Margit Leist Hagström
Margit is a licensed midwife and an authorized sex counselor.
Margit offers talks, counseling and treatment for individuals and couples in issues of sexuality. She also lectures on sexuality and sexology for different groups.
Q & A on sleep and sexuality
What is the most common reason why people seek a sexologist?
– Clinical sexologists work a lot with sexual dysfunctions, that is, when sexuality doesn´t work as desired. The most common reason why people are looking for a sexologist are problems with the desire, one party in one pair has more pleasure than the other, which often leads to frustration.
If you were to put the lust in an organ in your body, where does the lust sit?
– The lust is in the brain, in the primitive parts and is strongly linked to the reward system.
The sexual desire is a cerebral phenomenon with the center in the hypothalamus and the limbic system and refers to the operational aspect of sexuality. Like all other vertebrates, we have a reward system in the brain.
We have it because it should be great to have sex, great to eat and drink, great to exert onseself physically and exercise. When we do all this, we enjoy it, and the pleasure is achieved by activating the brain’s reward system.
The chemical signal is released from certain nerve cell outgrowths and stimulates others. One of the most important signals of the brain is dopamine, and to put it easily, we can say that when dopamine flows out of the nerve threads in the cardiac reward system, it stimulates specific recipient molecules, receptors, on other nerve cells – that’s when we enjoy ourselves.
How does lust work?
– When we receive signals that cause us to get excited or if we think thoughts, our emotions or memories have processed these signals in the brain.
The brain sends out signals to the abdomen that respond to these signals with increased blood flow in the abdomen. Penis and clitoris are erected, ie the swelling bodies in these organs are filled with blood, the vagina becomes moist, the nipples grow larger and erect.
This reaction is signaled to the brain, which interprets the reaction as a sexual desire.
Is there a drug that can increase lust?
– Since ancient times, man has been looking for different means, herbs, plants or animal parts that induce or increase sexual desire in man, whether or not the person has a sexual dysfunction. These agents are called aphrodisiacs, preparations used to induce “love or lust”. Many means with this term are based on self-suggestion and lack completely measurable effects.
During the Middle Ages they tried dried ants in olive oil. In the Orient and Europe they tried to dry lizards and ground them down into powder, rhinoceros are still poached in part because the horns are believed to increase the sexual desire and tigers are poached not only for their fur but also for access to the tiger penis’s lust-enhancing properties. The same applies to shark fins, where some cultures attribute the fins a lust enhancing effect.
The name aphrodisiac comes from the goddess of love in Greek mythology, Aphrodite. Today, there are some drugs in the market that promise a lust-enhancing effect, but there is not enough research that can support this.
Today, some medicines are marketed, which do not, however, classify as drugs but as food supplements, which means that they are not regulated by the pharmaceuticals agency, but by the food industry.
Is it common for desire to diminish with age?
– It is not necessarily so that desire diminishes with age, but desire is influenced by many factors. Biologically, it is so that the human being’s ability to feel sexual desire exists throughout her life. But sometimes it may be a little more difficult to awaken this lust. Some features may also be impaired, such as the ability to get and maintain erection or the ability to get wet.
If you are creative and take time, you almost always find a way to experience desire again. Today, there are many aids and drugs that can help with these problems, such as lubricants or medicines, like Sildenafil, which helps the man to get and maintain an erection.
What can you do to improve your sexual desire?
– Sexual desire is very complex and there are very many factors that affect lust, both positively and negatively. All research says that the most important factor for sexual desire is the quality of the relationship. If you are comfortable in your relationship, love your partner and have good communication, it’s a positive factor for your lust.
Another important health factor that positively affects lust is a healthy and well-maintained body, good self-esteem and good sleep.
Tired people often find it much harder to find their desire.
Does the number of hours you sleep have anything to do with lust?
– In a research trial, it was found that the number of hours women slept were closely connected to women’s sex drive. The more hours the women slept in the night, the better they felt sexually. But that´s not enough; the number of sleeping hours also increased the chanses of the women actually having sex and that the sex would be more satisfying for the woman.
The explanation may be that women generally tend to be more in the mood for sex when they are happy and relaxed – which is one of the benefits of a good night’s sleep. According to the researchers, each extra hour spent sleeping increases the chance of having sex by 14%. However, if you spend more than 9 – 10 hours asleep, it may have a negative effect, according to the study. (Source: Journal of Sexual Medicine)
Which hormones are directly linked to desire?
– The most important hormone for sexual desire is the hormone testosterone, which is carelessly called male sex hormone. But both men and women form testosterone in their body.
Lack of testosterone reduces lust in both men and women. However, treatment with testosterone does not always increase the sexual desire but only effects when levels are too low, both in men and women. Women have too low testosterone levels once both ovaries have been removed, they may then need a supplement.
On the other hand, estrogen doesn´t matter when it comes to sexual desire. However, lack of estrogen may cause the mucous membranes of the vagina to be dry and fragile, which may adversely affect the lust, but the women may, despite low estrogen levels, become moist in the vagina during excitement.
