...but, on the contrary, it has allowed me to live my life with more vivacity and clarity
It wasn’t until I decided to hop back on the dating wagon that I realised that self-care means doing what feels right to me. If that means dating, then I’ll date. If that means not dating, then I won’t. Even if that means giving up the one thing that often defines the whole experience, sex, and instead embracing celibacy...?! That’s where I’m at right now and I’m happily terrified, especially during a pandemic where loneliness became a real challenge. Yet I’m slowly navigating my life around celibacy and apparently, it’s not a death sentence after all. In fact, it has saved me from a lot of heartache and, on the contrary, has allowed me to live my life with more vivacity and clarity.
As an individual with sole agency over their body, I’ve decided that sex is something I want to focus less on in my pursuit of life and meaningful love
Celibacy has many definitions but usually refers to a person who is foregoing sex or abstaining from sexual activity. More literal meanings include making a vow to stay unwed or single for purity and God . For myself, as an individual with sole agency over their body, I’ve decided that sex is something I want to focus less on in my pursuit of life and meaningful love.
The C-word has strong connotations in the theoretical sense that people tend to associate it with strict religious beliefs and, to some extent, with anyone that lacks a certain verve for life. However, these ideas have been transcribed repeatedly, steeped in a certain layer of religious dogma that makes the whole thing seem, well… scary or complicated. If you are giving up sex for reasons that cater to your own self-fulfillment then do it! If that means not having meaningless sex with people, then that’s simply awesome!
It turns out that people often choose the celibate route either because sex itself isn’t something they are interested in, or because they don’t find sex pleasurable due to health reasons. An article I read in the Guardian describes a woman who, in 2005, stopped having sex due to a hysterectomy . But although this seems involuntary, this idea of focusing on just ourselves, be it through celibacy or choosing to remain out of a relationship, is not such a new concept. A 2016 study in Canada confirms the growing trend of single people between the ages of 22-35 delaying marriage because they are prioritising their careers more than ever. This research also showed, specifically, that the share of unmarried men who hadn’t had sex in a period of one year increased by 4% compared to the same study done in 2005 . These statistics essentially suggest that celibacy is growing as a lifestyle choice, either for the short-term or long-term.
Personally, being celibate has helped me listen to my inner voice, the guiding light that I’ve often ignored, letting my self-esteem wain in the process. I’ve found that I can dance more, engrossing myself in music, and finding new meanings in cliché love songs. What was once a bitter-sweet romance anthem has now become a poetic guiding light. For example, the lyrics in the Tina Turner song 'What’s Love Got to Do with It' now act as a reminder that it's our life experiences that allow us to question and reflect on ourselves more. This has helped me challenge my approach to relationships and their transitions from beginning to end.
I’m a woman who likes to dress up and be admired. However, once men get more interested and I reveal my boundaries they either become aggressive for sex or afraid
Thankfully, my dating journey has driven away the ‘dead weight’ of people who projected their insecurities onto me due to their emotional unavailability. My celibacy has granted me time to process what I truly need in a relationship and what sex means to me and my future partner. I now understand that I need someone who is intellectual and emotionally available for me and who isn’t stuck in false beliefs of what a relationship is. For example, I’m tired of going out on dinner dates because they rarely produce memories where I’ve made amazing connections. Instead the nurturing of interests or hobbies could be more enjoyable (the food can come later!). Changing my life in this ‘radical’ way is very intimidating because I’m a woman who likes to dress up and be admired, however, once men get more interested and I reveal my boundaries they either become aggressive for sex or afraid. Once more, I’m learning that this is not a reflection of me but the people who aren’t worthy of my time.
With the onslaught of a pandemic changing everyone’s romance plans, dating became a rocky playing field for me. As a lonely celibate singleton, I saw the global restrictions from physical contact as a prime opportunity to seek out more serious matches and decided to reach for online dating apps and sites. After matching with someone who I thought I had a deep connection with, the mere mention of my celibacy sadly jilted our supposed bond from its newly planted roots. Even after explaining that, once I felt comfortable enough within a relationship, I'd lift the veil of celibacy, the damage had already been done. I don’t know what was more confusing; the fact that I missed out on a potentially great partner. Or the reality that, with self-isolation being an obvious priority, focusing on other aspects of a relationship such as communication and getting to know one another would be a problem at all. Pre-celibate me would have obsessed over this moment and, after the rejection, been the one chasing aimlessly, reminiscent of a coyote and roadrunner cartoon . And even though this was a disappointing moment for me, amidst the emotional thrill of it all I reminded myself to enjoy the moment and understand that if it’s meant to be it will be.
