When it comes to fasting, intermittent fasting and dry January hog the attention. But the latest trend in abstaining has nothing to do with what you put in your mouth (well, for the most part). The media has reported on actor Terry Crews, Spiderman alum Andrew Garfield, and Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson touting the benefits of sexual fasting—going without sex for anywhere from months to years.
Why go without sex?
Crews says his 90-day sex fast helped him overcome a porn addiction. Garfield says foregoing sex for six months prepared him to play a Jesuit priest in the movie Silence. And Wilson remained celibate during his engagement.
“The only real trend I’ve seen is No Nut November,” says Gillian (Gigi) Singer, MPH American board certified sexologist and sexuality educator. “If people engage in a sexual fast, they may be refocusing that energy into another facet of their life, particularly emotional intimacy.”
So, what can you actually gain from a sex fast, and is there evidence to stand on.
What is Sexual Fasting?
“The definition of fasting is different from person to person,” says Singer. “Some people may see it as a break from penetration, while others may see it as a break from all physical contact.”
And the reasons for abstaining vary widely.
For some people, a fast prevents pregnancy or a sexually transmitted infection, or people engage for spiritual or religious reasons,” Singer says. “Other people fast to build suspense around sex, or foster emotional intimacy.” If sex is now a chore or routine, a sexual fast can shake things up, make sex fun again, and strengthen the emotional connection between you and your partner, she says.
Benefits of Sexual Fasting
A sexual fast won’t produce a laundry list of benefits, but you may gain some. While two of these happen after your fast, hopefully it’s worth the wait.
Stronger and faster orgasms
The longer you go without sex, the more likely you are to feel a heightened sense of pleasure when you reconnect, says Singer.
Even if the sex itself isn’t more pleasurable than before, your perception of how good it feels to finally ejaculate will increase. More anticipation leads to increased desire, resulting in a more intense experience, she says.
“You may also reach orgasm more quickly because you haven’t come in a while,” says Singer.
Deeper emotional intimacy
More focus on non-sexual intimacy—date nights, hand holding, and pillow talk—can strengthen the connection between you and your partner, says Singer.
“You may feel more connected to your partner outside of sex, and even during sex, after the fast ends,” she says.
Unless you’re having Sting-like tantric sex for hours on end, you won’t gain enough free time to pick up a new hobby.
“But a sexual fast allows you to refocus your time and energy on other areas of your life, like work or exercise,” says Singer.
Does Sexual Fasting Boost Testosterone?
While NoFappers and semen retentionists claim abstinence improves your T, no solid evidence exists confirming this.
And as Justin Dubin, M.D., previously told The Edge, “You don’t ejaculate testosterone out of your body.”
KNOW YOUR T
What Happens to Your Body During a Sex Fast?
While sexually fasting can provide the above perks, you may also miss out on some of the health benefits of sex. Here are some ways a sex fast can negatively affect you.
You may miss out on sleep quality
Not having an orgasm won’t decrease the quality of sleep you would naturally get, but orgasms will increase that quality of sleep, Singer says.
An orgasm promotes the release of hormones, including oxytocin and prolactin, which relax you. Sex also lowers your cortisol levels, and, in surveys, people with less stress have reported more sleep at night than people with high stress levels.
One study published in 2019 found participants surveyed reported improved sleep after having sex with a partner, and that sleep quality improved following masturbation resulting in an orgasm (1).
Your immune system won’t be as strong
After sex and orgasm, some research suggests that you may have higher levels of an antibody called immunoglobulin A (IgA). IgA is found in mucous membranes throughout the body, mainly in your respiratory and digestive tracts, as well as in the saliva, tears and breastmilk. Your body makes IgA to help fight off sickness.
While research doesn’t point to a decline in IgA in the absence of sex, research suggests that increased sexual activity may give your immune system a boost.
You risk infertility
Not ejaculating often can decrease sperm quality, which is why Dubin told The Edge that you shouldn’t solely wait to have sex until your partner is ovulating.
One study published in 2020 found men with high sperm DNA damage—which may increase the risk of infertility—who ejaculated for four consecutive days reduced the amount of damage in their sperm’s DNA (2).
Your balls may ache
Epididymal hypertension is that uncomfortable heaviness you feel in your balls that can cause mild pain and achiness in your testes. Although the slang term, “blue balls” is sometimes used, that blue tinge is not a scientific or universally accepted concept.
Epididymal hypertension is not dangerous or long-lasting.
If you’re aroused without an ejaculation for a period of time, the blood that flowed into your genital area stays there, Singer says. Ejaculating can relieve discomfort from epididymal hypertension, Singer says, but even without an orgasm, it will likely subside on its own.
Should You Do a Sex Fast?
The choice is ultimately yours. An open line of communication with your partner is a must, however. “If your partner wants to have sex, but you’re fasting, this may put pressure on your relationship,” says Singer.
But if you’re partner’s on board and you want to do it, “then go for it,” she says.
The Bottom Line
If you feel inclined to try a sexual fast, all the power to you. While benefits can include increased emotional intimacy with your partner and a heightened sense of pleasure, you may miss out on the potential benefits of sex, like improved sleep quality, an immune system boost, and stress reduction.