Now that social distancing is the new norm, a lot of folks are going a looooong time without having sex—and this isn’t just true of people quarantining alone.
The Kinsey Institute is currently conducting an ongoing study called Sex and Relationships in the Time of COVID-19, and one of the lead researchers, Justin Lehmiller, Ph.D., provided some preliminary data in Psychology Today. Apparently, 44% of participants said their sex life had declined recently, while 30% said the same of their romantic life. Even though many individuals are spending more time at home with their partners than ever before, they’re not feeling particularly sexual. Which makes sense: It can be difficult to feel sexually connected to your partner with everything that’s going on in the world.
This lack of sex and intimacy is bad for a couple of reasons: 1) sex is fun, and you should be having as much of it as you can, 2) we’re all missing out on the many well-documented emotional and physical health benefits of having sex regularly. These benefits could really improve our mental health as COVID-19 progresses.
But what actually happens to your body when you don’t have sex for a long time? Here are 6 of the most surprising side effects.
1) Your rhythm gets thrown off the next time you have sex.
You know that old expression, “if you don’t use it, you lose it?” Science suggests that to a degree, that might be true. A 2008 study in the American Journal of Medicine concluded that men in their 50s, 60s, and 70s that weren’t sexually active were more likely to suffer from erectile dysfunction. This makes some sense: on an intellectual level, navigating all those arms and legs and erogenous zones can get pretty confusing, so imagine trying to navigate the core mechanics of intercourse after months and months of not having sex at all. Luckily, there’s an easy solution: even if you don’t have a partner, the research suggests ejaculating regularly can help alleviate some of these effects.
2) If you don’t masturbate, your risk of prostate cancer goes up.
If your dry spell extends to the self-pleasure zone — i.e., if you’re not masturbating at all — research says that’s not healthy. In fact, multiple studies have pointed to the conclusion that “high ejaculation frequency” (a.k.a. jerking off at least 4.6 to seven times a week) is linked to a lower risk of prostate cancer. So get out those baby wipes and turn on Pornhub for the sake of your own health.
3) Your blood pressure can spike.
Without sex, you may notice an increase in blood pressure. Science says that’s not a coincidence. In fact, a 2006 study in the medical journal Biological Psychology found that people who were having regular sex had lower levels of blood pressure than those who weren’t. This is also linked to the relationship between sex and stress. The researchers controlled for multiple variables in the study and concluded that having sex more frequently actually improves your body’s physiological response to stress. This, in turn, keeps one’s blood pressure at a lower base level.
4) You get more stressed out.
A great night of lovemaking can make literally everything else in the world feel better. Even if your boss won’t stop breathing down your neck, or if you’re under a bunch of deadlines, you’re consistently getting laid, so all of that stuff seems super manageable.
Apparently, there’s a scientific reason for that. Neuroscientist Dr. Debra W. Soh said in an interview with Men’s Health that during orgasm, “endorphins are released that can help to improve your mood,” she says. “So, if you tend to use sex as a way of coping with stress, a dry spell can be doubly frustrating.”
5) Your immune system gets weaker.
Orgasms are incredibly beneficial to your immune system, as psychologists Carl Charnetski and Francis Brennan Jr. found. They conducted a study where they asked patients who were having sex once or twice a week to provide saliva samples. Those samples were found to contain an extremely high concentration of the common-cold busting antibody immunoglobulin A. Who knew that extremely close contact was a net-positive in terms of preventing illness?
6) Your work performance might slip.
Most dry spells have two parts: the part where you’re insanely horny and turned on by even a slightly curvaceous frying pain; and the part where you’re down in the dumps and can’t even be motivated to get off the couch. Apparently, that can even spill over into your employment satisfaction. An Oregon State University study found that couples with an active sex life were much happier at work.
“Maintaining a healthy relationship that includes a healthy sex life will help employees stay happy and engaged in their work, which benefits the employees and the organisations they work for,” says Keith Leavitt, an associate professor at the college. There you go, guys: feel free to blame missing that Zoom call on not getting laid. I’m sure your boss will understand.