I’m fully comfortable discussing this with my close friends who are the most supportive of my journey... helping to create an environment where I feel safe to discuss matters of the carnal spirit
Then there’s the story of my last date who, after I revealed to him my choice to remain celibate, told me that “sex is like food” (ironically over a candle-lit dinner!). He was Italian and from a culture where, unsurprisingly, romance is synonymous with food and all ‘the feels’. I thought, golly-gee-whiz, he might have a point! At this point I realised how arousing an intellectual mind could be as our deep conversations revealed good chemistry. This is what intrigued me about him. We had similar mindsets regarding marriage and bonded over our funny childhood stories. It was surprising that despite our lengthy text conversations where I made it clear that I was wanting to just be friends with him first, that he proceeded to invite me to his house the night we had dinner. There might have been some miscommunication there (how do you say “I’m celibate” in Italian?) and I politely declined his invitation. We sadly have not spoken since.
I was very open with my first boyfriend who was understanding and although we weren’t compatible, I took his patience as a sort of silver lining
I’m generally open to sharing my celibacy stance with people but only if they ask. It can be draining having to explain why I made a decision to not have sex. However, I’m fully comfortable discussing this with my close friends who are the most supportive of my journey. Some have openly voiced that celibacy is not for them but will listen respectfully to my viewpoints and give the juiciest advice. There are also some close to me who haven’t found the right person to be intimate with so are involuntarily celibate. And then there’s the friend choosing to wait until marriage to have sex. Overall, I’m happy that I have this balance of perspectives helping to create an environment where I feel safe to discuss matters of the carnal spirit.
I was very open with my first boyfriend who was understanding and although we weren’t compatible, I took his patience as a sort of silver lining. But every situation is different which makes it tricky when addressing the topic of sex. On some level, telling someone after a few dates can be very intense. Some people get scared if you bring it up early on and will literally interpret this news as no intimacy ever (even after explaining I plan to have sex when I'm ready). I think it’s also important to gauge the person you are getting to know: how patient they are and whether the chemistry is strong enough to move forward. Usually, if I feel a sexual tension (in a good way), I’ll let them know that I’m comfortable with hand-holding and maybe kissing after a few dates. If they don’t bring up sex, then even better as things tend to unfold more naturally that way. I’d still recommend having the discussion sooner rather than later because, to be honest, if choosing not to have sex is such an intense thing for a potential partner to understand early on then maybe they aren’t the right fit for you down the road.
I feel empowered knowing I can find a healthy way to give and receive love, and that intimacy of any kind will be earned in my relationships
There was another guy I dated who seemed fine with me being celibate and magically, he confessed that he could tell I was celibate, something about my aura apparently. Although his communication became lackluster, and he ran away after some time, this gave me hope that there is someone out there that sees me, and who is actively looking for me - running towards me perhaps. I think that helps curb those lonely spirals.
I’ve now realised that the universe wasn’t conspiring against me but instead was leading me to who I was to become, coming to terms with what I want when dating. As the conversation around sex is changing people are questioning old habits and ways of thinking more and more. However, the permanence of online dating apps has muddied the waters with assumptions that people using them are only looking for sex and are therefore disposable as partners . If anything, this past year has taught us to slow down and have important conversations, especially surrounding social media, body image, and the trickle-down effect this has had on dating and sex . More profoundly is how we are denouncing gender roles surrounding sexlessness with more men appearing to jump on the celibacy train which I see as a positive. This gives me the confidence that the next person I date might also be celibate and therefore, very much okay with my decision. I’ve certainly not got ‘I’m celibate’ tattooed on my forehead (yet) but if the conversation is brought up then, depending on how I’m feeling, I’ll talk with you about it.
Ultimately, I feel empowered knowing I can find a healthy way to give and receive love, and that intimacy of any kind will be earned in my relationships. That’s also how I’m viewing dating now: If it happens it happens, but for the right reasons.
Written by SugarQube
Portraits by Winston Duke & SugarQube