Sexual Abstinence Can Be Good for You

By Richard Asa and Temma Ehrenfeld @temmaehrenfeld
October 13, 2023
Sexual Abstinence Can Be Good for You

Sexual abstinence is trending upwards. It can be empowering, spiritually healing, and a healthy practice to avoid disease. Here's what you should know.

A healthy sex life has many benefits that you hear a lot about, but abstinence, also called celibacy, can have its own benefits.

You won’t be alone if you practice celibacy. More than one in four Americans say they haven’t had sex in a year. That figure has been trending upwards since the 1990s, when it was closer to 18 percent.

One reason is that Americans are at a 30-year high of having no spouse or partner. Some 40 percent of Americans do not live with a partner, up from 30 percent in 1990. Some of them may be dating and holding out for the “right one,” or they might be single and celibate because of obstacles like too little time or bad health.

Sometimes people also choose to put sex on the back burner or give it up. More than one of the many reasons for abstinence may apply to you.  


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Why young people may be celibate

If you think you’ve had sex in the past for the wrong reasons, abstinence can put you back in command of making considered choices.

You may choose to date while taking sex off the table, so you can develop a true resilient relationship. It’s good to evaluate a relationship before plunging in.

“Teens often initiate intercourse for the wrong reasons,” says Ramani Durvasula, PhD, a clinical psychologist and author of several books, including “Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving A Relationship with a Narcissist, and “Don’t You Know Who I Am?” How to Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility. “We live in a hyper-sexualized society.”

Safety matters too. Four sexually transmitted viruses stay with you for life:

Abstinence is also the best contraceptive you can use.

It's not the right time for you to have sex

You may need to clear your head. Social worker Adina Mahalli, MSW, notes that sex can dominate your mind. “Sex is an incredibly complicated and deep act that affects people’s emotional state, brain chemistry, and hormones,” she explains, adding, “abstaining from sex can help people who are looking to make more logical judgments in their lives or to think more clearly.”

She thinks it takes only a few months of celibacy (including masturbation) for your sex drive to drop enough to give you mental room.

If you’re deciding whether a relationship is healthy, for example, you may need to step outside a powerful attraction. Perhaps you’re a little addicted to sex. Abstinence can be helpful “for people who use sex as a way to mask feelings (just like they might use drugs or alcohol or food),” says Durvasula.

An obsessive, hot relationship isn’t necessarily good for you.

Sometimes you’re too full of other emotions. You may be grieving a loss, perhaps a breakup or death.

You may need to heal from a trauma or addiction.

Some people with sexual fears choose to avoid the risk of erectile dysfunction or painful intercourse. It’s up to you to decide whether or when to take action to address those issues.

Letting time pass may help. Don’t judge yourself: Getting overwhelmed with anxiety isn’t helpful.

Just be clear that you could affect an existing relationship. Is the situation temporary, or are you tabling sex indefinitely? Is it important that your relationship partner not have sex?  

You may have other priorities

Abstinence can allow you to focus on yourself, pursuing new positive paths. Some people become abstinent when they develop their spirituality or creativity. They may be changing careers, moving, providing care to a person in need, or managing long-term health issues for the better.

If you aren’t in a romantic relationship or looking for one, you have more “me time.” That can be empowering. And if and when you do decide to take a partner, you may be better prepared after your time off.

A period of abstinence and improve future sex

It’s possible to improve your sexual response if you take a step back, perhaps focusing on masturbation or touching with someone that stays within certain parameters. That can be especially important for women who don’t have orgasms through intercourse. Learn to set limits and enjoy kissing and massage without going farther.

Some couples go on automatic and have lackluster sex when one person doesn’t feel like it or without much intimacy or foreplay. Savor your relationship instead.

“Having sex whenever your desire rises above, say, a three out of 10, is like eating an entire meal whenever your hunger rises above a three out of 10. Not only do you get bloated, but you lose your capacity to savor the meal. It becomes harder and harder to really enjoy each bite as a sensual experience,” says Ken Blackman, a couples counsellor.

“Giving yourself some time to remember what it feels like to want sex, and really savoring that feeling of desire, will heighten your senses, make you more present, and boost your enjoyment of the entire experience, from flirting to touching,” he says.

Your enjoyment can be more intense because you’ve held back.

What you can do  

Don’t have sex unless you really want to and think the situation and timing is good for your physical and mental health. There’s nothing wrong with taking a break or choosing to skip sex entirely. There are plenty of other ways to give and receive love, feel alive, and be happy.


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October 13, 2023

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN