Unfortunately the bad outweighs the good.

By Anthea Levi
Updated July 15, 2020
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In the era of coronavirus, amid social distancing guidelines and widespread pandemic anxiety, people are saying that their sex lives has been negatively affected—those in committed relationships included. Not getting it on as often (or at all) can have health ramifications of its own. That's because sex has a host of health benefits, such as reducing stress, making it easier to sleep, and improving heart health (all that bumping and grinding counts as a workout, you know).

But what really happens to your body when you stop having sex—whether you're taking a timeout on purpose or are going through an involuntary dry spell? Since lots of rumors abound, we decided to set the record straight. We talked to experts about what can—and can't—happen to your body during a booty break.

No, your vagina won’t close up

It's an urban myth that your vagina will close off, seal up, or grow a new hymen if it doesn't see action for a while. It comes down to hormones: Even when you're not having sex, your body still produces estrogen and progesterone, and these hormones keep the vaginal walls open and flexible, says Chrstine Greves, MD a board-certified ob/gyn based in Florida. Just like lotion soothes dry hands in the winter, estrogen helps moisten and maintain the vaginal rugae, or the folds that allow the vagina to expand when you're aroused.

It is possible for the vaginal opening to decrease in size, but this occurs after menopause and following a long sex pause. “Over time, postmenopausal women who have a diminished supply of estrogen might notice the diameter of the vagina becoming smaller if they aren’t engaging in intercourse,” explains Dr. Greves. “But in my clinical experience, this usually only happens after about five [sex-free] years or more."

It could get drier down there

Even when you're not aroused, your vaginal walls are moist and supple. But Dr. Greves says that if you haven’t gotten it on lately, your vagina might be on the drier side as you go about your regular routine. Dryness on its own isn't necessarily a problem, but it can feel uncomfortable.

The solution? Making time for masturbation. Dryness is less likely to occur if you masturbate regularly, since the stimulation can lead to increased moisture. It's another reason to add "me time" to your to-do list.

Your sex drive may take a hit

According to Dr. Greves, it's possible that your libido will go down a bit during a period of abstinence. This might explain why: If you're not getting it on, you're probably not feeling as sexual as you do when you're doing it on the regular, and that can have an effect on your sex drive. The good news is, once you're back in action, you'll likely start feeling more sexy, prompting your libido to rise.

Anxiety or depression might set in

Having sex releases feel-good brain chemicals like oxytocin and serotonin, lifting your mood and spirits, Gail Saltz, MD, associate professor of psychiatry at NY Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine and host of the Personology podcast, tells Health. When your system isn't producing these brain chemicals in the same amounts, it can take a toll on your mental health. But don’t fret if you’re not getting enough sex with a partner; having orgasms via masturbation can score you the oxytocin and serotonin you need to keep depression and anxiety away, says Dr. Saltz.

You could be dealing with "skin hunger"

There's a reason why doctors encourage humans to have as much skin-to-skin contact with loved ones as possible.  Direct touch of your own skin to your partner's skin conveys emotion. Without it, you could be dealing with "skin hunger," or our body's reaction to a long-term lack of touch. "Skin-to-skin contact can decrease stress and improve self-esteem, potentially even boosting our immune system," Rachel Nazarian, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York, tells Health. Our skin interprets positive touch (and what is sex if not a form of positive touching?) to boost serotonin levels, so you're more likely to feel happy and healthy, says Dr. Nazarian.

It might take longer to get aroused when you do have sex again

After a sex break, “it may take more time for the vagina to get sufficiently lubricated or for the tissues to fully relax,” says Dr. Greves. When you have regular sex, your vagina goes into arousal mode automatically. Take a long pause, however, and it needs more of a warmup before getting back in the swing of things. Same goes for the penis; erection issues are not uncommon after a dry spell.

Consider this a great excuse to take things slow and enjoy lots of touching and kissing when you start having sex again. Increasing the amount of time you spend on foreplay can help vaginal tissues relax and produce lubrication, says Dr. Greves. Make sure you have some store-bought lube on hand too, or use a lubricated condom.

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