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Not having sex for a long time: Are there side effects?
There is no 'right' amount of sex to have, and not having sex for a long time should not have negative side effects. This article looks at the possible effects of celibacy on the body and mind.
How does celibacy affect your health?
Medically reviewed by Valinda Riggins Nwadike, MD, MPH — Written by Zawn Villines on July 21, 2021
The amount of sex that a person has varies over their lifetime. There is no right amount of sex to have, and not having sex for a long time should not have negative side effects.
How often a person has sex naturally changes from time to time, depending on age, fluctuations in sex drive, and relationship status. Many people enjoy a full and satisfying life without ever having sex.
In a study Trusted Source Trusted Source
looking at data from 17,744 people in the United States, 15.2% of males and 26.7% of females reported having no sex in the last year, while 8.7% of males and 17.5% of females reported not having had sex for 5 years or more.
The authors concluded that “sexless Americans reported very similar happiness levels as their sexually active counterparts.”
In this article, we look at what might happen physically and psychologically when a person does not have sex for a long time and how it might affect people in a relationship.
Effects on the body
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A person may not notice any side effects of celibacy.
People refer to not having sex for a long time as celibacy or abstinence. When someone does not have sex for months or years, they are unlikely to notice any negative physical side effects on their health.
However, research shows that having regular sex can result in certain health benefits, including improved immune system function, reduced blood pressure, lower stress levels, and less risk of cardiovascular events. Learn more about the health benefits of sex here.
People may get some of the physiological benefits of sex — such as reduced stress — from masturbation.
In males, prostate health can benefit from frequent ejaculation, whether this is with another person or alone. A 2016 study found that men who ejaculated at least 21 times per month had a lower risk of prostate cancer compared with those who ejaculated 4–7 times per month.
For females, frequent sexual activity — again, either with a partner or solo — can strengthen the pelvic floor muscles that support the bladder, improving bladder function and reducing incontinence and leakage.
Effects on mental health
There is a widespread idea that having regular sex is an important part of a person’s emotional well-being. While this is true for some people, it is not the case for everyone.
When sexual abstinence is involuntary, some individuals may feel negative effects on their mental health. Conversely, people who do not feel sexual desire may find these feelings distressing. Not having sex when in a relationship can make a person feel insecure or anxious. Talking about these emotions can help remove any sense of discomfort.
For others, abstaining from sex is important for good mental health. People may abstain from sex for many reasons, for example, because they have a low sex drive, are asexual, or simply choose not to engage in it.
The potential benefits of abstaining from sex, depending on the individual and their situation, include:
having no risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
avoiding a source of anxiety
taking time to work through negative feelings about sex
living in a way that is consistent with one’s religious beliefs
However, research reports that sex is a good way to relieve stress, which can boost a person’s mental health. According to a study that surveyed 10,429 women with low sexual desire, 27.5% reported that it caused them distress. However, among those who had a current partner, the figure was much higher at 81%.
Some people may find that masturbation can reduce stress and anxiety because it releases hormones that produce a temporary mood boost.
Effects on relationships
Many people have fulfilling romantic relationships without having frequent sex. For others, regular sex can improve the health of their relationship.
A 2015 study reported that sexual frequency was only an indicator of well-being when people were in relationships. They found an association between having sex once a week and higher relationship satisfaction. This satisfaction did not seem to change when the frequency of sex increased to more than once per week.
For some people, sex can improve communication and feelings of closeness. People who feel as though they do not have enough sex may worry that there is something wrong with their relationship or fear that their partner is no longer attracted to them.
In these cases, people can try other methods of improving communication and intimacy. Cuddling, kissing, affectionate gestures, and opening up to one another can improve the health of a relationship, regardless of whether it involves sexual activity.
Celibacy and asexuality
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What Happens to Your Body When You Stop Having Sex: Pros and Cons
What happens when you stop having sex? Becoming sexually abstinent can occur for a number of reasons, and knowing how it might affect you can give you a greater understanding of your body.
What Happens to Your Body When You Stop Having Sex: Pros and Cons
At some point most people will enter a dry spell in their sex lives, where they go quite some time without having sex. If you find yourself in a period of abstinence, you might be wondering how it can affect your health.
Anna Klepchukova, MD
Intensive Care Medicine Specialist, Chief Medical Officer
Physical health Mental health
The benefits of not having sex
What happens when you don’t have sex: physical health
People go through dry spells for lots of reasons. Sometimes people who aren’t in a relationship prefer to wait until they find the right person. The attraction between the couple can diminish, leading to a lack of sexual activity. Other times, people just don’t want to have sex. So, what happens when you don’t have sex for a long time?
Regular sex improves the immune system and prepares the body to fight off illness by releasing endorphins. This means that having sex less often might result in more frequent illnesses, like the cold or flu. A study reported that saliva samples of college students who had regular sex were found to have a higher concentration of certain antibodies called immunoglobulin A, which fight the common cold.
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Having sex after a long break can be uncomfortable. It takes longer for the female body to become aroused and produce enough lubrication to make sex easy and comfortable. Regular sex or masturbation can keep the tissues in your vagina healthy by improving blood flow.
Some people find sex to be an excellent remedy for menstrual cramps. The increase in endorphins caused by sex as well as the uterine contractions that occur with orgasm can both help alleviate cramps. You don’t have to have sex to reap these benefits — masturbation can have the same effect.
If you do not have sex on a regular basis, you are at a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease. In addition to being a source of exercise, sexual intercourse helps keep your estrogen and progesterone levels in balance, which can lower your risk of heart disease.
