Can not having sex be harmful to your health?

By John Murphy, MDLinx
Published February 10, 2020

Key Takeaways

Sex has a lot of physical and mental health benefits. It can reduce stress, bolster immunity,  improve sleep, and even provide a bit of healthy exercise. 

But, is the opposite true? Can going without sex—whether voluntarily or involuntarily—harm your health? (That’s almost literally adding insult to injury—or rather, injury to insult.) 

Let’s look into some of these questions. Does lack of sex...

Increase anxiety? 

Sexual activity releases hormones and endorphins that elevate mood, release tension, and increase feelings of satisfaction and pleasure. 

Having a sexual “dry spell” can deprive some individuals of those stress relievers. Worse yet, going without sex can itself create or worsen feelings of anxiety and stress. 

Cause physical pain? 

Colloquially known as “blue balls,” this colorful term refers to scrotal pain from sustained sexual arousal unrelieved by orgasm and ejaculation. The pain may range from brief, mild discomfort to severe, sustained pain. 

Despite the likely prevalence of this condition in the population, “blue balls” (medically known as epididymal hypertension) is nearly absent from the literature, noted the authors of a case study involving a 14-year-old male. These authors speculated that the condition starts with sexual arousal, which produces pelvic venous dilatation. When this persists and testicular venous drainage is halted, the pressure builds (probably in the epididymis), which in turn causes pain. 

The term’s use of the color blue likely refers to feeling as though the testicles are bruised (since they don’t actually change color), Abraham Morgentaler, MD, director, Men's Health Boston and associate clinical professor of urology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, told Buzzfeed

The simple therapy for the problem is ejaculation, through either masturbation or intercourse. Or, “perhaps straining to move a very heavy object—in essence doing a Valsalva maneuver,” the case study authors suggested. If neither of those solutions is readily available or easily accomplished, wait an hour or so and it will probably go away on its own. 

Worsen immunity? 

Researchers have shown that people who have sex once or twice per week have higher levels of salivary immunoglobulin A—an antibody that’s the body’s first line of defense in protecting vulnerable mucosal surfaces (eg, oral cavity, lungs, and gut) from invading pathogens. 

But, people who have sex less frequently than once or twice a week—as well as those who have sex more frequently (three or more times per week)—have lower levels of the antibody, leaving them perhaps a little more vulnerable to illness. 

So, if you’re looking to improve your immune system through sex, the sweet spot is one to two times per week. 

Increase prostate cancer risk?

Frequent ejaculation may prevent prostate cancer, researchers have found. Specifically, men who ejaculated 21 or more times a month had a 33% lower risk of prostate cancer compared with men who reported 4 to 7 ejaculations a month.

Researchers believe that carcinogenic secretions likely accumulate in the prostate—a situation that increases the opportunity for prostate cancer to develop. But ejaculation sweeps out these carcinogens. The more frequently that ejaculations occur, the fewer carcinogens remain behind to cause cancer.

So, based on this research, it appears that having ejaculations in the single digits each month may put men at a greater risk for prostate cancer.

Disturb sleep? 

The act of sex lowers stress-related hormones like cortisol and boosts happy hormones like oxytocin and prolactin, which make you feel relaxed and sleepy. All of this contributes to a drowsy state that’s perfect for snuggling up and sleeping.

As noted above, the lack of sex can induce its own stressors, which are not conducive to a restful night’s sleep. 

Bottom line

Sex is generally a healthy activity for most people. But not every time, and not for everyone. In some cases and for some people, it’s healthier to forgo sexual activity.

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