Another important hormone that plays a major role in developing a sexual relationship is the feel-good hormone. It doesn´t matter much to the sexual desire, but more for parenting and fellowship. The feel-good hormone makes people happier and trusting, it increases the willingness to form couples and is strongly involved in sexual desire. One reason for this is that it gives peace through its impact on smooth muscle. Because of its high plasma levels in different forms of feelings of love and lust, it is commonly called “love hormone.” In men, the feel-good hormone also contributes to erection and ejaculation.
How does depression affect the pleasure and sexual pleasure?
– Depressed people feel down, they see the future as looking dark and they withdraw, don´t want to hang out with others. They lose their joy of life and much of the desire for things; appetite, the desire to meet friends and acquaintances, and also the desire to have sex. It is usually said that both the desire and the ability are often affected by the depression.
Many people are treated today with different types of antidepressants, which often give a very good effect on depression, the zest for life can come back, the mood is improved, but the sex drive usually doesn´t return, but is often made even worse. And here too, it is both the lust and the ability that can be adversely affected.
In what way can good sleep affect sexuality?
– In order to fully enjoy our sexuality, it is important that the body is in good condition; illnesses, crises but also tiredness and lethargy has a bearing on the sexual pleasure. If you have ever had infants, you will remember that sexuality wasn´t a high priority, but many times you chose to maybe sleep an extra half an hour, that you just didn´t have the energy to have sex with your partner.
The body works in the same way, if you suffer from sleep disturbances, then the body lacks energy and you have difficulty finding sexual desire. You opt out of sex in order to recover by getting an extra half an hour of sleep. A good way to improve your sleep is for example to have cool bedroom, make sure it’s not too bright, leave the cell phone outside the bedroom, have a comfy bed, maybe invest in a weighted blanket, which often improves sleep.
What happens to your desire if you do not sleep?
– You need to be able to settle down from everyday requirements to find pleasure in sex. Many people face a lot of demands in their everyday life, making life hectic, and they feel stressed. If you are stressed it may be difficult to land in your body to be able to feel enjoyment. Thoughts of the job, of the children, of the relationship can take over completely, often making you forget your own desire and your desire for your partner.
If you try to have sex with your partner after all, there are no good sexual meetings, you simply can not be present. The most common reaction is then to prioritize down desire and sexuality.
How does anxiety affect sexuality?
– Anxiety is a strong worry or fear that gives bodily symptoms. It’s usually an unpleasant experience, but it’s not dangerous to have anxiety. If the anxiety feels so strong and comes so often that it limits one’s life, it is important to seek help.
Anxiety is an intense sense of discomfort and worry that is felt in the body. Because it feels so strong in the body, it can be difficult to understand that it has to do with mental health.
Some may feel chest pressure, others may become dry in the mouth, some may feel palpitation, others feel angry, feel a lump in the stomach or weak in the muscles.
Most often the anxiety comes spontaneously without any external triggers. It can make it difficult to sleep well, you may be awake for many hours. This leads to little sleep and an increased sensitivity to stress. Then it´s easy to end up in a negative spiral because this stress can increase the anxiety.
Panic attacks are a form of anxiety that come suddenly and very intensively. Many describe strong palpitation, strong pressure on the chest, difficulty breathing. Some feel numbness in the hands or feet, feeling dizzy. It can be so pronounced that you can experience death anxiety.
Anxiety also negatively affects sexuality, perhaps you avoid sex in order not to trigger anxiety disorders. Others can use sex to suppress their anxiety. Some masturbate very much to suppress the anxiety, others have sex with many different partners to suppress their anxiety.
how does stress affect sexuality?
– Stress is a completely normal response in different situations when we feel a threat, for example if we´re afraid and run away from a danger, but we will also get the same reaction when we try to run after a bus or a train.
The stress response called the fight-or-flight reaction means that the brain and the body strive to either fight a threat or escape from it. The brain then sends signals to the sympathetic nervous system that is activated, and it affects the entire body. Among other things, substances are excreted into the blood, such as sugar and stress hormones, such as adrenaline, norepinephrine and cortisol. During the fight-or-flight reaction, the body doesn´t save energy. Instead, functions such as digestion can be put on a low-burner, which you don´t benefit from in a battle of life and death. When you are in a fight-or-flight reaction, you may feel scared, irritated, angry or hostile.
The reaction can also be started in everyday situations where it doesn´t work at all to fly or fight. The sympathetic nervous system can not distinguish between physical threats, such as a dangerous animal, or a social threat, such as bills that we find difficult to pay. Neither can the sympathetic nervous system distinguish between a real threat or something that you only worry about.
Stress hormones such as Cortisol counteracts the feel-good hormone that makes people happy and trusting and is heavily involved in sexual desire. Stress thus reduces the feel-good hormone secretion, thus reducing the sexual desire.
What are the human’s basic needs?
