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Revisiting Stress and Desire | Dr Lori Brotto #642

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On the Regular Version …

We go back in time to revisit an episode with Dr Lori Brotto.

We to discuss how stress impacts life and sex – specifically sexual desire.

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

On the Xtended Version …

Lori and I talk more in depth about her research and the myths surrounding sexual desire.

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Corey Allan: Welcome to the show. I'm Dr. Corey Allen, alongside my wife, Pam. Always good

Pam Allan: To be here.

Corey Allan: We're going to just try to help people today.

Pam Allan: Well, that's a good idea. Let's

Corey Allan: Do it. I figured we change it up every week. What we try to do is frame conversations, like conversation starters, ways to look at things, actions we can take that just help us address what's going on in life better. Hence the reason we're doing this episode today as a little teaser real quick because it's what's going on in today and what's going on in the world. This is one of those kinds of times where it seems like school's rolling for most everybody should be now or past Labor Day and stress levels can just go up

Pam Allan: Between activity, between job, between family, and you name it. Everybody's dealing with some sort of stress. It's just a fact of the

Corey Allan: Matter. And it's interesting because we were on the coaching call for the academy last night and just made the comment about how you could even join us because we had things going on that, and I've been traveling more than I usually ever do this month. And it's just like, man, we're just nonstop coming and going. And I think that's the way a lot of life can be. And what we want to have happen is how do we find moments to escape with each other and moments to connect with each other in marriage and with our family too subsequently. But because it's just important to maintain that context, I think that's a restorative part of my life, at least I'll own that, is having that interaction and those moments that we can figure out how do we navigate some of these things when seasons that we can't change that happen. But I'll talk a little bit more about what's coming up in a minute. But if you've got a question or something that you've want us to cover, please let us know. 2 1 4 7 0 2 9 5 6 5 And also if you want a chance to truly get a time away with your spouse, the registration window is open for the passionately married getaway next year. So plenty of time to get it on your calendar. Yeah,

Pam Allan: We're looking forward to

Corey Allan: It. So it's June 13th through the 15th here in the Dallas-Fort Worth area just north of the DFW Airport at the Marriott Westlake Dallas-Fort Worth, and go to passionately to reserve your spot because we took a year off in 2023. So my hunch is we may actually fill up pretty quick,

Pam Allan: I would

Corey Allan: Guess. And we want you to have a spot and come getaway with us because it's a fantastic time together. Well, as I was alluding to earlier, coming up today, I've gone back into the vault, if you will, or the archives, and there's a conversation I had with Dr. Laurie Brodo who's been on the show a couple of different times throughout the years, and she has some work that she's done on stress and sexual desire.

Pam Allan: Big factor. I

Corey Allan: Feel like it's important to revisit this with some tweaking I've done to this, to just look at it through the lens of we have things that go on and it does impact us. Life will impact the things we want.

Pam Allan: Yeah, no matter how good of a state you're in or how much you work on things outside factors come in and play a role. There's things that are out of your control. And so all of us need this. All of us need to understand the impact of stress across the board. But a lot of what we talk about here is your sex life.

Corey Allan: And so this is just a great way to look at what are some of the specific things and how it impacts our desire and what can we do about it. And then on the extended content today, it's a continuation of our conversation, but we go deeper looking at some of the myths that surround our desire levels

Pam Allan: Because

Corey Allan: She's got a bunch of research she's done on this topic. She's one that's really well known for this topic. And so talking deeper about if you think about a lot of our life, our disappointments and expectations, sometimes, if not a lot of the time, can be tied to myths that we've associated with whatever it might be. It should be this right rather than is it really? And so all that's coming up today,

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Corey Allan: Well, joining me on the episode today, I'm so honored again to be able to spend a little bit of time with Dr. Lori Brodo, who she's been on in the past where we talked about mindfulness, and that's almost, I mean, 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. It's not like because 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 interactions.

Corey Allan: 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 S M R Nation, what they're running into is how do we make this pleasurable for both sides? That it's not just a male dominated thing for sex, that a woman absolutely needs to get all of it she can out of it too and seek what she finds pleasurable and enjoyable and life giving even. 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. And I'm assuming nobody that's listening to this in the SS m R nation is immune to understanding what stress means. And I mean, 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, 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. So let's dive a little bit deeper into stress.
We might say that a 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 happen 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 list can be more negative for our brains than say a single traumatic event, really. So we need to pay attention to this. It's something that we can't dismiss. I

Corey Allan: Want to add a caveat just because I got a question 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. 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 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 and work and deadlines and all the different things that we could deem as heavy or negative. Is the result the same on our body? Yeah,

Lori Brotto: It is great because the brain doesn't necessarily differentiate those two situations on a 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. The 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. It can often be self judgmental. 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. 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: And what does that do? Because that's the stuff that people might have heard, that cortisol is the issue, it floods your brain and it 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, totally, again, because of our hunter gatherer kind of living situation. So if we were faced with say, a saber-tooth tiger, cortisol would kick in and mobilize us to flee as fast as possible. And so it was a really good thing, these kind 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. 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, so testosterone and estrogen. So women for example, under periods of stress might have unregulated menstrual cycles. 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 mobilizes us, but it's the 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. How do you disrupt the chronic pattern of this though? Because you're talking about almost lifestyle. You're talking about situational choice. Some of the things that are going to be circumstantial. 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 is goes 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: 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: 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 rundown, low energy, difficult, sleeping difficult, engaging conversations, falling asleep at the wheel, all of these sorts of things, 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 concern seriously and doesn't just miss it. So that's the first thing is recognize if this is you. 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 close my door, 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. Deep breathing is also something that you can do throughout the day. Maybe it's done in one to two minute bouts, 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. Then there's other more cognitive or thinking related things that we can do to manage stress. These are a bit more challenging to do on 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 getting after the whole irrational thinking, distorted thoughts where exactly. 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. So it's almost recognizing in some regards, 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 mean, 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 and the intermental 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 irrational 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 maybe you took hook, line and sinker early that just aren't true.

