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The Psychological Benefits of Celibacy

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on June 28, 2021

Few things are as personal as the decisions you make about your sex life. Choosing when to have sex and with whom is a private process, and everyone comes to their own choices about sex. Some people enjoy a full sex life, while others choose to abstain from some or all sexual activity. There are benefits to both options.

People who choose to be celibate can find that not having sex helps their mental health. Some say that sex was a distraction or preoccupation for them and found that abstinence helps to keep their minds clear. Other people find that sex causes them stress, and they're happier not worrying about it.

Learn more about the mental health benefits of celibacy and why some people make that choice.‌

What Is Celibacy?

Celibacy is the practice of not having sex. But not everyone defines celibacy the same way. Some people abstain from all kinds of sexual contact, including kissing or holding hands. Others only refrain from sexual intercourse. Some people use masturbation in place of partnered sex. Others refrain from that as well.

You might associate celibacy with religion, but faith isn't the only reason why people decide not to have sex. 

Reasons for abstaining from sex include:‌

  • Preventing pregnancy or STIs
  • Waiting for a certain level of romantic commitment
  • Focusing on school or your career
  • Managing mental health concerns
  • Managing physical health concerns

Choosing the boundaries of celibacy can be empowering for people who want to make thoughtful choices about sex. Some couples choose celibacy together and set up their own parameters. Being able to talk about your personal sexual choices with your partner is a key part of voluntary celibacy.

Reasons to Choose Celibacy

There's no doubt that sex is a complicated issue. While it's a way that many people express love and affection, it also comes with some risks. For some people, the risks of sex outweigh the benefits, and they feel better if they abstain.

Lower stress. Pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections are serious risks people take if they engage in sexual relationships. Some people prefer to set aside those worries entirely by not having sex. Some people choose to only participate in sexual activities such as kissing, petting, or cuddling. Those activities have a low risk of STIs.

Religious satisfaction. For people who have strong religious beliefs about sex outside of marriage, celibacy can support their spiritual lives. They may feel more connected to their faith and can be less concerned about breaking their religious principles.

Increased focus. While abstaining from sex doesn't directly clear your mind, some people feel more able to concentrate on school or work if they're not thinking about sex. Choosing to be celibate frees them from thinking about or planning sexual encounters. Without sex as a distraction, they can put all their energy into other activities. Studies have found that girls who delay sexual activity are more likely to finish high school.

Healing from trauma or grief. People who have been through a traumatic experience or lost a loved one may need to put all their energy towards healing. Abstinence gives them time to focus on their emotional needs so that they can recover.

Drawbacks to Celibacy

Some people end up not having sex because they don't have a partner. That can be distressing for some people. Not only might they miss the physical pleasure of sexual activity, but they may also be lonely. People who have trouble starting or sustaining meaningful relationships may experience depression and anxiety. In this case, mental health counseling may help them address their relationship questions.

In rare cases, a lack of sex might hurt your health. There are known health benefits to sexual activity, including cardiovascular health. However, there are other ways to get cardio benefits. Regular exercise might replace the boost to heart health that sexual activity provides.

Deciding to no longer have sex could do damage to a relationship if you are currently in one. Entering into a period of celibacy if you have a partner can be confusing for your loved one. If your partner doesn't agree to your new plans, it can put a strain on the relationship. You and your partner should have open conversations about sex and respect each other's boundaries.

An additional risk of celibacy is that you may not be prepared if you decide to engage in sex again. If you make a spur-of-the-moment decision to have intercourse, you might not have proper birth control or STI prevention methods lined up. If you are considering sexual activity, make sure you've thought ahead about protecting your health.

Sexual choices are personal. No one should feel pressured to engage or not engage in any sexual activity that doesn't feel right.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Arch Sex Behav: "Sociodemographic Correlates of Sexlessness Among American Adults and Associations with Self-Reported Happiness Levels: Evidence from the U.S. General Social Survey."

Demography: "The Effect of Sexual Abstinence on Females' Educational Attainment."

Journal of Health and Social Behavior: "Is Sex Good for Your Health? A National Study on Partnered Sexuality and Cardiovascular Risk among Older Men and Women."

The Science Times: "Celibacy Has Bad Effects On Your Mind And Body Health."

UC SANTA CRUZ STUDENT HEALTH OUTREACH & PROMOTION: "Abstinence."

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