This kind of stuff that keeps me up at night (it’s been a long quarantine), but experts assure that opting out of sex play doesn’t curb the quality of anyone’s health. There are, however, a few effects that can take hold on a psychological and physiological level.
First of all, vulva-owners don’t need to worry about their hymen regenerating in the absence of penetrative sex that leads to orgasm. “This isn’t dangerous or bad,” says Lucky Sekhon, MD, fertility specialist and board certified OB/GYN, of not having sex that ends in orgasm. “But it might heighten sensitivity once someone does engage in sexual play. Conversely, frequent masturbation can lead to desensitization and can impact sexual drive function for a period of time.”
“This isn’t dangerous or bad. But it might heighten sensitivity once someone does engage in sexual play.” —Lucky Sekhon, MD
While there’s no harm to be had in sitting out sex play that leads to orgasm, getting back in the game might give you a “like a virgin” feeling. You know, touched for the very first time (even though the vagina doesn’t actually tighten over time, it might feel as though it does). In this case, Dr. Sekhon notes a person may experience heightened nerves upon reintroducing sex play, which can lead a person to tense up their pelvic-floor muscles. In this case, she suggests relaxing yourself into a pleasure mindset by taking a bath or even having glass of wine—whatever will help you unwind.
That said, Nan Wise, PhD, neuroscientist, sex therapist, and author of Why Good Sex Matters, has found in her research that a lack of sex play can have a mental effect on vulva-owners. “Women tend to have less active sexual desire, the horny feeling, especially in long-term relationships, whereas men don’t tend to lose their active sexual desire as often,” Dr. Wise says. “When they go without sex for periods of time, [women] can actually even feel less like having sex. In other words, out of sight, out of mind is sometimes true for our sexuality.”
It’s important to note that gender is a construct, and there are absolutely people who identify as women who are more horny than people who identify as men, vice versa, and also people who are nonbinary and experience varying degrees of desire. What Dr. Wise is referring to is a studied correlation when analyzing biological sex assignments. So, as far as the biological female brain is concerned, a desire drop might happen when someone abstains from sex play.
But is that lack of desire anything to worry about, in terms of having health? More important than considering what happens when you stop having sex that leads to orgasm right now, Dr. Wise says, is ensuring that general, non-sexual touch hunger doesn’t compromise a person’s mental health. Touch hunger, or the craving for physical touch, can be satiated with sexual play, but doesn’t have to be, she says. “We are wired to seek connection and closeness with others,” says Dr. Wise. “During these times when we are not having sex, it could be helpful to have a massage, have some quality time with our loved ones, to move our bodies by dancing, to sit close to loved ones, and use touch when appropriate.”
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