Lori Brotto: 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 responses 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 then rethink your way through it. So to your second question, Corey, the question of the role of stress in sexual desire and sexual function more broadly has been of 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. 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, D H E A, 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. When desire is high, testosterone is high. There's a bit more credence of that in men's desire and none of it in women's desire.
But we were still interested in measuring testosterone, measuring D H E A, and then we also measured cortisol. And cortisol again is being the stress hormone. And how we measured cortisol in the 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. What we found in women with low desire 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 in chronically high levels of cortisol.
And when we 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. In 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. Okay.

Corey Allan: That's fascinating to me sitting there talking about, it's almost just this, 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 they used to, or why are things so difficult when I thought they would be easy? I almost see it. If we kind of wrap up this segment, I almost see it as when we, tell me if I'm wrong, and maybe you've researched into this arena a little bit or not, I'm not sure, but when you're in new love, you're in a new relationship and you get the chemicals that are produced in that which produce that obsessive longing, chemical high, almost 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 as that's not the issue, that it'll flood that even 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 muscles everybody else. And that makes your issues then.

Lori Brotto: Yeah. Yeah, definitely. And the kind of dopamine high, it's that reward system of where everything is new and novel and exciting, which happens at the start of a new relationship. And so as sex therapists and sex researchers, the question is often, how do we re-inject novelty and excitement into a longstanding 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 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 long-term relationship, it probably will overcome or offset some of the negative effects of stress.

Corey Allan: Yeah, okay. It's almost like the goal then is because most of S m R nation's going to be, they're into a long-term 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 can try to get my stress relief systems back to what they were intended to be possibly. And some of that's lifestyle, that's choice, 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? 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. I a

Lori Brotto: Hundred percent agree with you, Corey. So

Corey Allan: Sometimes let's just make it simple to start, right? But then the other side of that is, okay, 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 and our sex life and our relationship,

Lori Brotto: And it shouldn't be stressful. So in a couple's quest to discover what are those new things, and I want to validate that for many of the listeners, just even the thought of that might be stressful. Sure, it would be. So start small, maybe go to the library and pick up a book, browse the sexuality shelves at the bookstore or at the library,

Corey Allan: And well, some of them a stressful move is the spouse listening to Sexy Marriage radio. It's like, oh, okay. And that kind of wigs him out, wasn't

Lori Brotto: He trying to tell me? Yeah,

Corey Allan: Exactly. That happens too, but I get it, and 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 yourself into your environment better rather than trying to control your environment.

Lori Brotto: Yeah, absolutely. Okay,

Corey Allan: Well, Lori, tell people, 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 at Dr. Lori Brodo. We have been running a big social media campaign called hashtag Debunking Desire. If you insert that into Twitter or Instagram or even just search on the web, 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 hashtag debunking desire can also follow us at our research website on Twitter, which is at UBCs h r, so that's U BBC sexual Health Research.

Corey Allan: Perfect. Well, 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. Okay.

Corey Allan: Thanks again, Lori.

Lori Brotto: My pleasure.

Corey Allan: It's fascinating to me about how when I'm looking through times where we get revisiting of something in the past, and as far as the episodes go, that I start looking back through the catalog of our shows, Pam, and it's like 12 years worth almost

Pam Allan: October's

Corey Allan: 12, and it's amazing all that is back there. And so as we wrap up today, having visited a little bit of the past, I think I just wanted to give a shout out to all the people that have helped make this thing happen thus far. But also let people recognize if you go to passionately and you've got a topic you're interested in, because occasionally I'll get emails, Hey, have you guys done a show on, because there's somebody that's new that found us, but at the top of passionately is a little magnifying glass search symbol. Click on that, type it in, whatever it is you're looking for, and it's likely we've covered it.

Pam Allan: You can search the episodes on keywords.

Corey Allan: They're all there. Go search it. Everything's there. Everything's on iTunes as well. However you listen, hopefully the whole catalog is right there, and you can search those things, whatever it is that's going on in your life. And there's just a way to easily navigate because Thera Webs do a pretty good job of connecting and finding everything,

Pam Allan: Right?

Corey Allan: Well, as we were talking about, we can go back and find all of the episodes, all of our most recent episodes, I don't even know how far back this goes, if you like just reading content, all the transcripts of the recent episodes are available at each of the episodes, as well as all of the advertisers deals and discount codes. You can find So please consider supporting those who support the show. Well, if we left something undone, we're counting on the nation to let us know and then we can keep going. Yeah, speak

Pam Allan: Up and join the conversation,

Corey Allan: And then we all get better. So however you took some time out to spend it with us. Thank you, and we'll see you again next time.