4 Things That Happen To Your Vagina When You Stop Having Sex

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The benefits of a healthy, happy sex life are myriad: Besides being fun, regular (good) sex boosts your immune system, cuts your stress levels, lowers your blood pressure, and reduces your risk of heart attack. Depending how much effort you put into it, intercourse also kinda/sorta counts as exercise, so you can feel good about being short a few steps on your Fitbit. Oh, and when you orgasm, a hormone called oxytocin—the “cuddle hormone”—floods your body with a rush of bliss, putting a smile on your face and helping you bond with your partner.

But not every woman has the option of a having an active happy sex life. Whether it’s voluntary celibacy chosen for spiritual or religious reasons, the lack of a suitable partner, or a dampening of desire due to any number of factors, most of us will go through some sort of dry spell in our lives. So what happens to your vagina when you don’t have sex?

Ouch!

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Whether you’re having sex for the very first time or the first time in a long time, you can expect some discomfort. The most common side effect of a prolonged celibate stretch is painful intercourse, says Brett Worly, MD, an ob-gyn at The Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center. Just as it hurts when you go for a run after a long stint of couch-potato-ing, you might feel some pain relieving a dry spell, “because your muscles aren’t used to having sex.”

The risk is even greater if your celibacy occurred because of something unpleasant, like an ugly breakup. “Psychological issues weighing on a person’s mind can cause pain, too,” says Worly.  The cure: Lubrication (the bottled kind is fine if you’re not producing enough on your own), foreplay, and communication are imperative. Worly advises couples to start slowly, to “ensure there’s no pain, and that it feels good.” And if it starts to hurt, stop. Try again another time, using even more foreplay, and even more lube. Sex isn’t a no-pain/no-gain type of activity.

Lockdown

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Luckily, even if a woman is a virgin, most vaginal pain is fleeting and can be “cured” with a steady application of patience, foreplay, and lubrication. But in some cases, the vaginal muscles get so contracted that penetration—even from a tampon or finger—is impossible. This condition is called vaginismus, and there are a variety of reasons why it occurs; sometimes it happens after rape or abuse, but it can be random as well.

If this happens to you, get help right away. “I recommend seeing a gynecologist to get a diagnosis and a recommendation for a pelvic-floor physical therapist,” says sex therapist Holly Richmond, PhD. She explains that the pelvic-floor physical therapist will put you through a series of gentle exercises. “The therapist will also prescribe a series of dilators to insert, gradually increasing in size.”

Dude, where’s my sex drive?

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If you stop having orgasms for an extended period of time, it’s natural for your body to quit requesting them. While that lack of lust may seem like a blessing in the midst of a dry spell, you also lose all health benefits that sex provides.

To get your mojo back up and running, Richmond prescribes a regular masturbation practice. “Orgasms are just good,” she says. “By yourself or with a partner—your body will thank you for all the endorphins.” An added bonus:Regular masturbation makes you better in bed. “People who are comfortable masturbating tend to be more thoughtful and giving lovers,” Richmond says.

Vaginal atrophy

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Sex might seem like it should become less important once you’re out of your childbearing years, but that’s not the case. The amount of estrogen a woman produces drops precipitously during menopause, and the vagina and vulva have more estrogen receptors than any other part of the body, says Barb DePree, MD. In postmenopausal women, it’s “use it or lose it,” since an inactive sex life can spur vaginal atrophy. That means the walls of the vagina dry out and become thin, so they’re more apt to tear.

Like the other professionals consulted, DePree recommends that women who don’t have a partner practice self-love on the regular. And if there is a partner in the picture, get busy. How much sex is enough? “I have a 75-year-old patient who has sex two or three times a week,” says DePree. 

Your mileage may vary.

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