– Abraham Maslow was an American psychologist who presented in 1943 a model of man’s different needs in an article “A theory of human motivation”. He divided the needs in a hierarchy, where the physiological needs are the most important; lust, food, fluid, heat, sleep and sex.
If these needs are not met, we may get sick, feel pain or discomfort.
At the second stage of the hierarchy is our psychological needs, security needs, social needs, need for togetherness and love, after which self-esteem needs and the need for self-realization is paramount.
What does the feel-good hormone do in the body?
– The feel-good hormone is synthesized in the hypothalamus and is secreted through the pituitary gland to the blood. It is often called love hormone because it has some features that have to do with love.
It is crucial for coupling, nursing and the ability to follow social norms, it creates trust and reduces aggressions, anxiety and probably also stress. The feel-good hormone is very important for women to obtain motherly feelings. The feel-good hormone makes people happier and trusting. It increases the willingness to couple and is strongly involved in sexual desire. In cases of feelings of love and lust, you can measure high levels of the feel-good hormone in the blood.
The feel-good hormone lowers stress levels, lowers pulse rate and blood pressure. It reduces human pain sensitivity, and provides calmness and harmony.
The feel-good hormone is released in women during lactation and at birth, but it is also released upon touch, at heat and at food intake, but also when exposed to certain pheromones.
What substances inhibit the feel-good hormone?
– Stress hormones like cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline inhibit the feel-good hormone.
How can you increase the level of the feel-good hormone to feel better?
– Physical contact increases the levels of the feel-good hormone in the blood; touch, caresses and kisses, but also hugs from friends and even hugging or stroking pets.
Even meditation and exercise can increase the levels, to get compliments and encouraging words, but also to listen to someone else and to be listened to increases the feel-good hormone. Studies have shown that the more the feel-good hormone is secreted, the easier it will be to secrete more.
Can stress and sleep problems affect people with hypersexuality?
– Yes, it can. Hypersexuality, hypersexual disorder, sex abuse or excessive sexual activity usually show in forced sexual thoughts, an internal compulsion to perform sexual activities, lost control or sexual habits that cause major problems or risks. Many people who get this diagnosis usually also suffer from mental illness which makes the diagnosis disputed.
It manifests itself in an uncontrolled and excessive sexual activity that adversely affects the person’s life and everyday life. It can affect both men and women and can express themselves in excessive and forced masturbation, high consumption of pornography, prostitution, both selling and buying sex, etc.
To be considered as a hypersexual disorder, it must be a problem for the person, the person has difficulty in doing his job, losing important meetings, losing friends or the like, in addition, the person must have attempted to break the pattern without success.
Hypersexual disorder occurs more often in people suffering from other mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, phobia, ADHD and drug abuse. It also occurs more often in people with certain personality disorders.
If people with a hypersexual disorder are exposed to more stressors, such as other stress or poor sleep, suffering may be more difficult. Weighted blankets have a good effect on sleep in people with ADHD and depression, so they can certainly improve the situation for people with hypersexuality as well.
How do antidepressant drugs affect sexuality?
– Today more people are being treated for depression. There are different treatment methods such as physical activity, different types of therapies and / or antidepressant drugs. Often, these different treatment methods are combined.
The vast majority of medicines prescribed are called SSRIs. People with depression usually have low levels of serotonin, a signal that signals saturation and satisfaction to the brain. SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, allow the body to resend satisfaction signals to the brain.
However, SSRIs have a number of side effects, most of them are mild. However, 20 – 50% of people taking these preparations report sexual side effects, eg difficulty to get an orgasm, reduced or non-existent sexual desire and difficulty to ejaculate. This can cause significant concerns if you are treated for a long time with these preparations.
What influence does self-esteem have on sexuality?
– Good self-esteem is a good prerequisite for enjoying sexuality, for feeling good in your body, to like yourself is a good start in a new relationship. The finer you feel the easier it is to enjoy your sexuality.
Obesity is a common cause why people do not enjoy their bodies. Both women and men do not feel comfortable in their bodies, do not dare to show themselves naked.
One reason why one can gain weight is an increased calorie intake. At the University of Kristianstad, Maria Lennernäs, professor of behavioral food and meal knowledge, lectures that sleep deprivation often leads to weight gain and obesity. According to her, people who have slept too little over a few weeks eat more than 1,000 calories more per day, because the appetite increases in cases of sleep deprivation.
When you sleep too little, the saturation hormone leptin is reduced and instead an appetite-stimulating hormone, ghrelin, increases. The brain then interprets the need for energy wrongly. It perceives that the body has an energy shortage and stirs it to eat more for the body to not go under. The cravings for fatty foods and quick carbohydrates automatically steers us towards chips, candiy and coffee breads.
We try to get energy by eating when we actually need to load energy in the brain and the cells by sleeping.
– If you sleep enough hours then you can prevent logaining weight, says Maria Lennernäs. And if you have slept badly for a long period of time and put on a few kilos too much, better sleep habits can make you lose weight.