8 things that can happen to your body if you stop having sex

Emeh Joy
By Emeh Joy

Basic medical scientist, health research writer with experience writing for health brands like Dentistry Brands LLC and KompleteCare.

Nothing is wrong with abstinence, as it helps you focus on yourself without intimate attachments. However, if you are the curious type that wants to know more, read this article to find out what can happen if you stay off sex for long.

A man and a woman making love on the bed

Sex is an optional healthy activity; it should not be seen as a necessity for good health. Sex is not even the only way to build intimacy or feel closer to a partner! But, it is one of the ways.

It is similar to when you lack vitamin C. You can source your vitamin C from oranges. Alternatively, you can opt for strawberries or even supplements instead.

Not everyone needs or wants to have sex, and in some cases, that is okay. It is okay if someone is asexual.

Asexuality is not a disorder and doesn’t call for medical attention.10 However, a low sex drive can sometimes point to an underlying sexual problem such as sexual dysfunction, cancer, diabetes, and mental disorders.11

While sex is not a health necessity, it can be helpful in some situations. Sex can help ease your mind off stress, reduce anxiety and make you happier.

So, what may be the side effects of abstaining from sex for long?

1. Increased stress and anxiety

When people are stressed, sex is usually the last thing on their minds. But, what most people don’t know is that sex can help ease stress and reduce anxiety. 

According to a study, researchers have found a pattern of reducing cortisol (stress hormone) levels during sexual arousal.14 This suggests that sex may reduce the amount of hormone the body releases in response to stress.

“Stopping (sex) can result in a decreased feeling of connection and intimacy in relationships, which can, in turn, cause feelings of anxiety”, Dr Jill McDevitt, a sexologist and sexual wellness coach, explained. 

Also, when you have an active sex life, it tends to make you happier, which in turn helps reduce anxiety. 

2. Increased menstrual cramps

Photo by Polina Zimmerman on Pexels

If you are a woman and you stop having sex, your menstrual cramps may worsen. Up to 80% of women experience menstrual pain and cramps,6 and if you are one of them, you know how discomforting the cramps can be.

One of the things you can do to relieve menstrual pains and cramps is sex. Orgasms help relieve cramps, pain and tension.

“If you are a woman who experiences cramping with menses, regular sex encounters have been noted to decrease cramping”, Dr Kecia Gaither, obstetrician-gynaecologist and director of perinatal services at NYC Health + Hospitals, said. 

During orgasm, the body releases endorphins, which act as natural analgesics, relieving pain and relaxing the body. A woman may experience increased cramping in the absence of sex. 

When having sex during your period, it is vital that your partner uses a condom.

“If your partner ejaculates on the cervix, it will actually cause an increase in inflammatory compounds called prostaglandins in response which can make cramping worse”, says Dr Maureen Whelihan, obstetrician-gynaecologist at the Elite GYN Care of the Palm Beaches. 

3. Thinner and drier vaginal wall

Orgasm increases blood flow to the vagina. In ageing women, estrogen levels drop, causing reduced libido. The vaginal walls, too, get thinner and less lubricated. 

According to Cleveland Clinic, lack of sexual intercourse can increase the likelihood of developing vaginal atrophy (thinning and drying of the vagina).3

Increased blood flow to the pelvic region helps keep the vagina and external genitalia (vulva) lubricated, elastic and supple. Not having sex for a long time diminishes blood flow to this area such that “when sex does happen, it can be painful due to the dryness”, said Dr Gaither

The thinning and thickening of the vaginal tissues can increase the likelihood of tear and bleeding during sex.

4. Prostate health may be affected

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How sex affects the prostate is still vague; however, some studies have shown that men who ejaculated 4-7 times per month were more likely to develop prostate cancer compared to those who ejaculated as often as 21 times a month.13

The prostate is a small gland in the male reproductive system located between the penis and the rectum, which supplies part of the seminal fluid (semen) that mixes with sperm produced in the testes. Men may be putting their prostate health on the line when they stay off sex for long. 

However, having unprotected sex with a random person or sex with multiple partners can also increase the risk of prostate cancer, so caution must be taken when having sex.

5. Weaker immune system

This sounds shocking, but having sex weekly may boost your immune system by raising the level of immunoglobulin A (IgA).

According to the British Society for Immunology, “immunoglobulin A is the first line of defence in the resistance against infection”.12 

A study of college students showed that people who had sex once or twice a week had a 30 per cent boost in IgA compared to those who rarely or never had sex.2

6. The heart may not function well

According to a study published in the American Journal of Cardiology, people who seldom have sex develop heart disease more than those who have sex about twice a week.7

This is likely because sex is a way of being physically active (just like exercise). Sex improves mental and physical health. For people who seldom have time to work out, sex may be important to their heart health.

