What Happens When You Stop Having Sex

You Might Feel More Anxious

Maybe sex is the last thing on your mind when you’re stressed out. But it might help lower your anxiety. Sex seems to lessen the amount of hormones your body releases in response to stress. And an active sex life can make you happier and healthier, which might also help keep anxiety at bay.

Your Heart May Not Work as Well

Research says people who have sex once a month or less get heart disease more often than those who have it twice a week or so. Part of the reason could be that you get a bit more exercise and are less likely to be anxious or depressed. But it could also be that if you have more sex, you’re physically and mentally healthier in the first place.

You Might Get Less ExerciseYour Immune System May Get Weaker

Weekly sex seems to boost your immune system compared to those who have it less often. Part of the reason may be that it raises levels of a germ-fighting substance called immunoglobulin A, or IgA. But more is not always better here. People who had sex more than twice a week had lower levels of IgA than those who had no sex.

Sex typically burns about 5 calories a minute. That’s about equal to a brisk walk. And you use a bit more oxygen too -- about the same as digging in the garden or walking down the stairs. 

That may not seem like much, but it starts to add up over the long term. And because sex can improve your mental health, you might be more likely to do other types of exercise like the neighborhood kickball team, hiking, or housework.

You May Lose Your Keys More Often

Well, not so much lose them as forget where you put them. That’s because regular sex seems be linked to improved memory, especially if you’re between ages 50 and 89. It’s not clear why.

Your Relationship Changes

Sex bathes your brain in a chemical “afterglow” that lasts about 2 days and helps to bond you to your partner over the long term. Without it, you could lose some of the satisfaction of your relationship. A healthy, happy sexual relationship -- couples who do it at least once a week seem to be happiest -- can help build trust and understanding between you and your partner.

Your Prostate May Be Less Healthy

The reasons aren’t exactly clear, but in at least one study, men who ejaculated less than seven times a month were more likely to get prostate cancer compared to those who did it at least 21 times a month. 

But unprotected anonymous sex and multiple partners can also raise your chances for the disease, so when you do have sex, take care.

You Might Sleep Less

Without sex, you’ll miss out on the hormones that promote restful sleep, like prolactin and oxytocin. Women get an estrogen boost that helps even more. The reverse is true, too: If you decide you want to start having sex again, a good night’s sleep is just the thing to keep you feeling frisky.

Aches and Pains Hang Around

Sex can be a good way to take your mind off of any aches and pains you have. But it does more than that. Orgasm causes your body to release endorphins and other hormones that can help ease head, back, and leg aches. They may help arthritis pain and menstrual cramps, too. 

You Could Have Sexual Problems Later

It may seem odd, but “use it or lose it” may apply here. For women at menopause, vaginal tissue can get thin, shrink, and dry out without regular intercourse. That can make sex painful and weaken your desire. And some research says men who have sex less than once a week are twice as likely to have erectile dysfunction (ED) as those who have it weekly.

Your Blood Pressure Might Rise

Sex seems to help keep your blood pressure down. That makes sense when you consider what it does: It adds a bit of aerobic and muscle-building exercise, and it can ease anxiety and make you feel better. Both of those can help keep your numbers where they need to be.

The Push for Fewer Opioids for New Mothers

Three times Ada Williams delivered children by caesarean section. Three times doctors prescribed her opioid painkillers.

When she was preparing to deliver her fourth child by C-section, her doctor told her that Cleveland Clinic’s Fairview Hospital was moving away from that.

“I said, ‘No! You’ve gotta give me the narcotics because it’s a C-section, it’s painful,’ ” the 37-year-old says.

Ms. Williams instead alternated large doses of Tylenol and Motrin every three hours after delivering her baby girl, Reighn Maris Williams, on May 16. It worked. She only took one oxycodone pill for intense pain after she missed one of those alternating doses of over-the-counter drugs.

Doctors generally consider it safe for babies when breast-feeding mothers take controlled doses of certain opiates like oxycodone. Most hospitals give women who have C-sections opioids for pain and send them home with a prescription whether they ask for one or not.

