Under normal circumstances, no. It is true that sexual relations bring with them a sense of physical and mental well-being, but not having them does not cause any discomfort, so they are not actually essential. Some people are asexual; they don’t have sexual relations and abstaining has no side effects. For people who are not asexual, sex is not necessary either; that is to say, sexual relations are not a basic need on a par with breathing, eating or drinking.
Generally speaking, when we talk about sexual relations, we are referring to having sex with another person, whether of the same or the other sex. While asexuality infers a lack of interest in sex with others, it does not rule out self-sexuality through masturbation, which is another way of having sex. Normally, asexual people have no desire to be intimate with another person. They may have a partner, but they do not have sex with them.
So the answer to your question depends on what we mean by sexual relations, which can be a very broad term. If what we mean is being sexually intimate with another person, the answer is that it is not necessary for our health.
In your email, you explain that you are 23, that you have never had sexual relations and that for some time you have been getting palpitations; you feel uncomfortable and you suspect that it may be due to the sexual arousal caused by feeling attracted to other people, either because until now you had never felt this way or did not pay attention to the signs. This sexual desire provokes physical responses such as increase of tension and temperature or acceleration of the pulse. All these manifestations are physiologically normal.
In the study of human sexual development, the stage between approximately three and five years of age is called the phallic phase, where erotic interest shifts to the genital region. Boys and girls touch their penis or vulva because it gives them pleasure and, not feeling any sense of modesty, they do it naturally. On the other hand, during puberty, teenagers learn to focus their sexual impulses on sexual relations in general and coitus in particular; they already manifest adult sexogenital maturity and are aware of the concept of masturbation. Human beings have the capacity to masturbate and touch themselves for pleasure and well-being.
To summarize, I would say that sexual relations are not necessary but, when there is consent and desire, they are beneficial both physically and mentally. Sex is a source of physical and mental pleasure, and that pleasure has many beneficial consequences, both organic and psychological.
An undesired lack of sexual relations could have negative consequences if, for example, a person felt like having sex and could not find a partner to have it with. That could produce frustration. However, the frustration would be like that triggered by anything else you want and don’t get.
Sexual desire has a physical response; if after the desire you do not have sex, you have to repress that response without having satisfied it, which can also occur because the person has some kind of educational or religious reasons for abstaining.
Juana Mª Vázquez Lara is a nurse and midwife, with PhD in Physical Activity and Health.
Question sent by email by P.M.