January is almost at a close, and the desire to reform oneself wanes with the warmth of winter sun. Not usually one for New Year’s resolutions, I broke tradition in 2016 by taking a personal vow—of celibacy. By the end of the following week I had already failed, but was able to reset and keep this promise until July.
To discredit myself, in having a choice about my sex life I am speaking from a position of sexual privilege, engaging in normalized sex acts that are hetero, cisgender, mostly vanilla (though not generally with white people), able-bodied, monogamous, and pleasurable. Not to mention even having the opportunity and ability to have a choice (and not to dismiss rape culture or all the other atrocities occurring in the world either). In discussing this aspect of my personhood, I do not mean to brag or belittle, only to untangle its role in relationship to myself and my interactions with others in order to become a better human.
Those who are sexually privileged probably wonder why I would willingly abstain from the thing that has been compared to music and prayer (make of that what you will), and to me is essentially chocolate. Though with one I burn more calories, I could partake in both all day, every day, and if I don’t get a taste for days/weeks/months, I grow cold and cranky. As with chocolate, I tend to have an unhealthy relationship with sex—overindulging, regretting, refraining, then lapsing. I wouldn’t necessarily identify as an addict, neither nymphomaniac nor chocoholic, but my need for serotonin satiation has impaired my judgment on several occasions.
About to Shock Some Ppl: A Recent History (Or, Things I Don’t Tell My Family—Look Away Now!)
A handful of years ago, after a breakup destroyed my ability to feel feels (I was so naïve at the time), I dabbled in the clubbing scene. I had had only two partners (not the dancing kind) previously, but during a brief period between ages 21 and 22 hooking up—a byproduct of the clubbing scene—was a new kind of fun that ushered me into the world of one-night stands. During that time I had stupid sex with stupid people. I would thrust myself in questionable situations for a hedonistic high, though nothing so extreme or dangerous as in Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac series.
My mantra used to be: “Dumb guys are good for fucking, smart guys are good for dating.” So I dated the smart ones and fucked the dumb ones. And the sex was exhilarating and reckless—until I became disgusted with myself. My body grew bruised, used, until I felt nothing. I used them as much as they used me—isn’t that what hookup culture is all about? The only app meetup I’d had ended in a trip to CVS for anti-fungal ointment and hemorrhoid wipes. Sex was a game, a passionless pursuit and quest for a “zipless fuck.” It was a quick chemical fix to feel good, yet I carelessly ignored the repercussions—especially those times certain pieces of myself were trespassed and trampled like neighborhood turf.
How lucky nothing worse had happened.
In 2015, the year I disrespected my body most, I had three partners—a guy who I was dating at the time, the above stranger, and a guy friend with benefits. In 2015, sex was dissatisfying and dysphoric. Sometimes I didn’t feel anything physically—no friction, no dopamine—instead, I mostly felt numb after. I would paddle the pink canoe just to feel something until everything hurt.
Partner 1: I liked him enough at the time and I was his “girl” and gringa hermosa; however, our relationship was doomed to fail. We weren’t carnally compatible at all (and his work visa was going to expire), so we were both content to move on. Sometimes I would regret sleeping with him, wish I could separate myself from my body and erase the embarrassment of our awkward anatomies slamming together.
Partner 3: My body betrayed me. I needed a place to crash in the expensive city where my friend lives. We’ve slept together several times (I even loved him as more than a friend at one point), but no one makes me feel more skeeved out and self-conscious than he does. He’s honestly the last person I’d sleep with, but I guess that’s what happens when I share a bed with raging hormones. We didn’t touch each other as we nodded off, but I knew he was ready to go. He generously asked me if I wanted to too, and, half-asleep, my body responded. I didn’t want to. I didn’t want it—especially not with him—but he and this shell of sensuality won. I lay there unmoving, defeated, waiting for it to be over so I could sleep. Then when he finished (I didn’t), I went to the bathroom and glared at the horny hijacker in the mirror. How could my body do this to me? How could I do this to myself? (Perhaps I was just experiencing post-coital tristesse, or feelings of depression after getting it on/in?)