Now, some of the country’s leading hospitals are revising this longstanding policy. When given more limited choices, new mothers often find they don’t want or need amounts of opioids that used to come standard, research shows.

This change is part of a push to reduce unnecessary opioid prescriptions in response to the opioid epidemic, which kills an average of 130 Americans a day. Thirty-six percent of such deaths are from prescription opioid overdoses, which can start with unused pills from family members and friends.

About one in 300 women who take opioids for the first time after a C-section will become a persistent user, according to a 2016 study in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

That’s a small percentage. But doctors perform 1.2 million C-sections a year, accounting for about a third of the total number of U.S. births. Brian Bateman, chief of obstetric anesthesia at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston who was first author on the study, notes that this translates into 4,000 persistent opioid users. The study looked at commercially insured women who hadn’t taken opioids before. Dr. Bateman says the numbers could be higher when considering women on government insurance, or who had previous experience with opioids.

Another study in 2017 found women who gave birth via C-section were prescribed twice the number of opioid pills that they took, on average. Most kept the leftover medication.

“If you talk to people who misuse opioids, the most common source is obtaining opioids from friends or family members for free,” says Dr. Bateman, who also was first author on this study.

Eric Chiang, a Fairview Hospital anesthesiologist, wanted to focus on the range of opioid use after C-sections because hospitals offer the drugs so readily.

“The reasons are legitimate,” Dr. Chiang says. “Patients need to care for a baby. They need to breast-feed, and breast-feeding is a big stress.”

Breast-feeding can be difficult at first. Pain can slow the process of learning how to effectively nurse. If it isn’t controlled after a C-section, chances of postpartum depression also rise.

Women who had a C-section used to leave Cleveland Clinic hospitals with about 32 pills. The clinic’s hospitals reduced that to 21 pills last year.

Fairview started a pilot program in March 2018. Nurses started explaining to women that they were trying to reduce opioid use. They offered to alternate large doses of ibuprofen (Motrin) with acetaminophen (Tylenol) every three hours. Women could still request oxycodone, an opioid, for “breakthrough” pain.

The hospital’s opioid use in C-section patients immediately dropped by more than two-thirds, Dr. Chiang says. Opioid-free hospital stays have increased to 44% from 12% over the past year.

“The patients were doing much better. They were more awake and not so sleepy or lethargic,” Dr. Chiang says. Two other Cleveland Clinic hospitals with maternity wards also changed their protocols last year.

But women still went home with an opioid prescription whether they used the drugs in the hospital or not. Starting this week, Fairview and two other Cleveland Clinic hospitals will no longer offer prescriptions for home use to those women who use no opioids after a C-section. Those who take opioids in the hospital will receive a prescription for just five pills. They can request more as needed.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists last year recommended new protocols for opioid use in women who have a C-section.

The organization based that recommendation on research that includes a 2017 study at Massachusetts General Hospital. Doctors talked to women who’d just had a C-section about pain symptoms and let them pick the number of opioid pills they wanted, up to a maximum of 40. Researchers found a 50% decrease in the number prescribed compared with normal practices. Rates of refills were very low.

Other prestigious hospitals have found similar results. Julian Robinson, Brigham and Women’s chief of obstetrics says patients reported no more pain under his hospital’s new policy.

Mark Christopher Bicket, director of the pain fellowship program at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, says hospitals are also emphasizing giving new mothers a numbing medicine like lidocaine through an epidural catheter to ease pain.

Now Dr. Bateman is analyzing opioids given to women after vaginal deliveries. His research found nearly 30% of commercially insured women who have a vaginal delivery received an opioid prescription within a week of discharge.

Ms. Williams, the Cleveland Clinic patient, went home with a prescription for five opioid pills after her fourth C-section. She never filled it. She recalls using Percocet in the hospital “like clockwork” after her other children were born. She continued using it when she went home.

“This time was the best ever,” she says. “I able to keep Reighn inside the room with me the whole entire time because I was alert.…My pain level did not pass a three.”