A study from the University of Quebec found that sex caused men to burn 4.2 calories per minute and women to burn 3.1 calories per minute.4 This form of physical activity can help keep the emotional and physical heart healthy. 

Another 2019 study showed that people who had sex at least once a week were more likely to survive a heart attack.9

7. Lower memory

Photo by Anna Tarazevich on Pexels

There is a connection between the mind, body and cognition. One example of this connection can be seen in how the body responds to stress. Another rare example of this connection can be seen in how sex affects memory.

A study of middle-aged rats showed that sex could enhance brain function and the growth of brain cells. The study showed that cognitive improvements significantly declined when a sex withdrawal period was introduced.5

While some experts believe that a study conducted on rats is not enough proof, other research in humans has shown that people who have frequent sex recall things better and have improved memory. Sex could be another way to reduce memory loss.1

8. Less sleep

Sex causes the release of relaxation hormones like oxytocin and prolactin, which promotes restful sleep. Lovemaking has a sedative effect, and women also get an additional oestrogen boost which helps more. 

Fatigue can reduce libido and overall interest in sex. It can also reduce the quality of sleep. But then, there is a two-way relationship between sex and sleep.

Sex can help improve the quality of sleep, enabling you to sleep well. On the other hand, when you sleep well and for a longer duration, your sexual desire tends to increase the following day.8

References

  1. Allen, M.S. (2018). Sexual Activity and Cognitive Decline in Older Adults. Arch Sex Behav. 47: (1711–1719). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-018-1193-8 
  2. Charnetski, C. J., & Brennan, F. X. (2004). Sexual frequency and salivary immunoglobulin A (IgA). Psychological Reports, 94(3 Pt 1), 839–844. https://doi.org/10.2466/pr0.94.3.839-844 
  3. Cleveland Clinic. (2020, October 27). Vaginal Atrophy. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/15500-vaginal-atrophy 
  4. Frappier, J., Toupin, I., Levy, J. J., Aubertin-Leheudre, M., & Karelis, A. D. (2013). Energy expenditure during sexual activity in young healthy couples. PloS one, 8(10), e79342. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0079342 
  5. Glasper, E. R., & Gould, E. (2013). Sexual experience restores age-related decline in adult neurogenesis and hippocampal function. Hippocampus, 23(4), 303–312. https://doi.org/10.1002/hipo.22090 
  6. Grandi, G., Ferrari, S., Xholli, A., Cannoletta, M., Palma, F., Romani, C., Volpe, A., & Cagnacci, A. (2012). Prevalence of menstrual pain in young women: what is dysmenorrhea?. Journal of pain research, 5, 169–174. https://doi.org/10.2147/JPR.S30602 
  7. Hall, S. A., Shackelton, R., Rosen, R. C., & Araujo, A. B. (2010). Sexual activity, erectile dysfunction, and incident cardiovascular events. The American journal of cardiology, 105(2), 192–197. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amjcard.2009.08.671 
  8. Kalmbach, D. A., Arnedt, J. T., Pillai, V., & Ciesla, J. A. (2015). The impact of sleep on female sexual response and behaviour: a pilot study. The journal of sexual medicine, 12(5), 1221–1232. https://doi.org/10.1111/jsm.12858 
  9. Kepler, S.B., Benyamini, Y. and Gerber, Y. (2019). Frequency of sexual activity and long-term survival after acute myocardial infarction. American Journal of Medicine, 133(1): 100-107. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amjmed.2019.06.019  
  10. Lehmiller, Justin. (2018, April 13). Asexuality isn’t a mental disorder or sexual dysfunction - it’s a sexual orientation. Kinsey Institute, Research and Institute News. https://blogs.iu.edu/kinseyinstitute/2018/04/13/asexuality-sexual-orientation/ 
  11. National Health Services UK. (2020, January 6). Loss of libido (reduced sex drive). https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/loss-of-libido/ 
  12. Rhonda, Curran. (n.d.). Immunoglobulin A (IgA). British Society for Immunology. https://www.immunology.org/public-information/bitesized-immunology/receptors-and-molecules/immunoglobulin-iga 
  13. Rider, J. R., Wilson, K. M., Sinnott, J. A., Kelly, R. S., Mucci, L. A., & Giovannucci, E. L. (2016). Ejaculation Frequency and Risk of Prostate Cancer: Updated Results with an Additional Decade of Follow-up. European urology, 70(6), 974–982. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eururo.2016.03.027 
  14. Hamilton, L. D., Rellini, A. H., & Meston, C. M. (2008). Cortisol, sexual arousal, and affect in response to sexual stimuli.The journal of sexual medicine,5(9), 2111–2118. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1743-6109.2008.00922.x