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Stress Management Health Center

Reactions to Disaster

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How you choose to use those hormones makes the difference. "If you're with a person in a bar, obviously the way the energy will be focused is different than if you're a cop on a beat," she says.

"People who are not particularly sexually aggressive may feel physiologically aroused but have a bit more courage than they ordinarily have," Schwartz tells WebMD. "Put that with an attitude [of] 'live for today because life is uncertain,' and 'let's call [the] guy you broke up with, maybe it wasn't all that important,' that kind of stuff."

All that arousal and emotional need could indeed produce an increase in sexual experiences -- not to mention births and sexually-transmitted diseases -- because a lot of that sex is spontaneous. "Like other unplanned sexual activity, there's a slightly greater chance that we won't take the [precautions] we normally would," Schwartz says.

But not all counselors are seeing increased sexual activity.

In Yale University's Sex Counseling program, an increasing number of patients are reporting loss of libido connected with stress from current events, says Philip Sarrel, MD, program director.

He reports that doctors across America are seeing a rise in office visits and a generalized loss of pleasure in everyday experiences -- signs of depression. "When mood is affected, leading to either an increase in depressed or anxious feelings, it's difficult to have erotic feelings," Sarrel says in a news release.

According to a nationwide poll, one in 10 Americans is depressed by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Five in 10 are having trouble concentrating, and three in 10 aren't sleeping well.

Wyatt says many of her patients are depressed, "but they're still having sex."

"When a horrific event is not anticipated, that increases fear and anxiety because you never know what's going to happen next," Wyatt says. "People who have experienced trauma in the past, sexual or physical abuse, or unforeseen events that they couldn't control, may have a heightened sense of terror, [fear] of revictimization. They could be more vulnerable."

Nothing's the same, and we have to admit that to ourselves, she says. "We can't go back to 'business as usual.' We have to acknowledge that we're in constant flux. How could you go back to what you were doing? Everything you see on TV, or when you talk to someone, or see a picture, can remind you of a loss. You have to allow yourself to grieve."

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