There are lots of reasons your sex life might come to a screeching halt: breakups, long hours at the office, frequent travel, or even certain medications can mess with your ability (and desire) to get it on.
But just like making time for exercise or eatings vegetables with every meal, you might not realise how integral sex is to your overall health until you just stop doing it. From your mood to your relationship to your disease risk, here are nine ways not having sex can totally mess with your body and mind.
You might feel more anxious or stressed
Sex helps people blow off steam. In a study published in Biological Psychology, Scottish researchers found that 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.
The link? During sex, your brain releases feel-good chemicals, such as endorphins and oxytocin, which help you feel more at ease, the researchers say. The good news is, you don’t need a partner to reap the relaxing benefits, since masturbation has the same effect.
You could become more susceptible to colds
It’s true that less sex may reduce your exposure to germs, but unfortunately, you’ll also skip the immune-boosting benefits of a weekly roll in the hay. In one 2004 study, researchers at Wilkes-Barre University in Pennsylvania found that people who had sex once or twice a week enjoyed a 30 per cent boost in immunoglobulin A (IgA), compared with those who had sex seldom or never. IgA is an infection-fighting protein and one of the body’s first lines of defence against viruses, such as those associated with the common cold, the study authors say.
UTIs might become less common
If you’ve ever experienced a urinary tract infection, you know how uncomfortable it can be. Sex is a major risk factor for UTIs, since it can push bacteria (most commonly E. coli) in the vagina up into the urethra—the tube that releases urine from your body—and into your bladder, causing an infection. So naturally, if you’re not having sex, your chances of the condition goes down.
Still, that doesn’t mean you’re completely in the clear: having a history of UTIs, using spermicide-coated condoms, and simply getting older can still increase your risk of UTIs.
Your STD risk drops
Rates of sexually transmitted diseases have been on the rise, and have once again hit-an all time in 2017, according to preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention presented at the National STD Prevention Conference.
Nearly 2.3 million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhoea, and syphilis were diagnosed last year, which tops 2016 by more than 200,000 instances. Gonorrhoea is particularly concerning since many strains have developed resistance to antibiotics.
Obviously, the best way to avoid STDs is by not having sex at all, but getting tested, practising safe sex (always use a condom!), and talking to your partner about safe sex can help protect you once you decide to do the deed.
Insecurities about your relationship could pop up
Not having sex could take a toll on your happiness, closeness, and relationship security. “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 relationship can’t be a happy one. “Sex is just one expression of intimacy for couples,” he says. Kissing, hand holding, and giving compliments or unexpected gifts can help you feel connected with your partner emotionally—even if you’re not spending time connecting through sex.
You might have a harder time getting aroused
One of the most effective ways to boost a low libido is to genuinely try and have more sex, even if you have to pencil it in. Experiencing more physical and emotional intimacy can help you feel more connected to your partner, so when you stop having sex, your desire to start back up again may stall.
What’s more, scheduling in sex (perhaps after a weekly date night?) will help increase your pelvic blood flow and natural vaginal moisture, which can make sex feel way better, Stephanie S. Faubion, MD, director of the Women’s Health Clinic at the Mayo Clinic, recently told Prevention.
Your vaginal walls could thin out
Once you hit menopause, your body won’t pump out as much estrogen. This can lead to vaginal atrophy, a condition in which your vaginal walls become thin, dry, and more prone to tearing, according to the Mayo Clinic. Not having sex (with or without a partner!) might exacerbate the problem, since the extra lubrication and blood flow you experience during sex can help keep the tissues in your vagina healthy.
His risk of prostate cancer rises
Guys who stop having sex may miss out on the prostate-protecting perks of frequent trysts. One large 2016 study published in European Urology found that men who ejaculated at least 21 times per month significantly reduced their prostate cancer risk. One reason? Frequent ejaculations may remove potentially harmful substances from the prostate, which may prevent the formation of cancerous tumours.
… and so does his risk of erectile dysfunction
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 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.
This article originally appeared on Prevention US.