Temporary Sexual Abstinence: 6 Surprising Ways Your Body Changes After You Stop Having Regular Sex

Sometimes we stop having sex, but we didn’t do it on purpose: We go through a breakup; we’re traveling; our partner is sick; or a busy schedule puts our sex life at a standstill. A few days of no sex turns into weeks, and weeks turn into months, and before we realize it, we’ve involuntarily taken a temporary vow of abstinence. Sexual ruts happen from time to time, but a lack of sex can have significant effects on our body.

From erectile dysfunction to a weaker immune system, below are six surprising ways sexual abstinence influences our mental, emotional, and physical health.


If we haven’t had sex in a while, there’s a greater likelihood we’ll start to want sex less. During sex, the body is inundated with endorphins that make us feel good, and help us associate sex with positive feelings. Abstaining from sex will lessen this connection, and therefore, reduce the need to have sex.

Psychologically speaking, all of our libido or sex drive will go somewhere else.

“Your libido can increase your career drive and manifest more successful ambitions or, if you choose, you may direct your sexual energy into your children versus intercourse,” Dr. Fran Walfish, Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist, author of The Self-Aware Parent, and co-star, Sex Box on WE TV, told Medical Daily.

However, no matter how long we’re abstinent, Walfish says we can resume the same sexual drive, energy, and appetite we enjoyed before. She does warn, “don’t expect a sudden rise in libido if you never had a high sex drive.”


A lack of regular sex can lead to an elevation of stress levels. A 2005 study in Biological Psychology found penile-vagnal intercourse, but not other sexual behavior, was associated with better mental and physical performance, and lower stress levels. People who hadn’t had regular sex showed higher blood pressure spikes in response to stress than those who recently had intercourse. Here, sex serves as a coping mechanism to deal with stressful moments.

Woman with tattoosSix surprising body changes that happen when you stop having sex, from more stress to a weaker immune system.Photo courtesy of Pexels, Public Domain


A halt in our sex life can make us feel both less desired and sad. Researchers believe semen has antidepressant qualities that can counteract feelings of depression. Semen contains several hormones, including testosterone, estrogen, FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone), luteinising hormone, prolactin, and several different prostaglandins. These have been detected in women’s blood within hours of being exposed to semen.

In a 2002 study in Archives of Sexual Behavior, researchers found condom use, an indirect measure of the presence of semen in women, was linked to scores on the Beck Depression Inventory. Women who were having sex without condoms were less depressed, while depressive symptoms and suicide attempts among those who used condoms were proportional to the consistency of condom use. It’s possible that semen may lessen depressive symptoms as the vagina absorbs the components of semen.


Less sex can translate to less intelligence. A 2013 study in Hippocampus found sex boosts neurogenesis — the creation of new neurons in the brain — and also improved cognitive function. This is because sexual experiences leads to cell growth in the hippocampus, a region of the brain that’s vital to long-term memory. Sex could potentially help prevent deterioration that leads to memory loss, and dementia.


We may be more prone to colds and other illness with less sex. Regular sex, in moderation, could help boost our immune systems, according to a 2004 study in Psychological Reports. Researchers evaluated how strong participants’ immune systems were by measuring levels of immunoglobulin A (IgA), an antigen found in saliva and mucosal linings. IgA is the first line of defense against colds and flus, as it binds to bacteria that invade the body, and then activates the immune system to destroy them. Those who had sex more frequently showed significantly higher levels of IgA than their counterparts.


Abstinence can increase the likelihood of erectile dysfunction (ED) for men. A 2008 study in the American Journal of Medicine found men who reported having sexual intercourse once a week were half as likely to develop ED as men who had sex less frequently. Researchers tracked over 900 men in their 50s, 60s, and 70s for five years, and showed regular sexual activity preserved potency in the same fashion as exercise preserved the body’s aerobic capacity.

Regular sex can reduce the risk of ED, even at old age.


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Medicines and Sex: Not Always a Good Mix

For both men and women, it takes a complicated chain of events to move from arousal to a satisfying orgasm. The mind has to stay focused, nerves have to stay sensitive, and blood has to flow to all the right places. Unfortunately, many things can break the chain — including, perhaps, the pills in your medicine cabinet.

