Sex has a strong influence on many aspects of well-being: it is one of our most basic physiological needs. Sex feeds our identity and is a core element of our social life.
But millions of people spend at least some of their adulthood not having sex. This sexual avoidance can result in emotional distress, shame and low self-esteem – both for the individual who avoids sex and for the partner who is rejected.
Yet while our society focuses a lot on having sex, we do not know as much about not having it.
As a researcher of human behavior who is fascinated by how sex and gender interact, I have found that sexual avoidance influences multiple aspects of our well-being. I also have found that people avoid sex for many different reasons, some of which can be easily addressed.
As a researcher of human behavior who is fascinated by how sex and gender interact, Shervin Assari has found that sexual avoidance influences multiple aspects of our well-being
The more sex the merrier?
People who have more sex report higher self-esteem, life satisfaction and quality of life. In contrast, lower frequency of sex and avoiding sex are linked to psychological distress, anxiety, depression and relationship problems.
In his landmark work, Alfred Kinsey found that up to 19 percent of adults do not engage in sex. This varies by gender and marriage status, with nearly no married males going without sex for a long duration.
Other research also confirms that women more commonly avoid sex than men. In fact, up to 40 percent of women avoid sex some time in their lives. Pain during sex and low libido are big issues.
The gender differences start early. More teenage females than teenage males abstain from sex.
Women also are more likely to avoid sex because of childhood sexual abuse. Pregnant women fear miscarriage or harming the fetus – and can also refuse sex because of lack of interest and fatigue.
The most common reasons for men avoiding sex are erectile dysfunction, chronic medical conditions and lack of opportunity.
Medical problems top the list
For both men and women, however, our research and the work of others have shown that medical problems are the main reasons for sex avoidance.
For example, heart disease patients often avoid sex because they are afraid of a heart attack. Other research has shown the same for individuals with cerebrovascular