Think back to your teenage years, when even a gentle breeze or the mention of a training bra was enough to trigger a rise. It all seemed pretty innocent but turns out that as you age, not being sexually active can come with some consequences. Namely, it could cut your life short.
There are any number of reasons a man might not feel frisky (work, kids, in-laws, you get it), but not having sex could be detrimental to your health. In fact, a study published in 2020 found that early death rates in participants were about 50 percent lower for those who had sex once a week as compared to those who rarely got it on, to the tune of once a year at most (1).
What’s more, the unsexy ripple effects of COVID-19 persist. “Humans have always found a way to get freaky, regardless of what’s going on in the world, and in fact, hookup apps boomed during the pandemic,” says Tom Murray, Ph.D., AASECT, author of Making Nice With Naughty. “Unfortunately, the pandemic also increased the time spent with significant others, which could grow old quickly, and sexual desire would often decrease. The fire of desire requires mystery, and the pandemic could cause that mystery to evaporate.”
Suffice it to say, having (or rather, not having) sex impacts pretty much everything in your life, and a dry spell, whether or not it’s self-imposed, could harm your health. Check out these seven surprising side effects of not being sexually active.
1) Not Having Sex Can Lead to a Bad Mood
Nothing puts a smile on your face like a great orgasm, and if you’re not having sex, it’s that much harder to turn that frown upside down. The thing is, your gonads aren’t the only ones enjoying that orgasmic release: According to Murray, when you have sex, your brain is flooded with feel-good chemicals such as endorphins, dopamine, and oxytocin which boost your mood and promote feelings of pleasure and happiness.
“The release of oxytocin is often linked to satisfying relationships and bonding experiences, both of which may boost mood and perhaps lower the risk of depression,” Murray says. “Post-orgasm you also secrete prolactin, which enhances the sensations of calmness and sexual satiety.”
Note: According to Murray, going it solo doesn’t have the same, full effect; you’ll release prolactin but sexual activity with a partner can lead to a better mood boost.
2) Not Having Sex Can Stress You Out
Stress is pervasive in the U.S., with recent layoffs, economic uncertainty, and political battles. But according to a review published in 2020, having sex may be a stress-busting panacea (2).
“When oxytocin is released during sex, it helps reduce the production of the stress hormone cortisol,” Murray says.
A study published in 2019 hammers that home. Subjects who were more intimate with their partners had lower levels of the “stress hormone” cortisol (3).
3) Not Having Sex Can Affect Your Sleep
If you’re one of those guys who passes out post-coitus, there’s actually some science to back up your crash: A study published in 2019 revealed that an orgasm, whether achieved with a partner or solo, could be perceived as a sleep enhancer (4)
“Orgasm causes a rush of hormones that act in the body like sedatives,” Murray says. “These hormones improve the quality and length of sleep, encouraging feelings of tranquility and relaxation.”
So when you skip sexual activity before sleeping, you may not get the same restful shut-eye (or amount of it).
4) Not Having Sex Can Impact Immunity
Sexual activity with a partner involves, well, being close to that person—and as it turns out, intimate contact can boost your health.
“It has been proposed that compounds such as oxytocin have anti-inflammatory properties and may help control the immune response, [reducing] inflammation,” Murray says.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, those who have frequent sex, (one to two times per week) have more immunoglobulin A, an antibody that helps prevent illness. And a 2021 study found that having sex more than three times per month offered greater protective effects against COVID-19 than for those who had sex less often (5).
5) Not Having Sex Can Increase Your Risk for Heart Disease
Even though it doesn’t burn a ton of calories, a good roll in the sheets may be able to boost benefits for your heart. A study published in the American Journal of Cardiology showed that a low frequency of sexual activity—namely, once a month or less vs. twice a week or more—was associated with an increased risk for cardiovascular disease (6).
“Having sex lowers blood pressure and enhances blood flow,” Murray explains. “Oxytocin in particular has vasodilatory properties, which means it helps relax blood vessels.”
6) Not Having Sex Might Cause Your Smarts to Suffer
Even though men are often criticized for thinking with their “other” head, it might actually benefit your brain: According to a study published in 2023, low sexual satisfaction for participants ages 56 to 68 was associated with memory decline (7).
According to Murray, sexual activity has many cognitive benefits, including enhanced social and emotional awareness. Research backs him up. A study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior found that partnered sexual activity was associated with better performance on a memory test (8).
7) Not Having Sex Can Make You Want It Less
Ouch. Not using it can really make you lose it.
“The longer you go without sexual activity, the less you’ll want to have it,” Murray says.
He adds that going for long periods without sex can cause feelings of loneliness and detachment from your partner. “Humans are social creatures and we crave connection,” Murray says. “Sex can quench that desire for connection.”
Chemically speaking, according to Murray, prolactin promotes sexual and emotional bonding, and dopamine promotes feelings of pleasure, reward, and fulfillment.
So it stands to reason that sexual activity can beget more prolactin, er, sexual activity. And a whole lot more.