So I’m currently in the midst of a bit of a dry spell. I’ve gotta be honest, I’m more than ready for it to be over.
Dry spell (noun): an extended period of time without sex. Characterized by: increased stress levels, perpetual horniness, and mild feelings of loneliness. Causes include: a period of bad luck, a realignment in priorities, post-relationship blues, a fear of intimacy, a history of trauma, and/or the establishment of mental and emotional walls.
A “dry spell” could last for a few weeks, months, or even years, depending on your personal sexual history. Dry spells can also occur both inside and outside of relationships. A survey of 2,000 men and women found that about three in 10 had been experiencing a dry spell for almost a year.
When you’re in the midst of a dry spell, it can feel like everyone around you has active sex lives. It’s always important to be there for your friends and to listen when they tell you about the new person they’re seeing, but if you haven’t dated anyone in a while, those conversations can be tinged with an uncomfortable bit of jealousy. Of course you want them to be happy, but it’s difficult not to think, well, what’s wrong with me then? Why can’t I have that?
Part of the reason is I definitely wasn’t trying hard enough. Last semester, I prioritized school and my work at my college newspaper. That’s not to say if I had focused on finding a partner that I would have been beating away options with a stick, but I did make conscious choices to avoid romantic opportunities. I stayed in on more than a few weekends, and when I did go out, it was mainly to small house parties filled with newspaper staffers. I didn’t use dating apps seriously, and I didn’t approach any of my casual campus crushes. I felt that my schoolwork and my job were more important, and I don’t regret my decisions.
But it did get lonely. I did feel noticeably more stressed, which was in part due to a lack of sexual outlet.
When Things Don’t Go to Plan
This summer, I was determined that things would be different. I wanted to go out and meet people. Honestly, I wanted to have some good old-fashioned casual sex. But most of all, I wanted to find a connection with someone.
Of course, as I’m writing this piece in August, still in the midst of a dry spell, you all know how that turned out. For the past few months, I’ve felt a bit stagnant. I’ve gotten into a routine, with a very relaxed job and altogether too much free time. I spent a lot of the summer feeling frustrated and confused about my career direction. I was okay with existing in a comfortable bubble, free from risk. I found stability in isolating myself.
Most of the people I see at work are middle-aged or older, so I don’t generally interact with people my own age unless I’m hanging out with friends. I tried to use dating apps for a bit, but they left me feeling empty and worse than before. I wanted to meet someone naturally, but it just didn’t pan out.
What Happens to Your Body During a Dry Spell
Just because you’re not having sex doesn’t mean your vagina atrophies, but dry spells can feel embarrassing or negative in many ways. It’s not nice to feel like nobody wants to sleep with you, even if that’s not actually the case.
Dry spells can have physical repercussions, mainly caused by the absence of the benefits afforded by regular sex. People with vaginas don’t become “tighter” if they haven’t had sex for a while, but their muscles may need to readjust to allowing insertion. It could also take longer to become aroused. People with penises may experience erectile dysfunction. And as sex is a stress reliever, you may feel tense or on edge in its absence. A 2001 Georgia State University study found that people in periods of involuntary celibacy were “more likely to be angry and lonely.”
Personally, I didn’t feel angry, but I did feel lonely. And on the physical side, I’ve definitely noticed a difficulty becoming aroused, despite feeling horny more often.
The Darker Side of Dry Spells
Dry spells often don’t feel great, but some have taken the frustration they can cause to the absolute extreme. “Incels,” or “involuntary celibates,” are a part of an Internet subculture that fosters intense hatred of women. Incels desire romantic or sexual partners but are unable to find them, so they blame women for “depriving them” of sex.
The idea that women owe men sex, and that they deserve to be raped or brutalized if they do not concede, is horrifying, as are its real-life consequences. Incels rejoiced when Scott Paul Beierle shot six people, killing two women and ultimately himself, at a yoga studio in Tallahassee last November. They praised his killing of “spandex wearing yoga whores.” Beierle had a long, disturbing history of sexual harassment and assault against women. He had harbored revenge fantasies against women from a very young age, in which he punished them for all the “wrongs” they’ve committed against him.
This is not a traditional example of the impacts of a “dry spell,” but I didn’t want to ignore it. The incel ideology distorts a lack of sex into a deep, violent hatred of women. This should go without saying, but while dry spells can be frustrating, no one is ever owed sex from another person.
