While males and females typically have about the same levels of stress, biological and psychological differences dramatically change how each sex responds. Evidence suggests that males have much stronger stress responses that have a more powerful effect on certain aspects of their health.
Understanding how stress impacts the body can help us recognize and manage high stress levels.
A study from the University of Southern California discovered that males with high stress levels tend to withdraw socially. The researchers also revealed that stressed males show less activity in the regions of the brain responsible for understanding other people’s feelings, especially fear and anger.
Findings also indicate that the opposite occurs for females with high stress levels. Rather than losing emotional recognition, they become better at interpreting emotions.
When the body experiences stress, it releases a hormone called cortisol. This essential hormone regulates the stress response, suppresses inflammation, and controls metabolism, among many other responsibilities. A growing body of evidence suggests that cortisol also limits immune system function, especially in males.
Some researchers attribute this to findings that males tend to release more cortisol and have higher free cortisol levels than females.
Stress has clear effects on adult males but could also affect their future children. Animal studies have revealed that chronic stress changes gene expression in sperm. Some experts feel that this could result in children having irregular stress reactions and make them vulnerable to stress-related disorders.
Researchers note that this area of study is still new, and there is the potential for many more discoveries in the long-term effects of stress on sperm.
Another notable difference between the male and female stress responses involves cardiovascular health. For many years, medical professionals have recognized stress as a major risk factor in heart disease, especially inherited stress.
Males with a family history of both heart disease and high stress levels often develop cardiovascular issues 12 years earlier than people without these inheritable factors.
One of the biggest issues that males face is prostate cancer. As they age, males become even more likely to develop this disease. In fact, this condition is so common that most older males die with prostate cancer, even if the disease was not responsible.
However, a recent study on mice found that stress could accelerate prostate cancer development and progression. This increases the risk of stress for younger males, but also indicates that managing stress could be beneficial when treating prostate cancer.
Research indicates that 10 to 20% of all cases of erectile dysfunction stem from psychological factors like anxiety, depression, and stress. Neurologists explain that the parasympathetic nervous system is an essential part of arousal. Stress causes the body to operate from the sympathetic nervous system and limits the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system.
If a person with ED manages to maintain an erection, stress can also accelerate the transition from parasympathetic to sympathetic, causing premature ejaculation.
Among the other notable impacts on the male sex organs, stress may also drop sperm counts. Several studies have found that males with higher stress levels have fewer ejaculations with much lower sperm counts and concentrations.
Stress also had links to atypical sperm development and poor sperm motility. All of these issues together indicate that males with chronic stress likely have issues with fertility.
A small body of evidence suggests that stress can also make males less attractive to heterosexual females. Testosterone has strong connections with immune system function and perceptions of facial attractiveness. One study found that females found males with higher testosterone levels and stronger immune systems more attractive.
This study also noted that the males who received the lowest scores also had much higher cortisol levels, indicating chronic stress.
Stress, testosterone, and pain have very intricate, complex relationships, which could mean that males may be subject to more severe chronic pain. Testosterone helps mitigate pain sensations, but stress can drop testosterone levels while increasing cortisol.
As a result, while the actual pain may not be more severe, it would feel far more intense.
In moments of extreme stress, the body activates the fight, flight, or freeze response. This is essentially an emergency mode to take care of immediate needs and find safety. Due to various differences in brain responses, males may be more likely than females to activate the fight, flight, or freeze response as a reaction to stress.
As a result, males have more frequent and noticeable stress responses. It may also seem as though males act much more aggressively or stoically than females.
This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.