Having a "dry spell," or going for an extended period of time without having sex (usually months or years) is often thought of as a negative, unwanted thing—and something to escape from ASAP. Films and TV shows which show people desperately trying to "get laid" paint a picture of a dry spell or sex drought as a frustrating experience and not something that people choose. Meanwhile, there are all kinds of scary myths surrounding what happens to your body if you don't have sex for a few months, like vaginas drying up (as some people think the phrase "dry spell" suggests) and pelvic floors disintegrating (not true, btw).
However, while having sex is obviously great, that's not to say that people want it all the time. Plenty of people choose to have a break from sex for various reasons, whether they've recently come out of a relationship or just fancy a break, or whether they've identified their own unhealthy relationship with sex or need space to focus on their mental health.
For Cassandra*, identifying her own problematic relationship with sex was a huge factor in her choosing to take a break. At age 21, she chose to have a dry spell lasting six months, though says it would have lasted longer if not for a spontaneous night-out hookup. "I realized I'd been using men for validation, and I also found sex really painful physically, so I stopped doing it and went to therapy," she explains. "The therapist told me that it all stemmed from my own insecurities and low self-esteem, which was causing me to tense up so much during sex that penetration became painful.
"Taking time out of having sex allowed me to work on my self-esteem and on loving myself first before somebody else loves me (the old cliche is true!) It also helped me to realise that the guys I'd been seeing weren't worthy of my time anyway, and I started to see my body for the temple that it is. If I'm honest, I'm still in a semi-dry spell now, and I won't pretend that my issues have completely gone away, but they are less pronounced. If I do have sex now, it's only with someone that I trust and feel comfortable with."
While we generally expect sex to be an enjoyable experience, that's not necessarily always the case, and there can be a whole host of reasons behind this. Psychosexual & relationship therapist and psychosexologist Kate Moyle says, "if sex is causing distress then it’s not a bad idea to step away from it and give yourself a chance to work out what’s going on for you."
Plus, Kate adds that having a break from sex can be a great chance to get to know yourself better sexually, whether that's through masturbation or just reconnecting with your body in other ways. "This helps improve sexual self-esteem and confidence, which is a huge part of a healthy sex life," she explains. However, if anxiety around sex is part of the problem, Kate points out that a longer dry spell can also potentially cause anxieties to build up, which she says is something to strike a balance between.
On top of emotional issues specifically related to sex, any form of mental health issue can also complicate our relationship and attitude towards sex. For Hailey*, also 21, starting counseling meant that she wanted to focus on her own recovery, away from the distraction of pursuing sexual relationships. "I'd also just got out of a situationship that felt quite unhealthy, so I didn't want to risk starting other relationships that would potentially leave me feeling even worse," she recalls.
"My dry spell lasted about four months, but I wouldn't say it was particularly difficult as my head just wasn't really focused on sex at the time. I did miss that human connection though, but I was really wary of becoming dependent on another person while I was feeling so vulnerable, so I'm glad my dry spell lasted as long as it did," she continues. For both Cassandra and Hailey, having a dry spell meant that sex actually felt better after not doing it for a while. "Reminding myself of what it's like to feel sexy and wanted was a huge confidence boost and made me way more into sex, but only because I was already in a better place mentally," Hailey explains.
While for some people, having sex after a dry spell can actually feel better than before, especially if you've built up a better relationship towards sex, approaching intimacy after a long break can still feel nerve-wracking. Kate says that feeling nervous about sex can make it difficult to become aroused, so taking it slow and having lots of lube on hand is always a good idea.
WORRYING ABOUT YOUR BODY COUNT
Societal pressure surrounding "body counts" also pushes some women into what can feel like a voluntary dry spell, but is actually influenced by a fear of judgement. We're still bombarded with ideas of the "right" number of people to have slept with, and women still report being asked their "number" on first dates. "A couple of dates in, a guy asked how many people I'd slept with. I lied and said three, because I felt like he was going to judge me for my real higher number. He proved me right and said he wouldn't have liked it if it was higher," Cassandra explains.
It's an experience shared by Sara*, a 22-year-old teacher who felt pressured into a dry spell because her 'body count' was perceived as being too high. "My friendship group at the time was made up of mostly boys and a few girls who were all dating boys in the group. The girls had mostly only slept with the person they were dating so, in comparison, I was made to feel like my body count was high (anything over two was considered high by my friends).
"Because I felt so judged, I decided to only sleep with people I really liked and could see a future with. This meant that I ended up having a dry spell for six months because I didn't meet anybody who was interested in more than just sex," Sara* explains.
In addition to pressure, Sara* also felt that a dry spell was a healthy option following a bad relationship. "I came out of that 'relationship' feeling like my emotions had really been played with. I felt hurt, and decided I wasn't going to put myself through it again, and I did feel better after some time out," she continues.
While there are plenty of different reasons for women to opt out of having sex for a while, it's not necessary to even need a reason. If you just don't fancy doing it right now, you don't need to. Plum, a 22-year-old student, explains that she chose to have a four month dry spell, simply because, "I wasn't looking for anything or anyone at the time."
"I wanted a 'boy-free zone' for a few months to just focus on myself and my own happiness," she continues. "By not having sex, I quickly realised that sex isn't everything! I noticed that what I missed was the company, snuggles and head rubs, but I didn't actually care about the sex aspect," explains Plum.
DRY SPELL MYTHS
While choosing to have a dry spell can stem from a variety of reasons, some people still unnecessarily worry about the physical effects of a period of abstinence. "It's a myth to suppose that having a 'dry spell' will cause major problems," says Dr. Clare Morrison, doctor for Medexpress, an online pharmacy service. "It shouldn't have a significant effect on your periods or a long-term effect on your libido, and there wouldn't be any changes to the vagina or uterus that wouldn't occur with normal ageing," Dr. Morrison explains.
So, close your dating apps, cancel your dates, and kick back for a relaxing dry spell—if you want to, obviously.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com/uk. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.