Let’s talk about sex, baby. Or rather, let’s talk about not having sex. There are myriad health benefits to sex, but there are also dozens of reasons you might be on a sex hiatus. Maybe you just got out of a long-term relationship and don’t want to be physically intimate with anyone right now. Maybe you have a chronic health issue that makes sex painful. Maybe you just don’t feel like it and you’d rather spend any free time you do have watching Netflix or training for a marathon instead of getting it on. Do you!
Recently, a number of studies have examined nuns or priests to get a clearer picture of how long-term celibacy affects your health, and while the results are mixed, there’s no decisive evidence that shows celibacy is bad for you. So, whatever your reason for abstaining from sex, rest assured that it definitely won’t kill you. However, there are some unexpected physical changes that can occur when you stop having sex cold turkey. Read on to find out what they are.
1. You might become more susceptible to colds and the flu. Researchers at Wilkes-Barre University in Pennsylvania found that sexually active people take fewer sick days than their celibate counterparts, in part due to higher levels of the anti-body immunoglobulin A (IgA), which your body releases during sex. In 2015, two studies found that regular sex boosts women’s immune systems, in particular — this is nature’s way of priming your body for pregnancy and safeguarding against any infections or illnesses that could lessen your chances of getting pregnant.
2. Your stress levels go up. A 2006 study found that people who don’t have regular sex experience higher blood pressure spikes in response to stress than those who have regular sex. (Interestingly, the study found that those benefits only corresponded to people who had vaginal intercourse, so it’s unclear whether lower stress levels can be generalized to people who engage in other forms of sex.)
3. Your libido will decrease. Unfortunately, it’s true: the longer you go without having an orgasm, the less your body wants one. Some experts theorize that it’s because having sex is basically like exercising your muscles. In this case, the more you “work out,” the more lubrication the glands in your vagina produce, making it easier for you to become aroused. Conversely, the less you exercise your sex “muscles,” the fewer hormones your body produces, which sends a signal to your brain that you’re not interested in sex anymore, according to Medical Daily.
4. Your risk for UTIs drops. Hey, some good news! 80 percent of pre-menopausal women who develop UTIs do so within 24 hours of intercourse. While this doesn’t guarantee you’ll never get another UTI again, taking a break from sex does lower your chances of contracting one dramatically.
5. Your vagina won’t become tighter. This is an urban legend that just doesn’t seem to die. However, it is possible that you’ll feel some discomfort the first couple of times you jump back in the saddle after a dry spell — this is not because your vagina is tighter; it’s because your vagina simply hasn’t stretched in a while (this goes back to the whole “sex equals exercise for your muscles” comparison). Any pain should subside after the first couple of times you get back to getting down.
6. You might lose a few brain cells. Yes, sex literally helps you grow new brain cells. A 2014 South Korean study found that regular sexual activity in mice and rats counteracted the “memory-robbing function of chronic stress,” and a second study, from the University of Maryland, found that middle-aged rats who regularly had sex showed improved cognitive function and faster production of neurons in the hippocampus — where long-term memories are stored. So, it’s possible your memory will take a hit when you stop having sex. But don’t panic! You can get the same neuron-building effects with regular exercise and a healthy diet.
Ultimately, choosing whether to have sex is a personal decision that only you can make. While most of the above-mentioned side effects are negative, they’re also temporary and will subside once you Marvin Gaye and get it on. And if sex isn’t your thing? That’s totally fine too.