Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 7/22/2021
There’s a time for everything: a time to max out the condom supply in your bedside drawer, and a time to finally accept you won’t be using the Magnums tucked in your wallet anytime soon. Sometimes, you’re roaring to go, while other times, you’re just not. It happens to the best of us.
In fact, abstaining from sex is fairly common. A U.S.-based survey found that between 2000 and 2018, one in three men between the ages of 18 and 24 experienced increased levels of sexual inactivity.
But while abstinence may be a usual affair, could there be side effects of not having sex we should know about? What does sex after celibacy, intended or not, feel like?
Read on to learn what happens when a man is not sexually active and more.
Before getting into any pros or cons of taking time off from sexual activity, it’s important to first examine just what it is about sex that makes it such a pursued interest.
Frequently engaging in partnered or solo sex comes with certain advantages. These include:
The act of sex may take all of five minutes to over half an hour, but in that time, quite a bit happens within your body.
As an activity that requires movement, sex can sometimes make for a workout, which is a big plus for your stress levels. This is because sex — like other physical activities — helps reduce the levels of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline.
This can help promote heart health, especially because these hormones can elevate your blood pressure and heart rate, and may also cause your blood vessels to narrow.
If you’ve ever felt an extra spring in your step post-intercourse, this may be thanks to the happy hormones released during sexual activity and orgasm.
Your body produces chemicals like endorphins during a romp, which help manage pain and are also commended for their ability to boost the mood.
Beyond encouraging physical proximity, sex also helps engender closeness between partners through the release of oxytocin, a hormone popularly referred to as the ‘love drug.’ This hormone encourages bonding and may also help relieve stress.
With the nearness sex brings — not to mention the hormone cocktail it produces — this act provides easy access to emotional support from a partner. It is why long- or even short-term sexual relationships can form an important part of our lives.
Sex is also linked with improved immune function in men.
In contrast, though, while sex may have its benefits, it also leaves you prone to STIs and unwanted pregnancies when appropriate care isn’t taken. It may also not be the best activity for those with a history of cardiovascular issues.
If sex can cause advantages and potential health-related setbacks, what happens when a man is not sexually active?
Taking a break from sex for a few days or weeks is no big deal. But when that number stretches to months, a year and so on — you may get a few ‘you okay buddy?’ texts from your best friends.
But is abstinence really a cause for concern, and more importantly, will your health suffer any effects from some time away from intercourse?
The truth is, you may feel the need to stay away from sex for any number of reasons, including:
Asexuality. A sexual identity characterized by a lack of sexual attraction to people.
Older age. With age sometimes comes a reduced libido. This can affect how interested you might be in sex over time.
You’re not connecting with your partner. In other cases, you may find it hard to recall the last time you had sex with your partner. This may have very little to do with distance and may be the result of emotional strain in the relationship.
You just don’t want it. With so much life happening around you, sometimes sex just slithers to the very back of your mind. We get it and it’s perfectly normal.
While not having sex for a little while can cause some heartache, it’s unlikely to affect your physical health and wellbeing.
In fact, each phenomenon listed above has little to do with your health, and is no cause for any real concern over your welfare. So while not having sex might not be the best for you emotionally (depending on your needs), physically, you should be OK.
In some cases your lack of interest in sex could indicate a potential disorder. In particular, there are two disorders known to cripple sexual desire. These include:
Hypoactive sexual desire disorder. This condition is responsible for a persistent absence of sexual fantasies, desires and interest in sexual activity.
Sexual aversion disorder. This disorder is identifiable by a recurring aversion to and avoidance of any genital contact with a person you’d typically have sex with.
You may experience either of these disorders with only a certain number of people, or everyone you may intend to have sex with.
If you live with either disorder, it may have developed as a recent circumstance in your life, or it could be something you’ve struggled with your whole life.
However, while either disorder may cause understandable distress or difficulties with your sexual partner — hypoactive sexual disorder or sexual aversion disorder aren’t likely to affect your physical health.
In addition, diseases like diabetes, an underactive thyroid, Cushing’s disease which is caused by exposure to high leves of the stress hormone, cortisol, as well as Addison’s disease which occurs when your body produces too little cortisol — all may be responsible for a low sex drive.
From all indications, your wellbeing is largely unaffected if the only tossing you do in bed is in search of your phone.
However, if you’ve done any research on male health and sexual activity, you’ve probably encountered a few articles suggesting that erectile dysfunction is linked to a period of abstinence from sex.
In support of this claim, a 2008 study found that men who had sexual intercourse at least once a week were protected against erectile dysfunction. The researchers found that men who reported having sex less often than this were likely to have ED at twice the rate of people who engaged in weekly intercourse.
But is there more support for this assertion?
Another study to determine the influence frequent sex and masturbation can have on erectile function in men ages 30 to 75 found similar results. Those who engaged in sex at least once a week were found to have a reduced risk of ED, while those who didn’t were more prone to the condition.
While these studies show a possible link between prolonged abstinence and erectile dysfunction, a lot more research is required to establish a definitive link between the two circumstances.
If you’re interested in learning more about the relationship between ED and sexual frequency (or lack thereof), check out this guide on erectile dysfunction for more information on possible symptoms and causes.
You can also learn more about possible treatment methods for ED such as Viagra and Cialis.
While the links between abstinence and erectile dysfunction are being determined, there is a question as to what other side-effects long periods without sex may pose for your wellbeing.
As monks and other sexually inactive humans may reveal, abstinence may not have very noticeable effects on your health. However, you may notice certain developments in two areas when you take a long break from getting busy. These include:
Anxiety about sexual performance to a satisfactory level.
Strain within a relationship in which one partner is sexually active.
In terms of more health-related matters, there are studies showing that increased ejaculation may reduce the risk of developing prostate cancer. While studies are ongoing, this benefit — if well-proven, may elude a person who abstains from sex and solo pleasure entirely.
While sex is a commonly enjoyed activity, making the choice to avoid this pursuit is completely understandable, and may pose very little risk for your wellbeing.
As of right now, direct and undeniable links are yet to be established between abstinence and health conditions such as erectile dysfunction. So if you decide that a break from sex is what you need to prescribe for your own welfare, health-wise, you’re in the clear.