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Celibacy: Benefits, Side Effects & More

Kristin Hall, FNP

Reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP

Written by Grace Gallagher

Published 08/23/2021

Updated 12/13/2023

Whether intentional or just a good old-fashioned dry spell, most people take a hiatus from sex at some point in their lives. Regardless, if it’s been a hot minute, you may be wondering if a period of abstaining from sex and masturbation (sexual fasting or celibacy) has any benefits or side effects.

The terms abstinence and celibacy are often used interchangeably. And not to be everyone’s least favorite “Well, actually” guy, but uh, well…actually, they’re not technically the same.

Abstinence is typically a decision made to avoid penetrative sex (maybe for a specific period, like until marriage). You probably heard the term used in health class if you were a teenager in the ‘90s or early aughts.

But what does celibate mean, sexually speaking? The exact celibacy definition varies depending on who you ask, but it’s usually a long-term choice or vow to abstain from sex and masturbation, often for religious or personal reasons.

Here, we’ll answer all your questions about what happens when a man is not sexually active, including tips for having sex after celibacy if you’re feeling anxious.

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Reasons for Practicing Celibacy

There are several reasons someone may decide to practice celibacy. It could be a religious vow otherwise tied to religious beliefs, as is true for some Buddhist and Christian monks, nuns and priests. This is typically considered a lifelong vow of celibacy.

Others may choose to be celibate for a specific amount of time or decide celibacy is the best option for their sexual health, whether that’s avoiding an unwanted pregnancy or STDs (sexually transmitted diseases).

Asexual people (those who experience an absence of sexual attraction) may practice celibacy, whereas others might be in romantic relationships and still choose not to have sex.

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Benefits of Practicing Celibacy

Maybe you’ve heard of NoFap — a movement born from Reddit that’s popular, though lacking in science (welcome to the internet). While it sounds like an acronym, “fap” is actually a slang term for masturbation, so NoFap is, well…we trust you can make the leap.

NoFap suggests that abstaining from sex and masturbation has far-reaching benefits, including improved cognitive performance and better health. But these claims aren’t medically backed.

There aren’t many known medical benefits of celibacy (and on the flip side, there are known benefits of sex). However, there can be other benefits of practicing periods of or a lifetime of celibacy, including:

  • Managing a porn addiction. Taking a step away from sex and masturbation can help address a porn addiction. More research is needed, but excessive consumption of pornography may contribute to depression or have other adverse effects on mental health and possibly on sexual performance with a partner. Even if you don’t have an addiction but are worried about your porn use, taking a break can help mitigate compulsiveness or frequent urges.

  • Improving spiritual well-being. In one scholarly article where monks described their own celibacy, Reverend Heng Sure was quoted saying that it “should not be seen just as a difficult adjunct to the spiritual path, but as essential to it.” Many Buddhist monks are taught to accept sexual feelings without acting on them or repressing them entirely.

  • Satisfaction of having done something difficult. It can be gratifying to complete a task you set out to do, especially when it’s hard. If your period of abstinence has an end date (maybe 40 days if it’s for Lent), you’ll probably feel pretty accomplished after meeting your goal. This can boost your confidence — but on the other hand, failing to reach the goal may cause your self-esteem to take a hit.

  • Deepening platonic and romantic relationships. It may seem counterintuitive, but when sex is off the table, you may find other ways to experience emotional intimacy with another person.

Celibacy Effects Sexually

During a period of sexual abstinence, you may notice some celibacy effects sexually.

As mentioned with NoFap, people in some dark corners of the internet may claim that not ejaculating (aka semen retention) keeps you hydrated, mentally sharp or retains essential minerals — yep, that’s something we’ve read. But note that there’s zero (literally zilch) medical evidence to back this up.

Here are some actual sexual effects of celibacy:

  • No risk of developing STIs. One of the health benefits of celibacy is that you don’t need to worry about getting sexually transmitted infections (STIs). If you get tested at the onset of celibacy, you can be sure you’re still STI-free — but be sure to test as soon as you resume sex.

  • Potential risk of prostate cancer. First of all, don’t panic. While more frequent ejaculation has been associated with a lower risk of prostate cancer, that doesn’t mean that not ejaculating increases your risk (it just keeps it at the baseline). A 2016 study found that men between 40 and 49 who ejaculated 21 or more times per month had a lower risk of prostate cancer compared to those who ejaculated four to seven times a month.

  • Nocturnal emissions: We’ll take off our lab coats now — we all know them as wet dreams. Most men (not just teenage boys) experience nocturnal emissions at some point in their lives. One study found that about two-thirds of men have had a wet dream at some point in their lives. While they can (and do) happen to sexually active people, it’s possible you’d notice an uptick during celibacy, as the release is not happening elsewhere.

Celibacy Effects Mentally

How celibacy affects you mentally will depend a lot on your reasons for choosing celibacy (or if the celibate life chose you).

Think of it like this: If you’re a strong proponent of animal rights, you’ll have a different relationship to the label “vegetarian” than someone whose doctor told them to stop eating meat to lose weight. 

In the first scenario, you’d likely feel like you’re making a decision in line with your beliefs. With the latter, it might feel more like something is being thrust upon you — or in the case of celibacy, not thrust upon you (we’ll see ourselves out now).

So, to close the loop, if you’re celibate because you want to be, you may find the practice gratifying. Suppose you wish you were having sex or consider yourself involuntarily celibate (a group often referred to, primarily by themselves, as “incels”). In that case, you may feel shame or anxiety when thinking about celibacy. You may also feel nervous or awkward about future sexual encounters.

If celibacy is driven by the fact that you have a low desire for sex or your partner does, you may experience relationship strife or hurt feelings. 

