Below, we dive into the common health impacts of not having sex, including how the body changes from abstinence, the relationship effects of dry spells, and the psychological impacts of celibacy.
Health benefits of sex
Whether it’s solo masturbation or partnered intercourse, the health benefits of sex are numerous.
Because sex is a physical act, you can reap the benefits of exercise by engaging in it, says sexologist Carol Queen, PhD. “The longer it lasts, the more often you have it, and the more vigorous you get, the more effect it will have," says Dr. Queen. "It can raise your heart rate and [it] supports blood flow—so it can be good for your heart."
Of course, again, in the absence of sex, there are all kinds of lifestyle habits you can stick to in order to benefit your cardiovascular system, so if you stop having sex, you're hardly relegated to decreased heart health. Aside from a healthier heart, an active sex life has also been shown to promote better sleep, boost the immune system, and provide temporary pain relief.
The health benefits of sex extend to the brain, as well. During sex, our brains release endorphins like oxytocin and dopamine, otherwise known as ‘happy hormones’. This flood of endorphins lowers our stress levels, boosts our mood, and helps us feel more connected to our romantic partners.
This is why “long-term dry spells may predispose [people] to depression, anxiety, and increased stress,” says fertility specialist and board-certified OB/GYN Lucky Sekhon, MD.
Reasons why someone might stop having sex
Whether one’s sexual abstinence is voluntary or involuntary, there are many reasons why someone may stop having sex. Ahead are just four of the reasons why someone might choose not to have sex.
1. They’re voluntarily celibate
While similar, the differences between celibacy vs abstinence are worth noting. Abstinence involves restraining from any activity or indulgence, while celibacy is specifically related to the abstinence of sex.
Some people may voluntarily choose to be celibate in order to avoid certain sexual health consequences like unplanned pregnancies or sexually transmitted diseases, and for others, celibacy may be a religious or spiritual choice. Folks who are in long-distance relationships may be practicing celibacy while they’re physically apart from one another (especially if they’re in a monogamous partnership), and those who have a difficult relationship with sex may practice celibacy in order to distance themselves from the activity.
2. They’re asexual
Another reason why someone might abstain from having sex is because they identify as asexual. Asexuality is a type of sexuality that involves a lack of sexual attraction to other people, regardless of their gender. This lack of attraction inspires some asexual folks to lead a no-sex lifestyle.
It’s important to note, however, that asexual people may still partake in sex or masturbation despite not feeling sexual attraction to others. A common misconception is that asexual people lack sexual desire, but sexual desire and sexual attraction are separate things entirely.
3. They have a low libido
A person’s libido, or desire for sex, fluctuates several times throughout their life. A low libido can be caused by many things—stress, certain medications, age, hormone levels, and relationship issues—and may cause a person to abstain from sex entirely.
4. To reset their sex lives or relationships
You’ll want to add these terms to your personal sex glossary: Sex fast and sex feast.
According to author, public speaker, and sex and relationship expert Dr. Tara Suwinyattichaiporn, PhD, some couples may choose to abstain from sex for a predetermined period of time in order to reset their sexual relationship. This sex fast is usually followed by a sex feast or a period of time wherein the couple commits to having some form of sexual contact every day. Whether it’s for two weeks or an entire month, a sex fast—especially when followed by a sex feast—can be beneficial for couples who want a sex reset.
Sex fasts and feasts aren’t only reserved for couples, though. “Fasting is beneficial for people that want to re-evaluate their relationship with sex and touch,” says Dr. Tara. “In therapy, we find it very helpful for people who haven't had sex for a long time and are entering a new era of trying to have sex again.”
Whatever the reasons for sexual abstinence may be, “it's totally okay to not have sex with other people for a long period of time if that's your choice,” says Dr. Tara. “However, I would encourage people to look inward and be introspective about their own sexual desire, and whether or not having sex with others comes from an empowered personal choice or a fear of rejection or sexual anxiety.”
Keeping this in mind, read on to learn about nine of the potential effects of not having sex, according to sexual health experts.
9 common effects of not having sex
1. Experiencing aches and pains
“Sex can be an effective remedy for pain, such as menstrual cramps, sore muscles, or headaches,” says sexologist Rebecca Alvarez Story, founder of the intimacy marketplace Bloomi.
2. Increase in blood pressure and stress levels
“If you’re not having sex or engaging in other forms of exercise, you may see a rise in your [blood pressure and stress levels],” says Story. “Also, if you aren’t getting ‘that release’, your stress levels may rise, which can cause a decrease in mood.”
Just as with the examples of symptoms of anxiety and heart health mentioned above, if you do stop having sex, you can be mindful to exercise in ways other than sexual activity as a means to level your blood pleasure and stress.
3. Tightening of the vaginal canal
“Long periods of time without regular intercourse can lead to tightening of the vaginal canal [during menopause], which can lead to thinning of vaginal tissue and predisposition towards tearing [and] bleeding during sex,” says Dr. Sekhon.
4. Decreased prostate health
According to a 2016 longitudinal study in European Urology, ejaculation frequency and risk of prostate cancer are inversely related1. More specifically, prostate havers who ejaculated fewer than seven times a month were more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer than those who ejaculated approximately 20 times a month.
Remember, the experts agree that solo sex and partnered sex—so long as it’s consensual, safe, and enjoyable—offer similar benefits. So, consider masturbating for the sake of your prostate, even if partnered sex isn't on the table.
