The side-effects of abstinence

At one time or another every relationship goes through a dry spell. Putting a stop to sex may seem conterintuitive, but find out how a short stint of sexual abstinence may be just what you need to put the spice back into your sex life. 

By Adrienne Brown

The downfalls of abstinence
©iStockphoto.com/Nicolas Hansen
Downfalls of abstaining
David McKenzie, a sex therapist and relationship expert based in Vancouver, says, for men – "if you don't use it, you lose it." Similarly, "the longer you're away from sex, the more shy you can become," he adds.

Abstinence can have a significant impact on a person's self-esteem. McKenzie says there are many variables in such situations – and a change in self-esteem is hard to pin solely on someone's sex life – but if one partner is downright refusing the other, then that person's self-esteem can certainly suffer.

"Our culture assigns value to the capacity to attract partners, so when we can't find willing sexual partners, it can have an unnecessary impact on our sexual self-esteem," says O'Reilly.

"The value you put on sex will shape the impacts of abstinence." Of course, how you're affected may also depend on why you have chosen abstinence.

Negative Effects

According to O'Reilly, some of the negative effects of abstinence include sexual frustration (particularly if you use sex as a stress reliever) and loss of affection. "If you are abstaining from sex because of tension or unresolved issues in a relationship, you may also cease being affectionate altogether, and this can obviously have a negative impact on levels of intimacy," she says.

O'Reilly also notes that some abstainers may have negative responses to sexual stimuli. "The brain is the most powerful sex organ and fuels all sexual feelings (positive or negative)," O'Reilly says. "Scare tactics used to pressure women (and men) into repressing sexual feelings can have a psychological impact on the development of one's sexual self." She also says sex-negative messages that force people into abstinence can adversely impact how people think about sex.

McKenzie agrees: "Usually people who abstain hide behind religion," he says, "and they could have a fear of intimacy."

Page 2 of 3 -- How far does abstinence go? Find out on page 3

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