First of all let me address the elephant in the room. This is not an article about how stress affects your sex life or even vice versa. Perhaps a more appropriate title might be “Stress and Gender”, but then you would probably have been less likely to read it.
Now that I have your attention let me start out by telling something that probably will not be much of a surprise to you. Men and women process stress differently. Now I am a chiropractor, not a psychologist or counselor, so I will not be addressing the social or emotional side of this. Rather I am going to stick with my specialty and talk about how it affects the body.
More specifically I am going to address one small piece of the stress puzzle: that is where stress affects to body the most. It is generally understood that women carry stress across their upper back and neck while men carry stress in their lower back. This is a stereo-typically applied rule of thumb and there are many exception but for the sake of this article we are going to follow this rule.
Women carry stress in their neck and upper back.
While men tend to carry it in their lower back.
Over the years I have inquired of many of my instructors, mentors and other experts if they could explain this rule. None of their answers were satisfactory to me so I set out to think through it and come up with a logical explanation that helped me sleep at night (just kidding it did not keep me up at night but I did think about it quite a bit) and that I tell my patient. Then one day a little over a year ago, it hit me.
It was one of those days that fit the stereotype. All the men came in with sore backs and all the women came in with sore necks and upper backs. As I talked to my patients another pattern began to emerge in my mind. The men were talking about work and the women were talking about kids and family.
The pieces started coming together. When men get stressed out it tends to revolve around work and stereotypically men’s work has, for centuries, required physical labor and the use of their back. On the other hand when women get stressed out it tends to revolve around kids and family and this brings them back to the days when they carried babies, car seats, breastfed, etc. which all involve the upper back and neck. With me so far?
Now some of you men are going to argue by saying “But I sit at a desk” or “my job is not physical” and some women will say “I do not even have kids.” Here is my response:
- Just because this is the rule does not mean that there are not many exceptions and you may be one of them.
- Our DNA can be damaged and effected by previous generations and passed on to us (blossoming field of science called epigenetics). What this means is that even if you are a lawyer or computer programmer you could have inherited the genes from your father who was a 3rd generation coal miner and those genes may include a weak lower back.
- Stress attacks weak areas of our body. This is why when we get those wonderful aches when we are sick they always seem to be in the same place. For me that is my mid back where I have an old spinal compression fracture. For you it may be where you blew out your knee in high school or your neck which was injured in a motor vehicle accident.
This is by no means a comprehensive, scientific, research based theory. Instead it is what I think is a logical, somewhat common sense, answer to a question of both curiosity and importance.
Now, how does it apply to you and I. For me it gives me patterns to look for in patients and something I can use to educate them. For you it may help explain why your wife gets headaches and rubs her own neck or why your husband sometimes grunts and groans as he gets out of his chair.
So next time you are sitting on the couch at night with your significant other if they are a man reach over and rub their back and if they are lady reach over and rub their shoulders. Chances are better than average you will hit the right spot. If you really want to sound smart tell them about what you read here while you massage them.
Sometimes a little shoulder rub can go a long way.
As I stated earlier this article would more appropriately be titled “Stress and Gender” not “Stress and Sex” but, if properly applied, there is a chance this information could have a positive effect on your sex. Enjoy!