One study on the topic found that couples who didn’t work on their sexual discrepancies and instead “disengaged from their partners” reported lower relationship and sexual satisfaction than those who addressed their mismatched libidos.

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Tips for Having Sex After Celibacy

For those who’ve had issues with sexual performance, like premature ejaculation (PE) or erectile dysfunction (ED), celibacy may be driven by fear or anxiety rather than a genuine desire to abstain.

Studies show a link between performance anxiety and shame. Instead of seeing sexual intercourse as an avenue for “pleasure and intimacy,” it may instead be viewed as a “situation that leads to failure, shame and embarrassment.”

Below, find tips for how to relax during sex post-celibacy, as well as treatments for sexual conditions like erectile dysfunction or premature ejaculation that may be holding you back.

Try Therapy

The federal government pours money into abstinence-only-until-marriage programs (to the tune of over $175 million annually). The problem with this type of education is that it can be fear-mongering, plus it’s been shown to contain scientifically inaccurate information (for example, distorted data on contraception efficacy). 

If you’re experiencing trauma or fear around sex as a result of your education or religious upbringing, therapy can help. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) aims to reset unhelpful or shame-based thoughts around sex.

Therapy can also be extremely helpful in addressing sexual dysfunctions, which can be an underlying cause of celibacy. Studies show that a combination of medication and psychotherapy (by yourself or with your partner) is the most effective intervention for managing premature ejaculation.

Explore ED Treatments

If you’ve started having sex again and are dealing with anxiety or are finding it hard to get and maintain an erection, you may be experiencing erectile dysfunction. The good news? You don’t have to go it alone — treatments and ED medication can help. 

A variety of prescriptions are available to you. Sildenafil (that’s generic Viagra®), tadalafil (Cialis®) and avanafil (Stendra®) can all help with getting and staying hard. 

There are also chewable hard mints ED meds. These may be more discreet than popping a pill and have a fresh wintergreen taste (not to go full-on gum commercial).

All these meds are PDE5 inhibitors, which work by dilating blood vessels and increasing blood flow to your penis.

You’ll need to talk to a healthcare professional about ED to get prescription medication (which you can do through us without leaving your couch) if that’s the treatment you want to pursue.

Consider PE Treatments

Listen, if it’s been a while, it’s totally understandable that you may ejaculate prematurely. And this fear isn’t just relegated to celibate men.

Research suggests that concerns over premature ejaculation are closely tied to sexual performance anxiety. If you’re anxious about sex, it makes sense you’d want to sit it out. 

Fortunately, premature ejaculation treatments can help you last longer.

  • Medication. SSRIs are often used for depression, as they block serotonin reuptake, thereby regulating the amount of serotonin (the “happy chemical”) in your brain. Research shows that this isn’t just helpful for mood disorders but also for delaying ejaculation. There isn’t a medication currently FDA-approved for PE specifically, though several SSRI drugs can be prescribed off-label.

  • Numbing cream or spray. Applying an anesthetizing cream or spray to the penis is another option. These topical treatments help desensitize the penis so you can go longer before ejaculating. Our Delay Spray and Clockstopper benzocaine wipes (yep, cute little moist towelettes for the penis) are great options to try.

  • Condoms. Condoms are generally a good idea for more reasons than one. But if you’re trying to beat premature ejaculation, wearing a thickened condom can help.

Address Psychological ED

It may appear that ED is all in the little head (of your penis, that is), but your big head also plays a part. Psychological ED is when erectile dysfunction has a mental component, as opposed to something like vascular ED, which is tied to physical health conditions.

Causes of psychological ED can include:

  • Performance anxiety

  • General stress and anxiety

  • Relationship problems

  • Depression

  • Guilt and low self-esteem

  • Pornography use (though more research is needed here)

In-person or online therapy can help treat the underlying cause of psychological ED.

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What Is Celibacy?

What does celibate mean? It depends on who you ask, but you just asked us, so we’ll give our thoughts.

Celibacy is refraining from sexual intercourse or all sexual activity for personal or religious reasons. The term is often used interchangeably with abstinence, though the two have slightly different meanings.

  • For some, celibacy is a powerful choice or vow made for religious or personal reasons. For others, abstinence may be rooted in fear or performance anxiety.

  • If you’re in the latter camp and find your sex life is affected, there are plenty of options and treatments. This includes PE or erectile dysfunction medications that help make sex after celibacy enjoyable and not anxiety-producing.

  • If you’re feeling anxious about what your sex life will be like after celibacy, a therapist can help you overcome this fear.

  • And don’t hesitate to consult a healthcare professional for medical advice. They can assess what’s going on and help you figure out how to resolve it so you can fully enjoy your sexual relationships again.

Maybe you still have questions like, Will sex hurt after celibacy? (Spoiler alert: No, it shouldn’t.) Or perhaps you’re just wondering if celibacy is right for you. Check out our guide to sex after celibacy to learn more.

And remember, if you’re avoiding sex because of performance anxiety, there are things you can do that don’t involve swearing off sex altogether — because getting it on can be pretty great. Peep our tips and techniques for how to have sex with ED.

16 Sources

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Editorial Standards

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references. See a mistake? Let us know at [email protected]!

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

Kristin Hall, FNP

Kristin Hall is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with decades of experience in clinical practice and leadership. 

She has an extensive background in Family Medicine as both a front-line healthcare provider and clinical leader through her work as a primary care provider, retail health clinician and as Principal Investigator with the NIH

Certified through the American Nurses Credentialing Center, she brings her expertise in Family Medicine into your home by helping people improve their health and actively participate in their own healthcare. 

Kristin is a St. Louis native and earned her master’s degree in Nursing from St. Louis University, and is also a member of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. You can find Kristin on LinkedIn for more information.

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