What happens when you don’t have sex: mental health
Some people equate having a sex life with their self-worth. Although this is not the case, they may feel more anxious and depressed if they go a long period of time without having sex. It’s important to remember that your value does not come from having sex with other people.
Aside from that, the effects on your mental health caused by abstaining from sex can include:
Stress and anxiety level
Having sex releases endorphins and the hormone oxytocin into the body. These neurochemicals can help manage the effects of anxiety or stress. Oxytocin has the additional benefit of helping you sleep. If you do not have sex regularly, your body may release these hormones less often, which might make it more difficult to cope with stress.
Surprisingly, going a long time without having sex can make you lose interest in sex altogether. The more you have sex, the more you want to have sex. Regular sex boosts your libido.
For many couples, regular sexual intercourse is an important way to maintain their bond. Regular sex also often leads to better communication. Generally, couples who have sex more often feel more emotionally attached and connected in comparison with those who do it less often.
What happens when you don’t have sex for a long time? For some people, their relationship with their partner becomes more stressful and they stop feeling connected. Other couples aren’t interested in sex or they don’t find it to be an important way of connecting, preferring conversation or shared activities instead.
The benefits of not having sex for a long time
Many people choose to not have sex for a variety of reasons. Some people don’t enjoy it or aren’t interested. Others find it to be a distraction from the things they really care about. Although having sex can have positive effects on your health, not having sex has benefits too. Some of the positive side effects of not having sex for a long time include:You don’t have to worry about getting pregnant: Although there are many very highly effective methods of birth control available today, the only 100% absolute, most certain way to not get pregnant is to not have sex.You’re less likely to get a urinary tract infection: Naturally, not having sex is going to drastically reduce your chances of getting a sexually transmitted infection, but abstaining from sex also makes it less likely that you’ll get a urinary tract infection.
When You Don't Have Sex for a Long Time, What Happens to Your Body?
Months without wanted physical touch can have adverse health impacts like increased anxiety, depression, and trouble sleeping.
What happens to your body when you don't have sex for a long time, according to experts
Canela López Jun 23, 2020, 7:41 PM
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The pandemic has made it difficult for many people to safely have sex with those who don't live in their homes, and the lack of intimacy can have unexpected consequences.
Experts told Insider months without wanted physical touch can have adverse health impacts like increased anxiety, depression, and trouble sleeping.
Lack of physical intimacy can also lead to touch starvation, which can contribute to loneliness, isolation, and even compromise your immune system.
Sex can also be an important way to find a sense of community for people in marginalized groups like LGBTQ folks, polyamorous people, and kink communities.
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For people who do not live with a partner, lockdown has, in theory, meant three months of celibacy.
Going so long without sex or intimate touch can be more than just frustrating.
Three sex therapists and psychologists explained to Insider exactly what kind of ramifications they see in people who don't experience sexual contact for a long period of time, from heightened anxiety to sleeplessness.
Orgasms can have a number of health benefits including anxiety relief, boosting immunity, and helping you sleep better
According to Dr. Rachel Needle, psychologist and co-director of Modern Sex Therapy Institutes, having sex can be positive for people's physical and mental health.
It helps you sleep better, decreasing pain, lowering stress, lessening anxiety and
How to recognize the signs of depression and effectively cope with your symptomsDepression is a serious disorder that affects how you think, feel, and act. You may need therapy, medication, and remedies to manage symptoms.
, and more. Symptoms arise at different times based on people's needs and can show up anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.
Needle said these benefits are so important that people who can't have partnered sex should still be masturbating and having orgasms.
"Orgasm releases endorphins which can help decrease stress, at least temporarily, and lead to positive feelings making us happier," Needle said. "So even if you aren't having partnered sex, if you want to continue having these benefits, find ways to keep having orgasms."
When you don't have that physical intimacy, it can lead to 'touch starvation'
Because having sex has so many health benefits, not being able to have it when you want to can have many health consequences.
People who have gone months without being able to safely have physical intimacy can develop skin hunger and touch starvation — which can weaken your immune system and lead to elevated rates of depression and anxiety.
"When those who would like to be having sex and are used to having it regularly experience a lack of sexual intimacy, the opposite can occur in the form of detrimental effects to mental, emotional, and physical health resulting in a variety of symptoms; and feelings of isolation, insecurity, and lowered self-esteem," Dr. Dulcinea Pitagora, a NYC-based psychotherapist and sex therapist, told Insider.
Sex goes beyond desire — it can be a way people find community, especially among queer and polyamorous people
Aside from physical intimacy, Susannah Hyland, a NYC-based therapist who uses she/they pronouns, told Insider having sex can be incredibly important for people looking to build community like queer and polyamorous people or those in the kink community.
"I think that specifically for queer people, it's a really hard thing to be physically isolated from our communities, chosen families, etc.," Hyland said. "Especially trans communities, because there's so much comradery, validation, bonding, mirroring, attachment — such good stuff that we get from each other. In friendship, and sex, and in love."
While monogamous, cisgender, straight people might be more inclined to already live with their partner, Hyland said people who date multiple people may be less inclined to live with any of their partners.
"All of the things that were happening in pre-quarantine times are kind of exacerbated in quarantine, for better or worse," Hyland said. "People who had minor conflicts with their partners — those conflicts are centralized with no distractions. And people who have varied communities, like poly-identified etc. have different set-ups, with different people varying in proximity and intensity are maybe more likely to live alone, away from their people, which can be really hard, as opposed to their monogamous counterparts, who are having their own troubles."
Rediscovering partnered sex after quarantine might be difficult for people
According to Pitagora, some people who are averse to changes might find it difficult to rediscover sex after a long period of not having sex, whether it be quarantine-induced or otherwise.