“Is it true that if you don’t use it, you lose it?” Actually, yes, in a manner of speaking.
At some point in our lives, we go through a dry spell. It’s an inevitability. For some men, the dry spell lasts a couple of weeks, whereas for other men, it can go on for months—even years.
With Covid still a concern now and for the foreseeable future, many of us are dealing with a dry spell that’s lasting far longer than we care to admit. Yes, a growing number of us are vaccinated, but with new variants seemingly emerging on a monthly basis, many of us are still worried about swapping spit with new partners. Valid concern! And for those of us who live with a partner, the stress of well—pick anything—can leave us not feeling too frisky.
The Kinsey Institute conducted a study called Sex and Relationships in the Time of COVID-19, which found that 44% of participants said their sex life had declined in the early months of the pandemic, while 30% said the same of their romantic life. Even though many individuals are spending more time at home with their partners than ever before, they’re not feeling particularly sexual. Which makes sense: It can be difficult to feel sexually connected to your partner with everything that’s going on in the world.
“People are masturbating less, [and] they’re having less sex,” lead author Justin Lehmiller, Ph.D., a research fellow at the Kinsey Institute and member of the Men’s Health advisory board, told us of the study’s findings. “Part of the reason is people are more stressed and more anxious, and that has the effect of lowering sexual desire.”
This lack of sex and intimacy is bad for a couple of reasons: 1) sex is fun, and you should be having as much of it as you can, 2) we’re all missing out on the many well-documented emotional and physical health benefits of having sex regularly. Not to mention that sex is a great way to connect with your partner, and without it, you may feel somewhat estranged from them.
But what actually happens to your body when you don’t have sex for a long time? Here are 9 of the most surprising side effects.
1) You get more stressed out.
A great night of lovemaking can make literally everything else in the world feel better. Even if your boss won’t stop breathing down your neck, or if you’re under a bunch of deadlines, you’re consistently getting laid, so all of that stuff seems super manageable.
Apparently, there’s a scientific reason for that. Neuroscientist Dr. Debra W. Soh said in an interview with Men’s Health that during orgasm, “endorphins are released that can help to improve your mood,” she says. “So, if you tend to use sex as a way of coping with stress, a dry spell can be doubly frustrating.”
2) You don’t sleep as well.
We know from numerous studies that sleep is directly related to stress. When you’re stressed, you don’t tend to get quality sleep. (This creates a vicious cycle because when you don’t sleep, you end up getting more stressed.)
Sex helps you de-stress by releasing numerous hormones and neurotransmitters. Phil Stieg M.D., Ph.D., neurosurgeon-in-chief at NewYork-Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center and host of the This Is Your Brain podcast previously told Men’s Health that the release of three hormones, in particular, facilitate better sleep: oxytocin; prolactin; and dopamine.
“Oxytocin has a very calming effect, and as anyone who has ever tried to fall asleep while stressed out knows, being calm is the best way to prepare for sleep,” he said. “Prolactin creates a sense of satisfaction, and dopamine is known as the feel-good hormone.
So in short, when you have sex, you’re less likely to be stressed, and you’re more likely to sleep better.
3) Your blood pressure can spike.
Without sex, you may notice an increase in blood pressure. Science says that’s not a coincidence. In fact, a 2006 study in the medical journal Biological Psychology found that people who were having regular sex had lower levels of blood pressure than those who weren’t. This is also linked to the relationship between sex and stress. The researchers controlled for multiple variables in the study and concluded that having sex more frequently actually improves your body’s physiological response to stress. This, in turn, keeps one’s blood pressure at a lower base level.
4) You may be more likely to experience heart disease.
A 2010 study published in the American Journal of Cardiology found that men who have sex at least twice a week almost cut their risk of heart disease in half. However, the researchers noted their findings may simply be correlational—not causal. “Men who have frequent sex might be more likely to be in a supportive intimate relationship,” they noted. “This might improve health through stress reduction and social support.”
5) Your cognitive function could be affected.
Take this one with a grain of salt, since the existing research was done in rats, not humans.
A 2013 study published by researchers in Maryland found that sexual activity in rats led to improved cognitive function and hippocampal function. (The hippocampus is a part of the brain that’s largely responsible for memory.)
That same year, a study from Konkuk University in Seoul concluded that sexual activity can actually help combat the negative, memory-reducing effects caused by chronic stress. “Sexual interaction could be helpful,” they wrote, “for buffering adult hippocampal neurogenesis and recognition memory function against the suppressive actions of chronic stress.”
6) Your rhythm gets thrown off the next time you have sex.
You know that old expression, “if you don’t use it, you lose it?” Science suggests that to a degree, that might be true. A 2008 study in the American Journal of Medicine concluded that men in their 50s, 60s, and 70s that weren’t sexually active were more likely to suffer from erectile dysfunction. This makes some sense: on an intellectual level, navigating all those arms and legs and erogenous zones can get pretty confusing, so imagine trying to navigate the core mechanics of intercourse after months and months of not having sex at all. Luckily, there’s an easy solution: even if you don’t have a partner, the research suggests ejaculating regularly can help alleviate some of these effects.
7) If you don’t masturbate, your risk of prostate cancer goes up.
If your dry spell extends to the self-pleasure zone — i.e., if you’re not masturbating at all — research says that’s not healthy. In fact, multiple studies have pointed to the conclusion that “high ejaculation frequency” (a.k.a. jerking off at least 4.6 to seven times a week) is linked to a lower risk of prostate cancer. So get out those baby wipes and turn on Pornhub for the sake of your own health.
8) Your immune system gets weaker.
Orgasms are incredibly beneficial to your immune system, as psychologists Carl Charnetski and Francis Brennan Jr. found. They conducted a study where they asked patients who were having sex once or twice a week to provide saliva samples. Those samples were found to contain an extremely high concentration of the common-cold busting antibody immunoglobulin A. Who knew that extremely close contact was a net-positive in terms of preventing illness?
9) Your work performance might slip.
Most dry spells have two parts: the part where you’re insanely horny and turned on by even a slightly curvaceous frying pain; and the part where you’re down in the dumps and can’t even be motivated to get off the couch. Apparently, that can even spill over into your employment satisfaction. An Oregon State University study found that couples with an active sex life were much happier at work.
“Maintaining a healthy relationship that includes a healthy sex life will help employees stay happy and engaged in their work, which benefits the employees and the organizations they work for,” says Keith Leavitt, an associate professor at the college. There you go, guys: feel free to blame missing that Zoom call on not getting laid. I’m sure your boss will understand.