Break-ups. Work. Travel. Work travel. There are a lot of reasons your sex life may be stalled. And, like knocking over that first domino, your dry spell in the sack can affect your health in many ways—both good and bad.
Here are 7 things that can happen when you lose that loving feeling:
1. You’ll feel more anxious.
Sex helps people blow off steam. Scottish researchers found people who abstained from sex struggled to cope with stressful situations like public speaking, compared with those who had intercourse at least once over a 2-week period. During sex, the brain releases feel-good chemicals, such as endorphins and oxytocin, which help you feel more at ease, the researchers say.
2. Men, watch out for prostate cancer.
Guys who stop having sex may miss out on the prostate-protecting perks of frequent trysts. A study presented to the American Urological Association found men who got it on all the time enjoyed—along with the sex—a 20% drop in their risk for prostate cancer. One reason? Frequent ejaculations may remove potentially harmful substances from the prostate.
3. You’re more susceptible to colds and flu.
Less sex may reduce your exposure to germs. Unfortunately, you’ll also skip the immune-boosting benefits of a weekly roll in the hay. Researchers at Wilkes-Barre University in Pennsylvania found people who had sex once or twice a week enjoyed a 30% boost in immunoglobulin A (IgA), compared with those who had sex seldom or never. IgA is one of the body’s first lines of defense against viruses, the study authors say.
4. Your risk for a UTI drops.
Nearly 80% of urinary tract infections occur within 24 hours of intercourse. During sex, bacteria in the vagina can end up pushed into the urethra, where it causes an infection. So the bright side—at least for women—when you stop having sex, your risk for the painful peeing condition plummets.
5. Insecurities about your relationship could start creeping in.
Not having sex takes a toll on your happiness, closeness, and relationship security, experts say. “Going without sex in a marriage can deliver a hit to your self-esteem, engender guilt, and decrease levels of oxytocin and other bonding hormones,” says Les Parrott, PhD, a psychologist and author of Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts. “It can also increase fears that one of you will look to others for your sexual needs, which can breed a little paranoia.” However, Parrott points out this doesn’t mean a sexless couple can’t be happy. “Sex is just one expression of intimacy for couples,” he says. Kissing, handholding, and giving compliments or unexpected gifts can help you feel connected with your partner emotionally—even if you’re not spending time connecting physically.
6. Your risk for erectile dysfunction, um, rises.
Use it or lose it: Men who have sex infrequently are twice as likely to experience erectile dysfunction as men who do it once a week or more, according to a study published in the American Journal of Medicine. The study’s authors suggest that, since the penis is a muscle, frequent sex may help preserve potency in a similar way that physical exercise helps maintain strength.
7. You may feel down in the dumps—but not for the reason you think.
Women feel more depressed the longer they go without having sex, reports a study in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior. But it may not be the lack of sex that got them down. (Take our quiz to find out if you’re depressed or just bummed out.) The study team found that women whose partners wore condoms felt just as blue. The researchers say some compounds found in semen—including melatonin, serotonin, and oxytocin—may have mood-boosting benefits for women who have unprotected intercourse. Of course, there are plenty of drawbacks to unprotected sex, too.