Could Abstinence Make the Heart Grow Fonder?

Generally, the lack of sex in a relationship signals a problem. "People can rationalize it away, but when couples stop having sex it often means there is conflict," says Dr. Scott Wetzler, a psychologist at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. "Our sexuality is part of who we are and it's healthy to have sex."

However, he says, in some instances it pays to cut out the sex for awhile. Men who suffer from sexual dysfunction can actually overcome the problem if they stop having sex for awhile, Wetzler says. "If a man has sexual dysfunction due to performance anxiety and he is very focused on performance, saying that he should not have intercourse can reduce the anxiety," he explains. "It is temporary, of course."

A couple might be told to kiss, cuddle and do all of the other things that lead to arousal, but to stop short of actual intercourse, Wetzler says.

"What happens is that the man begins to realize that he is stimulated and he develops more confidence in his ability to maintain an erection," he explains. "Then he can go to the next level with more confidence."

Another reason for temporary abstinence from sex would be so that a couple could focus on other aspects of the relationship, explains Michael McGee, executive director of the World Association for Sexual Health and a board member of the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists.

"For couples who have been in unfulfilling relationships, sometimes taking a break from sex helps them focus on other parts of the relationship besides the sexual part," McGee explains. "Abstinence can give them the energy to work on other aspects of the relationship that need some attention."

Taking a timeout from sex is temporary, McGee stresses. "Most of the research shows that sexual behavior is very good for you," he says.

Other reasons people may stop with sex are:

  • Not wanting to get pregnant. While there are many birth control methods out there, this is certainly the number one failure-proof method.
  • Avoiding sexually transmitted diseases. Again, while it may seem extreme to many, abstinence from sexual intercourse certainly is a guarantee against STDs, says McGee.

While there may be reasons to temporarily stop having sex, don't think of it as a longterm health boost. Overall, having sex is beneficial to one's health. Having sex once or twice a week increases levels of the immunoglobin A, which boosts immunity.. For women, sex exercises the pelvic floor and helps prevent incontinence. And men who ejaculate regularly may be less likely to develop prostate cancer.