspects.

Stage 1 - Alarm Reaction

It is characterized by the sympathetic nervous system being activated. During this time, changes occur in the cardiovascular system, increased secretion of adrenaline and noradrenaline, elevated blood pressure and heart rate. Dehydroepiandrosterone, cortisol, prolactin, testosterone, adrenaline, and TSH levels increase until reaching their peak. The body draws glucose from its reserves. Individuals experience feelings of anxiety, nervousness, and heightened readiness for action. At this stage, men may experience either minor issues with libido and erection that do not cause significant concern, or an increased interest in sex and masturbation, with increased sexual activity.

Stage 2 - Resistance

The body attempts to adjust to stress and restore balance. However, chronic fatigue, sleep disturbances, changes in eating behavior, and decreased immunity occur. Cortisol levels are normal or high. At the same time, there is a decrease in the production of steroid hormones - testosterone, DHEA, progesterone. Prolactin and TSH levels increase. Metabolism slows down, blood sugar levels rise, and fat tissue accumulates. Irritable bowel problems often occur, and digestion is disrupted. Desire for sex often diminishes, its frequency decreases, and erections may partially disappear, with masturbation occurring less frequently than usual.

Phase 3 - Exhaustion

Occurs with prolonged and intense stress. The body's reserves are depleted, stress hormones significantly increase, leading to deterioration of physical and mental well-being. Changes in mood and behavior become more pronounced. Inflammation and chronic diseases worsen. Cortisol levels drop below normal. The production of prolactin, testosterone, DHEA, and progesterone is disrupted. Sexual activity is noticeably reduced, libido is absent, and problems with erection are so frequent that a man may become fixated on them. However, the frequency of masturbation may increase as the emotional discomfort from the loss of erection is high, and the man checks the "functionality" of his sexual organ in this way.

Phase 4 - Depression

In this case, the body refuses to function and maintain a normal hormonal balance for fertility. Complete loss of interest or aversion to sexual activity occurs, leading to problems with reproductive health and conception, making pregnancy planning impossible.

The impact of stress on sperm quality

Stress in men is a risk factor that affects reproductive health. This is manifested in changes in sperm concentration, their appearance, and the ability to fertilize eggs.

Interesting studies

A study conducted in Denmark in 2016 revealed that individuals with high levels of stress experienced a 38% decrease in sperm concentration, a 34% decrease in total sperm count, and a 15% decrease in semen volume compared to those with moderate stress levels. It is worth noting that many studies on stress and fertility focus on couples attending prenatal or infertility clinics, which may not accurately represent the relationship between stress and semen quality in the general population. The Danish study is particularly valuable as it examines a group of healthy men with no known fertility issues.

Furthermore, research has indicated that men with higher levels of anxiety and stress tend to have lower sperm concentration and counts. Additionally, men with the highest levels of anxiety were found to have lower motility, on average, compared to those with lower stress levels.
Increased stress is directly related to the likelihood of male infertility, reduced chances of conception and pregnancy in couples. We recommend taking care of yourself on time, seeking help from specialists, and not pushing yourself to exhaustion.

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