This extremism points to the worst extension of toxic masculinity. As I’ve mentioned, I definitely internalized the causes of my dry spell. I asked myself, What’s wrong with me? What could I be doing differently? I think many women feel the same—if someone isn’t interested in them, they blame themselves and focus on what they feel are their own flaws. But incels blame the women for their lack of attraction. And obviously not all men are incels, but I do think men externalize rejection much more than women do.
Have you ever been catcalled, and when you don’t respond, the man yells something like, “Well, you’re ugly anyway, bitch!” Have you ever been asked out and, upon refusing, been berated for “leading him on?” Have you ever danced with someone at a bar but said no to going home with them, and they aggressively ask, “Well, why did you waste my time then?”
These types of aggressive, confrontational responses can make me feel so guilty. Why did I waste his time? Why don’t I want to have sex with him? Why can’t I just feel the same way he does?
But it’s not my fault. And it’s not your responsibility to have sex with someone just because they want you to. It’s not your fault that someone else is dealing with a dry spell. And above all, you don’t owe anyone sex. If someone makes you feel guilty for saying no, that’s just confirmation you made the right choice in refusing in the first place.
Dry Spell Double Standards
A dry spell assumes you were having regular sex beforehand. But regular sex is often not considered permissible for women outside of a serious relationship. On the one hand, women are taught to measure their worth by the amount of male attention they receive. On the other hand, it’s “wrong” or “immoral” to have casual sex if you’re a woman. Women are also judged more harshly on the number of people they’ve slept with. It’s a double standard in which we demonize both sexuality and celibacy. So where does that put the woman in the midst of a dry spell?
Does a lack of attention mean she has less worth? Of course not, but that question does run through my head sometimes. Is she supposed to sleep with the first person who shows her any attention just to prove her worth to herself and to society? Also no.
Dry spells can make you feel stuck or trapped, but our society does idealize waiting for the “right person.” In some ways, we praise voluntary dry spells (for women at least; men may be teased or called less “manly” when they experience dry spells).
Wow, look at her! Look at how respectable she is. She’s waiting for her Prince Charming, the perfect gentleman to come and save her, to rescue her from this dry spell. She couldn’t possibly give her virtue to anyone but him.
But the idealization of voluntary celibacy can stigmatize women who have casual sex, as the pursuit of pleasure for pleasure’s sake is constructed to be immoral. By commending women for waiting for the “right one,” we delegitimize the desires of those just looking for a little bit of fun.
How to Cope with a Dry Spell
Some people cope with dry spells by throwing themselves into work or a regular exercise routine. Some go a different route—seeking sex wherever they can. A booty call text from an ex can mean they’re desperate to end a dry spell, and they know you’ve got what it takes to quench their proverbial thirst.
It’s clear that there are health benefits to having sex, but remember, in this case, sometimes it only takes one to tango (yes, I’m talking about masturbation again). Orgasms release a wealth of positive chemicals like dopamine and oxytocin, which can make you feel more creative. A burst of positivity-inducing endorphins is quite literally at our own fingertips. That said, while orgasms can feel great, real intimacy is a whole other ballgame.
Casual sex can be fun, but it can also take a lot of energy to play games with a partner who’s sending mixed signals. Of course everyone is owed basic respect, but putting undue energy into casual sexual partners contradicts the “casual” part and can actually create more stress.
Don’t Let A Dry Spell Get You Down
It can be difficult to cope with a dry spell if you do desire intimacy and sexuality in your life. However, I’ve come to realize that it’s important not to try to end a dry spell just for the sake of ending it. If you’re confident within yourself, then dry spells can allow you the space to accomplish amazing things without distraction. Divorcing your sex life from your feeling of self-worth is liberating and empowering. As Karley Sciortino wrote, “I think being able to transcend that—to find pleasure, confidence, and self-worth outside of a sexual context—feels undeniably useful, liberating, and maybe even necessary.”
So while I will say that I’m ready for the end of my dry spell, I won’t compromise my self-respect just for the sake of sex if the opportunity arises. I want to want sex for the connection and intimacy it can bring, not for the momentary feeling of desirability.
Of course, I don’t mean for this article to be an advertisement to all the men of the world saying “come one, come all!” But I do think there is power in admitting, as a woman, that I want a healthy sex life, not as a source of fulfillment but rather as a pleasurable, fun addition to my life.
As I said to a friend today, “It’s going to be the semester of casual sex.” And I plan to see that through.