How to Distinguish a Totally Normal Dry Spell From a Health-Compromising One

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I currently find myself in place I've certainly been before: in the midst of a dry spell. But conversations with my friends tell me I'm not alone in my situation of having not had sex in…well, longer than I'd prefer. Despite this ubiquity, mainstream discourse is hard to come by for folks who feel like part of themselves is shut off when their sexual side—for whatever reason—is OOO. Perhaps this points to why I was so moved by a screening of The Pleasure is Mine, a docuseries created by sex-product brand K-Y. It features certified sex therapist Holly Richmond, PhD, leading nearly a dozen women in a discussion about their personal roadblocks to pleasure. And while each story was compelling and relatable, what one woman, Georgia, had to say resonated most.

“When you go without touching, I think you lose energy. I don’t sleep well at night," Georgia says in the film. "When I hear everyone talking about their partner, there’s a part of me that just cringes because I’m thirsty for it.... I know that it is not healthy, and I know that certain parts of me are dying.”

Well. Do I ever relate. Georgia’s story led me to wonder whether sexual dry spells actually be negative for health, mental and otherwise. And what can people in the midst of a drought do to make our lives a little (ahem) wetter? When I got in touch with Dr. Richmond to suss out this question, she was quick to stress that a dry spell here or there is absolutely nothing to worry about. "Sexual dry spells are a perfectly normal part of most people's sexual lifespan," she says.

Some even consciously self-subscribe to a sexual sabbatical, looking for a restorative break, while for others, the situation may be a matter of not having a partner and resolving not to settle. But regardless of the "why," don't forget just how common dry spells are—especially if you're feeling emotionally, physically, or mentally affected by being in one. “Touch is essential to the human experience for the majority of people, so not having it can leave a huge gap in someone’s life and even identity," Dr. Richmond says.

“Touch is essential to the human experience for the majority of people, so not having it can leave a huge gap in someone’s life and even identity.”—sex therapist Holly Richmond, PhD

But still, can refraining from sex actually be detrimental to a person's health? According to Dr. Richmond, it depends on the situation. "Our sexual health is not separate from our overall health. We are our sex life, our sex life is part of us, so they’re not dualistic. Sex is really good for us.” Because of this, the effects of not partaking when you'd like to be can be taxing, physically, mentally, and/or emotionally.

On that physical front, the pelvic floor can atrophy with lack of…use. "Orgasms produce contractions of the pelvic floor, which help keep it toned and strong,” Dr. Richmond says. Basically, as with any other muscle, if you don’t use it, you lose it. (And, it should be noted, a weakened pelvic floor can lead to several side effects, the most common of which is incontinence.) The good news is you don't need a partner to have an orgasm, and masturbating can get those muscles moving. “Masturbation is the cornerstone of sexual empowerment for many people because it gets you out of your head and into your body," she says. "Having sex with yourself might kick-start all feelings of wanting to connect, which can translate into how you are in the world.” Essentially, sex begets sex and can help you put out those sexually-on vibes. Just as with any method of reaching orgasm, self-pleasure offers mental-health benefits—courtesy of neurotransmitters oxytocin, serotonin, and norepinephrine—like improved confidence, reduced stress, and lessened anxiety, she says. “Orgasms also help reduce fatigue and sleeplessness, and can improve our mood,” she says.

While masturbating is great, sexual dry spells can also be symptomatic of other issues. For instance, a change like menopause could result in a self-imposed sexual dry spell due to vaginal dryness, Dr. Richmond says. In this specific case, though, a visit to the doc can help you get to the root of the issue, and there are plenty of interventions that cater to lubrication changes.

"Our sexual health is not separate from our overall health, we are our sex life, our sex life is part of us."—Dr. Richmond

A dry spell may also indicate that you're hung up on your last relationship—especially if you didn't feel worthy or good about yourself within it. In this case, Dr. Richmond says the best way to move forward is to try non-dating dating. “This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to join a dating app, but the goal is to become more socially active." It’s an easier-to-accomplish, short-term goal that can lead you to meet new people and experience new things. Ideas to this point include taking a solo trip, joining a women’s circle, or finding a book club.

Of course, there are many other possibilities that could explain a given sexual dry spell. If you have a fear of intimacy or commitment, have a history of trauma, or feel some other emotional or mental block may be the root cause, Dr. Richmond suggests seeing a mental-health professional.

But, remember—sexual dips happen. "Dry spells are called 'spells' for a reason," Dr. Richmond says. "They almost always pass."

Here’s why sex experts want you to think of sex in terms of quality over quantity. Pornography can also help get you in the mood (by yourself or not)—here's what 10 real women think about it.

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