By Anthea Levi
Sex can reduce stress, make it easier to sleep, and improve heart health (all that bumping and grinding counts as a workout, you know). Considering these amazing benefits, what really happens to your body when you stop having it—whether you're taking a timeout on purpose or are going through an involuntary dry spell?
Since lots of rumors abound, we decided to set the record straight. We asked Christine Greves, MD, ob-gyn at the center for obstetrics and gynecology at Orlando Health in Florida, for her take on what can—and can't—happen to your vagina during a booty break.
RELATED: 13 Reasons to Have More Sex
No, your vagina won’t close up
It's an urban myth that your vagina will close off, seal up, or grow a new hymen if it doesn't see action for a while. It comes down to hormones: Even when you're not having sex, your body still produces estrogen and progesterone, and these hormones keep the vaginal walls open and flexible, says Dr. Greves. Just like lotion soothes dry hands in the winter, estrogen helps moisten and maintain the vaginal rugae, or the folds that allow the vaginal expand during sex.
Still, it is possible for the vaginal opening to decrease in size, but this occurs after menopause and following a long sex pause. “Over time, postmenopausal women who have a diminished supply of estrogen might notice the diameter of the vagina becoming smaller if they aren’t engaging in intercourse,” explains Dr. Greves. “But in my clinical experience, this usually only happens after about five [sex-free] years or more."
It could get drier down there
Even when you're not aroused, your vaginal walls are moist and supple. But Dr. Greves says that if you haven’t gotten it on lately, your vagina might be on the drier side as you go about your regular routine. Dryness on its own isn't necessarily a problem, but it can feel uncomfortable.
The solution? Making time for masturbation. Dryness is less likely to occur if you masturbate regularly, since the stimulation can lead to increased moisture. It's another reason to add "me time" to your to-do list.
WATCH THE VIDEO: 6 Times Celebrities Got Real About Masturbation
Your sex drive may take a hit
According to Dr. Greves, it's possible that your libido will go down a bit during a period of abstinence. This might explain why: If you're not getting it on, you're probably not feeling as sexual as you do when you're doing it on the regular, and that can have an effect on your sex drive. The good news is, once you're back in action, you'll likely start feeling more sexy, prompting your libido to rise.
It might take longer to get aroused
After a sex break, “it may take more time for the vagina to get sufficiently lubricated or for the tissues to fully relax,” says Dr. Greves. When you have regular sex, your vagina goes into arousal mode automatically. Take a long pause, however, and it needs more of a warmup before getting back in the swing of things.
Consider this a great excuse to take things slow and enjoy lots of touching and kissing when you start having sex again. Increasing the amount of time you spend on foreplay can help vaginal tissues relax and produce lubrication, says Dr. Greves. Make sure you have some store-bought lube on hand too, or use a lubricated condom.
“The Truth About What Happens to Your Vagina When You Haven't Had Sex in a While” originally appeared on Health.com
More from Health.com: