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The Dangers of Abstinence

March 20, 2012

We all know the dangers of having sex: diseases, pregnancy, various psychological and social repercussions. We all hear the argument for abstinence: the only guaranteed way to avoid pregnancy and STDs, something about morals ect. We never talk about the dangers of abstinence. In the past, women went to the doctor to avoid sexual deprivation and men feared brain damage from lack of sex. Today, men and women still quietly complain about the ill effects of not getting any.

Women in the late 1800 were in quite a state. They were fainting, falling over,  spasming, irritable, and causing trouble(1).  These women were suffering from hysterics, a disease easily treated with regular visits to the doctor. The doctor would administer a “pelvic massage” until the hysterical episode ceased. Okay fine, women were just antsy and sexually frustrated and the doctor would give them an orgasm. They would go home to the husbands and the housework and be fine for a few days until the need for sexual gratification became once again overwhelming. Back to the doctor they would go.Eventually, vibrators were invented to relieve the doctors of their duties. Vibrators came on the public market as a necessary household device many years before the vacuum. In the early 1900s, hysteria was discredited as an actual affliction. Women in the 1800s needed sex so badly that they went crazy. Women in the 1900 were convinced that they had no sexuality and therefore no sex drive at all. The women of the 1800 could barely go days without an orgasm. It’s a wonder that the women of the 1900 (and perhaps also the 2000s) can go weeks, months and even years!

Antique Electric Vibrator from 1906

Men also have a history of sexual deprivation. Ibn Sina wrote The Canon of Medicinein (981-1037 C.E). Some of his work is still referenced by students of medicine. In his works, he described the effects of lack of ejaculation on men. While this is no longer considered medically sound, it is fascinating to read what people of the day thought would happen if a man did not cum often enough. It reads like a horror story: “The semen sends to the heart and brain harmful and poisonous fumes. If retained long enough the seminal fluid becomes like fainting fits and epilepsy. The male sex organ may become shriveled. [Deprivation] harms the body, the heart and the eyesight. Those given habitually to abstinence become the victims of many diseases.” From what I understand from males, it kind of feels like all this could be true when they haven’t cum in a while.

Many men complain of the effects of sexual deprivation. Increased frustration, aggression, irritability, and restlessness are common complaints. Men fear “getting blue balls” or vasocongestion. When humans get aroused, blood rushes to their genitals. When that arousal is not followed by release, that blood can linger in the penis, the balls, and the vulva. This can be painful but will go away eventually. This lingering of blood is “blue balls”. It affects men and women. The longer one goes without sexual intercourse, the more sensitive they may be to arousing stimuli and thus more susceptible to blue balls. Beyond discomfort, blue balls does not cause harm like brain-damaging poisonous fumes.

People often have sex as a way to relieve stress. Whether before a job interview or an important final exam, sex helps calm the mind and relax the body. Stress can influence “headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, arthritis, depression, and anxiety”.  Sex can help directly with headaches and indirectly with other conditions as it may help to lower stress levels.

Abstaining from sex may result in atrophied pelvic muscles. By not exercising these pelvic muscles, they weaken with time. This is problematic for those who wish to give birth, the overweight, and the elderly (2).   The pelvic muscles are important in delivering a child, in supporting fat weight and in having strong healthy hips. These muscles are also important in having a healthy sex life should one break their abstinence. Pelvic muscles allow for better dexterity of the penis and vaginal walls.

For males, the lack of ejaculations increases the risk of prostate cancer. A study presented in the British Journal of Urology International shows that men in their early 20s who ejaculated 5 times or more per week were one-third less likely to get prostate cancer. Frequent ejaculation reduces risks for elderly men as well(3).  The theory is that ejaculation cleans out the prostate gland. Sex is a preventative measure against prostate cancer.

In a culture where alcohol is readily available, booze is often used as a replacement for sex. Living in a town with a large public college, I have seen this phenomenon. Recent studies show there is a scientific reason for this, When male fruit flies are deprived of sex they chose to consume more alcohol. Alcohol rewards the brain in a similar way that chemicals released by sex does in fruit flies, mice and humans (4). Alcohol is responsible for millions of deaths each year, making it a dangerous substitute for sex.

Deprived of sex, fruit flies turn to alcohol

Not having sex may make you irritable and antsy. But the damage may be grater than that. You wont be sending poisonous fumes to your brain but you may be putting yourself at risk for cancer, atrophy, and increased levels of alcohol consumption. Humans are biologically evolved to be sexually active (5). Denying this nature and starving ourselves sexually has serious consequences.

1 Maines, Rachel P. (1998). The Technology of Orgasm: “Hysteria”, the Vibrator, and Women’s Sexual Satisfaction. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-6646-4.





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