There are plenty of reasons why your sex life may be null and void recently.
In the age of social distancing amid the coronavirus pandemic, singles quarantined alone haven’t had access to those steamy hookups they once enjoyed on a regular basis. Even those who are holed up with a significant other aren’t getting intimate quite as often, with The Kinsey Institute’s “Sex and Relationships in the Time of COVID-19” study showing 44% of participants’ sex lives on a steady decline. Pandemic aside, there’s other reasons dry spells happen: a dip in your libido, or your partner just isn’t in the mood as often as you are.
RELATED: Why You Should Wait to Have Sex
While these sexual hiatuses are totally normal regardless of the reasoning, it’s worth taking a look at the side effects of abstinence. AskMen spoke with a few experts to decipher what exactly happens when you don’t have sex for a long, long time.
Pros and Cons of Abstaining From Sex for a While
Con: Feeling More Stressed
Ever noticed how sex is a killer stress reliever? Whether you’ve got a ton of looming deadlines, you’re dealing with family drama or there’s a global pandemic going on, getting laid seems to help you cope a little better. Why? Well, sex releases endorphins, which reduce feelings of discomfort and pain and boost feelings of pleasure.
If you can’t use sex to cope, all that stress may feel less manageable. This sex-stress connection may help to explain why an Oregon State University study determined that couples who had active sex lives were much happier at work, and a 2006 study in the medical journal Biological Psychology found that people who were getting busy regularly had lower blood pressure levels than those who weren’t.
Keep in mind that sex isn’t the only way to experience an endorphin rush — you can also trigger a release of these feel-good hormones by exercising, laughing, meditating, or even eating spicy foods.
Pro: Lowered Risk of STDs and STIs
It’s not all doom and gloom when you’re not getting any since your risk of sexually transmitted diseases and infections goes way down. Herpes can be spread through kissing or skin-to-skin contact, and you can catch some STIs without having sex, but on the whole, odds are pretty slim that you’ll contract anything when you’re not getting any.
As Rebecca Torosian, an intimacy behavioral therapist, says, “Masturbation is the safest form of sex known to us.” How’s that for justification to rub one out?
Con: A Dampened Mood
Remember those aforementioned endorphins? Well, when you’re not getting those sex-induced pick-me-ups, you may notice a slight difference in your mood.
“You may find yourself missing the positive endorphin and oxytocin releases that emerge when enjoying a satisfying sexual encounter,” explains Torosian. “Loneliness and separation anxiety may develop into a depressive state.”
To be clear, just because you stop having sex doesn’t mean you’re going to become depressed. The good news here? You don’t need to have sex to reap these benefits, as Torosian says masturbation is just as effective at triggering the same chemical releases that lower stress and make you feel happy.
Pro: Better, Hotter Sex the Next Time You Have It
You know how that buffalo chicken calzone tastes even more delicious after you’ve been eating healthy all week? Well, you’ll probably get the same effect when you stop having sex for a while.
“Science suggests that a sex fast can enhance sexual desire,” says sexologist Jess O’Reilly, PhD., host of the @SexWithDrJess Podcast.
For one, you’ll have some time to think about what you want out of sex, and maybe you’ll even come up with a few new things you’d like to try.
O’Reilly also notes that a sex suspension can relieve some of the performance pressure that men experience in the bedroom, allowing them to shift their focus away from the frequency of encounters and more toward the quality of those interactions. Best of all, she explains that you may find that the intensity of the pleasurable response you get during sex is significantly heightened when you do become sexually active again.
Con: A Slightly Weaker Immune System
Did you know that regular orgasms may actually help you to ward off illness? Psychologists Carl Charnetski and Francis Brennan Jr. conducted a study in which they collected saliva samples from 111 college students who were having sex once or twice a week. What they found was that those samples had an extremely high concentration of the antibody immunoglobulin A, which plays a key role in immune function and is known to fight the common cold.
If you’re not getting busy regularly, keeping your immune system from getting that boost, there may be a slight chance you’re more prone to getting sick. That said, there are plenty of other ways to keep your immune system in tip-top condition: getting plenty of sleep every night, taking certain supplements, staying physically active, and maintaining a healthy diet.
Pro: Time to Embrace Other Life Issues Head-On
Sex is just as much of a mental and emotional experience as it is a physical experience. If you’re in a relationship where the sex hasn’t been as fulfilling for either of you as it was in the past, there’s a chance that’s because you’re missing out on some of the other crucial components.
However, experts say a sex break can allow you to dive into some of the deeper issues that may be getting in the way of intimacy.
“You have an opportunity to allow negative feelings and emotions to surface that we may be using sex to avoid,” explains Torosian. “This may create the perfect circumstances to address them and thereby deepen your trust and capacity to be vulnerable and more emotionally available and truthful with your partner.”
Con: A Hit to Your Confidence or Self-Esteem
Don’t be surprised if you feel like you’ve lost a little of your mojo after a long stretch without getting any.
“Losing confidence in one’s sex skills can happen whenever there are long intervals in between having sex,” says Torosian. “This is similar to the self-doubt that can arise when not engaging in any physical engagement that had once been consistent. In addition, this can feel more intense because you can also be grieving the loss of intimacy.”
Here’s the thing, though: Self-touch can counteract that negative effect.
According to O’Reilly, some of the advantages to masturbation include potentially improved sleep, fostering a stronger connection to your body, and improved sexual functioning as you get to know your physical responses.
“Just as there are benefits associated with having sex, there are also potential benefits to abstaining from sex,” she says. “It can leave you with more time to focus on other goals related to health, fitness, work, school, spirituality, travel, or learning a new skill.”
Torosian agrees, adding, There is no cause to be worried about not having sex for a while. This time may be spent developing other (neglected) areas of our lives, such as exploring new fields of interest — and it may be a good time to explore a deeper understanding of our sexuality.”
The bottom line? Going without sex may come with a few possible pitfalls. but it’s not the end of the world. Besides, you don’t need a partner to experience a mind-blowing orgasm. In the end, you may just find your sex life more satisfying than ever after your little hiatus.
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