5. Spontaneous arousal levels may drop
A small 2014 study of 174 people published in The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality found that engaging in sex on day one actually makes you crave it more on day two2.
According to Dr. Queen, the inverse—that the effect of not having sex may lead you to want less sex in general—may also be true. “For some, this will have the effect that it becomes harder to get turned on, even if you want to.”
6. Loss of sensation in the clitoris
The clitoris hosts nearly 10,000 nerve endings, making it one of the most sensitive areas of the human body. Prolonged periods of abstinence, however, can make the clitoris temporarily shrink and lose sensation. This phenomenon is called clitoral atrophy, and it’s commonly caused by a lack of blood flow to and stimulation of the clitoris.
Luckily, clitoral atrophy is temporary and can be reversed, says Dr. Tara. “As you engage in sexual activity more often, the vagina gains elasticity, the body gets used to being touched, and the clitoris regains feeling.”
7. The pelvic floor may not stay in shape
All human beings have a pelvic floor, and not having sex can compromise its strength. This, in turn, can affect your ability to have and the intensity of future orgasms, says Dr. Queen. “If you try to have one, it might feel weaker because the pelvic floor pulsing is the source of the pleasurable pulses we feel with orgasm.”
8. Risk of lower quality sleep
“When you experience intense pleasure from sex, the body releases a cocktail of hormones that help you fall asleep,” says Alvarez, specifying that hormones like vasopressin and oxytocin reduce stress in the body and help you fall asleep quickly. After that point, adds Alvarez Story, “norepinephrine and serotonin then help your body get into a flow of REM sleep cycles to help you stay comfortably asleep.”
9. Anxiety about your relationship
When we stop having sex with our partners, relationship issues and tensions can suddenly appear much bigger (and scarier) than they actually are.
“It can cause anxiety when you're in a relationship and you haven't had sex for a long time,” says Dr. Tara. “With dry spells, one of the main issues within the relationship is the feeling that you are not desirable.”
What are the side effects of not having sex?
There are multiple physical and mental side effects of not having sex, both good and bad. Some of the side effects of not having sex include a change in vaginal tightness, increased genital sensitivity, heightened stress levels, a weaker pelvic floor, and poor prostate health.
How does lack of sex affect a woman?
Women experience different body changes from abstinence in comparison to men. For women, some of the potential physical effects of not having sex include a tighter vaginal canal, thinner vaginal tissues, clitoral atrophy, a weakened pelvic floor, and a change in vaginal dryness.
Luckily, says Dr. Tara, these symptoms can be reversed once you begin partaking in masturbation or partnered intercourse again. “There's multiple physical effects that women can experience while going through a dry spell, but the good thing is they are temporary,” says Dr. Tara.
What are the effects of not having sex on mental health?
Some of the mental health effects of not having sex include heightened stress, anxiety, and depression, as well as feelings of inadequacy, loneliness, and low self-esteem.
Sex causes the brain to release the endorphins oxytocin and dopamine, two feel-good hormones that improve our mood and alleviate physical pain. When we go without sex, we lose easy access to these stress-relieving hormones, which can result in the mental health issues listed above.
What are the effects of not having sex on relationships?
No ifs, ands, or buts about it: sex is important in a relationship.
According to Dr. Tara, sex is an opportunity for couples to express their love for each other and provides a sense of safety, comfort, and reassurance within couples. “We are social animals; we need affection,” Dr. Tara says.
Not having sex with your partner can result in negative relationship effects like more arguments due to heightened stress levels, feeling disconnected from your partner, and lowered self-esteem due to feelings of rejection or inadequacy. According to Dr. Tara, “this reduced sexual self-esteem can impact every aspect of your life; you show up as a person less confident, show up at work less confident, show up as a parent less confident.”
With a little work and patience, says Dr. Tara, these relationship effects can be reversed. Having an open and honest conversation about why you and your partner are going through a dry spell can help open the door to sexual reconnection.
What are the benefits of not having sex?
Just as there are health benefits of having sex, there are also some benefits of not having sex.
Celibacy can help people ‘reset’ their relationship with sex and provide clarity about their own sexual habits. A period of sexual abstinence can help us redirect our attention to other areas of our life like our non-romantic relationships, careers, and education. Abstaining from sex may also provide spiritual fulfillment for those who practice a religion or subscribe to a spirituality that values celibacy.
How long can you go without sex?
Periods of abstinence and dry spells—whether they occur by choice or chance—are completely normal. There is no set amount of days, weeks, months, or years for how long someone can go without sex; in fact, it is entirely possible to live a healthy and satisfying life without having partnered sex. However, science has proven that regular ejaculation can keep our mind and body healthy, and for those in romantic relationships, dry spells can add stress to the partnership over time.
“It is completely okay to go for a long period of time without having partnered sex, but you should not ignore self pleasure,” explains Dr. Tara.
- Rider, Jennifer R et al. “Ejaculation Frequency and Risk of Prostate Cancer: Updated Results with an Additional Decade of Follow-up.” European urology vol. 70,6 (2016): 974-982. doi:10.1016/j.eururo.2016.03.027
- Mark, Kristen P. “The Impact of Daily Sexual Desire and Daily Sexual Desire Discrepancy on the Quality of the Sexual Experience in Couples.” The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, vol. 23, no. 1, 2014, https://doi.org/10.3138/cjhs.23.1.A2.
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