If you’re going through a period of sexual abstinence, then beware. Your vagina is going to grow cobwebs, tumbleweeds will roll across your pelvic floor, and nobody will be able to get into your intimate bits again without a crowbar and a sacrificial goat. Oh wait, except none of that is true. There are some physical consequences of going a while without sex, but most of them are results of not getting the health benefits that sex can offer. It sucks, I know, but you are not going to freeze up, grow a new hymen, become incapable of ever going near another person’s sexual organs again, or drop dead unexpectedly of sexual frustration.
Lifelong celibacy is a different prospect than experiencing sex and then stopping it. (Yes, scientists do study celibate people: The Nun Study, which looks at the health of a 600-strong group of American nuns, has been ongoing since 1986.) If you’ve had sex before and now you aren’t, the impacts go beyond a constant urge to do deeds with another human. Celibacy has effects on your body, but they’re hardly life-threatening, and they definitely aren’t going to get in the way of your next sexual adventure.
Here are nine things that happen to your body after you stop having sex.
- Can Your Vagina Tighten?
Abstaining from sex does not make you “tighter.” That’s an urban myth. The sensation of “tightness” in your vagina is not influenced by your number of sexual partners, and taking a break doesn’t re-virginize you. And your hymen doesn’t grow back, no matter what you may have heard in the bathrooms in middle school. However, the tissues of the vagina may get out of the habit of relaxing in response to arousal or insertion, and may then need to be coached back into it the next time you have sex. Don’t worry; they’ll remember.
According to sexologist Dr. Jordin Wiggins, ND, owner and creator of Health Over All Inc., people who do not have sex for a long period of time may notice a weakening of the pelvic floor muscles, called atrophy. “We need strong pelvic floor muscles to improve bladder tone and prevent urine leakage and to have good quality orgasms.” People with vaginas who abstain from knocking boots might also notice pelvic floor dysfunction, “which could lead to painful sexual conditions (like vaginismus) when you attempt to have penetrative sex again.” If this is the case for you, Dr. Wiggins suggests seeing a pelvic floor physiotherapist for personal assessment, or “using Elvie or another pelvic floor trainer that will give you feedback on how to do exercises properly.”
- Can You Develop Erectile Disfunction?
This is an interesting discovery, but possibly not one that’s welcome if you have a penis and you’re taking a bit of time off from intercourse. Abstinence seems to increase the likelihood of erectile dysfunction, as one 2008 study published in the American Journal of Medicine found. It focused on people who are older, but it seems that regular sexual activity has a positive effect on erections. Use it or lose it, as it were. (There’s also a possibility that regular ejaculations might help to avoid prostate cancer. But, you know, you can have those on your own.)
- Can It Affect Your Immune System?
It seems as if sexual activity contributes positively to your body’s immune function. (In people with uteruses, these changes appear to be geared toward making it easier to get pregnant.) The flip side, unfortunately, is that if you’re not getting busy regularly, then you’re not getting those benefits, and you may be ever so slightly more prone to illnesses and infections that your immune system would otherwise block.
That said, Dr. Jodie Horton, MD, a medical advisor at Love Wellness, a supplement company, says that there are many other ways to boost your immune system, including “meditation, yoga, getting eight hours of sleep, eating a healthy diet and staying physically active.”
- Can Your Libido Decrease?
According to Dr. Wiggins, the “use it or lose it” theory has other applications. “Sex is not a drive that becomes more and more prominent without it – like hunger. Sex is a reward system, and when we’re having good sex, we want more good sex.” So if you don’t have sex for an extended period of time, you can become “quite comfortable without having it at all,” Dr. Wiggins tells Bustle. One way to keep your sex drive revving, if that’s what you’re after, according Dr. Horton, is to masturbate. You can get that “same release of mood-boosting hormones.”
- Can It Affect Your Mental & Physical Health?
This is another cases in which the link between positives (regular sex and stress-busting) becomes a negative (no sex, ergo higher stress reactions). In a 2016 study published by the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, it was reported that good sex seemed to protect women from heart conditions (like hypertension and rapid heart rate) later in life. All of those good feels that accompany a good romp do wonders for the heart, apparently. So, if you’ve been used to the stress-lowering pluses of sex, then its absence might not have a good impact on your general ability to cope with anxious moments.
According to Dr. Wiggins, “people might feel more agitated than they’re used to feeling,” especially if they relied on sex as a tool to unwind and relax. “Sex has complicated ties to mood, self-esteem, and releasing happy hormones like dopamine and oxytocin,” Dr. Wiggins adds, so if you’re noticing a decline in your mood and you think a lack of sex could be contributing, it’s important to “find other ways to boost the hormones that sex usually does — exercise, call friends, take a bath.”
- Can It Hurt Your Cardiovascular Health?
So we’ve established that good sex life is strongly linked to cardiovascular health, and entering a sex drought removes that hormonal and aerobic boost. But not a lot of work has been done on precisely what happens to the heart after a period of time without sex. It may just be the case that if you take out your sexual frustration on the treadmill, then your heart will end up healthier than it was before you stopped.
- Can It Make It Hard To Get Wet?
It turns out that having regular sex is basically a way of tuning up your sexual organs, and that going without for a while means they’re a bit slow to start up. (And might need a bit of hand-cranking. OK, analogy over.) Sexual health experts point out that the lubrication process of arousal (wherein your vagina and vulva become “wet”) benefits from regularity, and if you stop for a while, you might need a bit of extra help in the arousal department when you get back in the saddle. But the possibility of this being a reality for you if you are not peri-menopausal and menopausal, according to Dr. Horton is slim. “Sex can increase lubrication and blood flow to the vagina, but this is more likely due to a decrease in estrogen associated with menopause and not due to lack of sex,” she says.
- Can It Drastically Lower Your Risk Of UTIs And STIs?
At last, some good news. The STI part may not come as a surprise, but UTIs (urinary tract infections) are often caused by the transfer of bacteria to the urinary tract during sex (particularly from the anus). So a sex-free life will keep you secure. You can, however, get various STIs from nonsexual contact, so you’re not completely out of the woods.
- Can It Make You… Less Smart?There’s an old wives’ tale that abstinence makes you more intelligent. The truth is actually the opposite: Scientists have demonstrated that sexual activity boosts neuron growth in the brain’s hippocampus. Abstinence, it turns out, does not make the brain grow at all. Just because you’ve suddenly become immensely productive and completed a crossword for the first time in six weeks doesn’t mean your brain’s improving. Alas, it probably just means you’re bored.