Reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
You’re in a sex drought. We hate to see it, but it happens.
Whether your relationship status has recently changed or you’re striking out on the apps, it’s normal to have ebbs and flows in your sex life. Ups and downs are also pretty typical when it comes to your desire for sexual intercourse. Men and women (and non-binary folks) all experience changes in libido over time.
Sometimes, you’re raring to go, and other times, getting in the mood just isn’t happening. It could be that erectile dysfunction (ED), premature ejaculation (PE), low testosterone or other sexual function issues are getting in the way of your bedroom activities. Or you may not currently have a sexual partner.
We get that sexual abstinence might make you antsy and leave you wondering about its potential health effects. In turn, this anxiety can lead to psychological ED symptoms that put even more of a strain on your sex life.
Ahead, we’ll dig into what happens when a man is not sexually active, what sexually active really means, why you might be in a dry spell and the potential side effects of not having sex.
According to a 2014 study, the average adult in the U.S. engages in sexual activity 54 times a year — or about once a week.
One a week! That sounds pretty regular. But keep in mind this stat is just an average. Sure, some people might get it on every week without missing a beat. However, some weeks or months are likely sexier than others.
It’s also important to note that everyone’s sex drive is different. You shouldn’t feel bad about not being “in the mood” 24/7 all the time.
To add to that, even if you are pulsing with desire on the reg, there’s nothing wrong with going through sex dry spells — you can always opt for a manual release, if you catch our drift.
Many factors can impact sexual frequency, desire and performance. We’ll go over a few possible reasons for sexual inactivity below.
Chronic health conditions like diabetes can impact your overall well-being and sex drive, making it hard to get (or even think about getting) hard. An underactive thyroid can even cause a dip in testosterone levels, causing low libido.
Some folks also deal with disorders like hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD) or sexual aversion disorder (SAD), which can greatly affect the desire for sex. HSDD is a persistent absence of sexual desires, sexual fantasies and interest in sex of all kinds. SAD is an avoidance of genital contact with a regular partner.
Breakups and interpersonal conflicts — whether with a long-term partner, partners or a casual hookup buddy — can mess with your ability to get some on a regular basis.
Relationship problems might even impact your self-esteem and confidence in the sack, leading to issues like sexual performance anxiety and sexual dysfunction.
Asexual is the A in LGBTQIA. You may identify with this sexual identity if you don’t have sexual attraction to people.
Keep in mind, being asexual doesn’t necessarily mean you never get aroused. Asexuality falls on a spectrum, and some people may still have a libido.
Things like having kids, getting divorced, losing a loved one, starting a new job, moving into a new home or going through a midlife crisis can influence your sex life.
For instance, being a new parent might mean you have less time to focus on satisfying sexual encounters, while work stress could make it tougher to stay focused between the sheets.
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As Steve Carell’s Andy in The 40-Year-Old Virgin asks: “Is it true that if you don’t use it, you lose it?”
Nope. Your penis won’t fall off, and your testicles won’t turn blue from lack of sex.
Not having sex for a while may hurt your pride, but it’s unlikely to affect your overall well-being or physical health. Here’s what might happen:
You might feel more stressed than usual. For some folks, sex is a potent stress reliever. Sweaty, heart-pumping sex can make for a solid workout while lowering cortisol (the stress hormone). If you’re missing the stress-busting benefits of s-e-x, consider swapping bare feet and lingerie for running shoes and athletic shorts.
Your mood might take a dip. This can happen for a few reasons. You might feel bummed about not getting any, plus sex itself releases endorphins that can help boost your mood. Another way to boost endorphins? Exercise.
You might experience erectile dysfunction. Evidence suggests a link between regular sex and masturbation and a lower risk of developing ED. But the research isn’t definitive.
You might struggle with sexual performance anxiety. Returning to sex after a prolonged period without it could make you feel anxious about your ability to perform. Talking with someone about sexual performance anxiety may help.
There’s been some research on the possible connection between sexual abstinence and specific health risks. However, there’s not enough evidence that it actually causes any of these issues.
For instance, a survey-based study from 2021 involving 16,000 participants suggests a link between sexual frequency and protection against COVID-19 infection. That said, the mechanism isn’t entirely clear.
Ejaculation frequency might influence prostate cancer risk. One 2016 study involving nearly 32,000 men found that those who reported ejaculating more frequently had a lower risk of prostate cancer. But unless you’re skipping out on self-pleasure in addition to partner sex, this probably isn’t something you need to worry about.
One older review suggests a link between heart disease and low sexual activity. But the findings were based on survey results, which rely on self-reporting. (People aren’t necessarily lying, but they could be unintentionally inaccurate. Do you remember exactly what you ate for breakfast last Tuesday? No? Us neither.) Beyond that, the survey questions didn’t make a clear distinction between partnered sexual activity and solo sex.
Here’s another interesting nugget: A 2020 study involving over 15,000 American adults found that those who had higher levels of sexual activity had a lower risk of mortality. But the study doesn’t delve much into the why.
Frequency aside, sex with a partner or solo can be an important contributor to mental and physical health.
A healthy sex life can enhance your well-being and overall quality of life. Having more sex could also be an indicator that you’re doing well in other facets of your life — relationships, self-esteem, work-life balance.
But let’s not get it twisted: The definition of a fulfilling sex life varies from person to person and from relationship to relationship. The point is, if you’re not having frequent sex, there’s nothing wrong with you.
Sex can be fun, no doubt, but you’re not abnormal if you’re not always into it.
Sex drive can rise and dip over the course of a week, month, year or an entire lifetime. You might even identify as asexual, and that’s totally fine!
Here’s what to keep in mind about not being sexually active:
Your mood can influence your desire for sex. Mental health conditions like depression and anxiety can cause low libido.
Sexual health conditions can impact sexual performance. ED and premature ejaculation can also affect your sex life and overall sexual well-being. Thankfully, erectile dysfunction treatments and premature ejaculation treatments are available.
When it comes to sex, there’s no ideal amount. We live in a somewhat sex-obsessed society, so you might feel pressure to live up to other people’s expectations. But unlike exercise and sleep, the CDC doesn’t make any recommendations about how much sex a healthy adult should be having.
If you’re stressing about how much sex you’re having or finding it hard to navigate a sexual desire discrepancy in your relationship, talking to a mental health professional might help. Book an online therapy session today.
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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.