Celibacy refers to the practice of not having sex. Having sex regularly may have some health benefits, such as for the cardiovascular system. However, there is no right amount of sex to have. Not having sex for a long time should not negatively affect health.
How often a person has sex naturally changes from time to time, depending on age, fluctuations in sex drive, and relationship status. Many people enjoy a full and satisfying life without ever having sex.
The authors concluded that “sexless Americans reported very similar happiness levels as their sexually active counterparts.”
In this article, we look at what might happen physically and psychologically when a person does not have sex for a long time and how it might affect people in a relationship.
People refer to not having sex for a long time as celibacy or abstinence. When someone does not have sex for months or years, they are unlikely to notice any negative physical side effects on their health.
However, research shows that having regular sex can result in certain health benefits, including improved immune system function, reduced blood pressure, lower stress levels, and less risk of cardiovascular events. Learn more about the health benefits of sex here.
People may get some of the physiological benefits of sex — such as reduced stress — from masturbation.
In males, prostate health can benefit from frequent ejaculation, whether this is with another person or alone. A 2016 study found that men who ejaculated at least 21 times per month had a lower risk of prostate cancer compared with those who ejaculated 4–7 times per month.
For females, frequent sexual activity — again, either with a partner or solo — can strengthen the pelvic floor muscles that support the bladder, improving bladder function and reducing incontinence and leakage.
There is a widespread idea that having regular sex is an important part of a person’s emotional well-being. While this is true for some people, it is not the case for everyone.
When sexual abstinence is involuntary, some individuals may feel negative effects on their mental health. Conversely, people who do not feel sexual desire may find these feelings distressing. Not having sex when in a relationship can make a person feel insecure or anxious. Talking about these emotions can help remove any sense of discomfort.
For others, abstaining from sex is important for good mental health. People may abstain from sex for many reasons, for example, because they have a low sex drive, are asexual, or simply choose not to engage in it.
The potential benefits of abstaining from sex, depending on the individual and their situation, include:
- having no risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
- avoiding a source of anxiety
- taking time to work through negative feelings about sex
- living in a way that is consistent with one’s religious beliefs
However, research reports that sex is a good way to relieve stress, which can boost a person’s mental health. According to a study that surveyed 10,429 women with low sexual desire, 27.5% reported that it caused them distress. However, among those who had a current partner, the figure was much higher at 81%.
Some people may find that masturbation can reduce stress and anxiety because it releases hormones that produce a temporary mood boost.
Many people have fulfilling romantic relationships without having frequent sex. For others, regular sex can improve the health of their relationship.
A 2015 study reported that sexual frequency was only an indicator of well-being when people were in relationships. They found an association between having sex once a week and higher relationship satisfaction. This satisfaction did not seem to change when the frequency of sex increased to more than once per week.
For some people, sex can improve communication and feelings of closeness. People who feel as though they do not have enough sex may worry that there is something wrong with their relationship or fear that their partner is no longer attracted to them.
In these cases, people can try other methods of improving communication and intimacy. Cuddling, kissing, affectionate gestures, and opening up to one another can improve the health of a relationship, regardless of whether it involves sexual activity.
Asexuality and celibacy are not the same.
Asexuality means that a person generally or never experiences sexual attraction and feels no desire to have sex. An asexual person may still engage in sexual activity, either alone or with a partner.
Celibacy, on the other hand, refers to abstinence from sex for a specific period or forever.
While asexuality is not a choice, celibacy can be a choice or the product of circumstance.
Asexuality is an identity, and it is a spectrum. Some asexual people feel no sexual attraction, while others occasionally have these feelings. Another distinction involves demisexuality — demisexual people feel attraction after establishing an emotional attachment to another person.
Some asexual people experience romantic feelings and a desire for a romantic relationship, while others do not. A person who does not have this desire is “aromantic.”
Asexuality is a sexual orientation. Some people mistakenly believe that trauma or a mental health condition leads to it, but there is no evidence of this. Asexuality does not require a “cure.” No one should ever pressure another person to have sex.
There is no correct amount of sex to have, and the best frequency varies from person to person. Not having sex for a long time should not have negative health effects.
There is no right or wrong way to express sexual feelings, as long as everyone involved is clearly consenting. No one should ever feel obliged to have sex. Avoiding sex will not harm a person’s health, and it may even be healthy.
Anyone who feels concerned about low sexual desire or the effects of infrequent sex on their relationship can talk about this with a doctor or therapist. Medication, therapy, lifestyle changes, improved communication, and many other strategies may help.