Medicines often work by altering blood flow and brain chemistry, so its no surprise that they can affect sexual function, and not always for the better. Medications can shut down a person’s sex drive, delay orgasms, or prevent orgasms entirely. Medications are also a leading cause of erectile dysfunction in men.

If you’ve noticed a drop in your ability to have or enjoy sex, talk to your doctor about possible causes. Be sure to bring a list of every medication you’re taking. A simple change of drugs or doses could be all it takes. But never stop taking a prescription drug or change dosages on your own. Your doctor can help you determine if a drug you’re taking is the problem — and help you switch to another medication safely.

What drugs can affect sexual function?

SSRIs (antidepressants) You may have noticed that television ads for common antidepressants such as Paxil (paroxetine) or Zoloft (sertraline) mention “certain sexual side effects.” The full story is that for some people, SSRI antidepressants can put desire on hold and make it difficult to achieve orgasm. A study of nearly 600 men and women treated with an SSRI, published in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, found that roughly one in six patients reported new sexual problems. The number-one complaint? Delayed or absent orgasms. Many patients also reported declines in desire. Overall, men were more likely than women to report sexual problems while on SSRIs.

As reported in The American Family Physician, other studies have found that up to one-half of patients taking SSRIs have reported sexual problems. Study results vary depending on the patients studied and the questions asked, but the final message is the same: Sexual side effects caused by SSRIs are common.

If SSRIs are affecting your sex life, talk to your doctor. As reported in Current Psychiatry Reports, there are several options to get you back on track. Your doctor may suggest switching to Wellbutrin (bupropion), or another non-SSRI antidepressant that is less likely to cause sexual side effects. If your current medication is working well and you don’t want to make a switch, your doctor may want to lower the dose or give you a break from taking drugs. A few studies have suggested that men who develop erectile dysfunction while taking SSRIs may respond to Viagra (sildenafil), Cialis (tadalafil), or Levitra (vardenafil) added to their overall treatment plan.

Blood pressure medications

Many drugs that control high blood pressure — including commonly prescribed diuretics and beta blockers — can also put the brakes on a person’s sex life. The drugs can cause erectile dysfunction in men and, when taken by women, they can diminish sexual desire.

In many cases, the best way to overcome sexual problems caused by blood pressure medication is simply to switch prescriptions. ACE inhibitors and calcium antagonists seem less likely than diuretics or beta blockers to cause sexual side effects.

Keep in mind that not every blood pressure medication is right for every person. Your doctor will help you determine whether a different prescription would be the best option for you, and can recommend the right one for your particular circumstances.

Opioid (narcotic) painkillers Opioids such as morphine or OxyContin (oxycodone) do more than just ease pain. As an unfortunate side effect, the drugs can also reduce the production of testosterone and other hormones that help drive sexual desire in both men and women.

The sexual side effects of opioids haven’t been thoroughly investigated, but preliminary studies paint a disappointing picture. As reported in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, a study of 73 men and women receiving spinal infusions of opioids uncovered widespread sexual problems. Ninety-five percent of the men and 68 percent of the women reported a drop in sex drive, and all of the premenopausal women either developed irregular periods or stopped menstruating completely.

If you think opioids might be undermining your sex life, ask your doctor if it’s possible to get similar pain relief from non-opioid medications. Even if you don’t quit opioids completely, merely cutting back could help you regain your spark. Your doctor may be able to suggest other methods of pain relief such as massage or biofeedback that will make it easier for you to scale back on your opioids. If blood tests show that you’re low in testosterone, your doctor may want to prescribe testosterone shots or patches to help rekindle your sex drive.

Antihistamines Even some over-the-counter drugs can affect your sex life. Antihistamines are a prime example. As reported by the Cleveland Clinic, these drugs can cause erectile dysfunction or ejaculation problems in men. For women, antihistamines can cause vaginal dryness.

This is only a partial list. Other drugs that can affect a person’s sex life include oral contraceptives, tricyclic antidepressants, antipsychotics, and cholesterol medications. You and your doctor should take sexual side effects seriously, but you should be able to find a way to restore sexual abilities and desires without compromising your treatment.