There were also those whose numbers I’d swapped with the intention of swapping other things: “nice guy” on bus, baseball guy on train, security details guy on campus. At my worst I’m Mr. Hyde, a mal intent sexual opportunist (only with their consent, of course) collecting contacts as a body count.
2016 was to be a year of respite.
But it didn’t last. On January 2nd, the bootycall at home (a guy I dated in college) beckoned and I answered. I answered again in July, breaking seven months of sexlessness, but I didn’t care. I always enjoyed sleeping with him; ours was the sex that seemed infinite. He was the first person who worshiped my body and taught me to too. And we fit together so well. I wondered why I stuck to this thing. Sex—when I’m not just an object to my partner or me—is magic. I revised the resolution, refined it to getting naked only with someone I liked as a human being.
Easier said than done. Questioning my motivations and still ignoring my best interests, I almost broke it again with a 30-something dudebro I met clubbing (return of the itch for idiotic boy toys). We Snapchatted for a week, and I’m glad I didn’t ever meet up with him, especially since I didn’t know him at all.
But I did end up briefly becoming bedfellows with an unexpected someone the following month. Coitus was confusing and accidental at first, but with him I never felt disgusted with myself. Our Netflix and chill sessions weren’t code for fucking—but when we did, he was generous, gentle, and grateful. Even though his bed was lofted and a bitch to climb onto, even though he never used protection (which once necessitated a morning after purchase of off-brand Plan B), even though he’s 20 years my senior, and even though I got a UTI, he was more than sex to me. I was ready to give more than my body again. Actually caring about this person as a person, genitals aside, enabled me to break out of this damning sexual cycle.
Sex—both the pursuit and the consummation—had been more important to me than developing an emotional attachment with these poor sods. There’s nothing wrong with casual sex if it’s consensual, but indulging my id at the expense of myself and others had made me an awful person. Sex isn’t an anti-romantic game for me anymore. Perhaps it’s because I’m on the cusp of 25, and have relinquished those wild nights (as Emily Dickinson can attest to) in favor of safety and self-fulfillment. This stint of celibacy provided a transformative space for retroactive introspection, particularly of the auto-erotic kind.
What being celibate taught me about myself:
- Sex shouldn’t influence or determine my self-worth.
I’d do it all for the nookie, like riding in cars with boys I don’t know, riding on boys in cars. I engaged in these hazardous behaviors partly because the chase—not even the sex itself—made me feel wanted and desired. That someone was attracted to me was even more euphoric than orgasm itself. In The Sex Myth, journalist Rachel Hills explores the values Western culture attaches to sex, positing misperceptions or myths that we create and perpetuate. Like one of her interview subjects, “[Not having sex] made me feel like I was worthless.” I realize I’m not alone, falsely believing that my fundamental worth as a person or a partner is a product of my attractiveness. Sex shouldn’t be “a matter of proving something to yourself and to others.”
- Celibacy and sexlessness are as valid experiences as a sexual relationship is. Or eating chocolate is.
Sex isn’t the most you can have that isn’t laughing (a pedophile said that anyway). To believe so completely discredits the lived lives of asexual and celibate folx. Putting sex on a pedestal alienates those who don’t or can’t have it. This piece in Thought Catalog captures the feelings of abnormality, insecurity, and loneliness some asexual people feel about dating.
Society shouldn’t stigmatize those who find pleasure in life outside of spooning and forking. Can’t we feel valued and fulfilled through reading a favorite book, participating in social activism, eating chocolate? One woman recounted her 12-year period of celibacy as one of her “happiest. It was so important to me, and so misunderstood by society. I want people to understand that being celibate can be as nourishing and fulfilling as being in a relationship.” Not having sex (whatever variety of it) doesn’t make one deficient or inferior—and having more of it doesn’t make one superior.
- Not everyone is doing the do. Not everyone is doing the do in the ways you expect.
I thought the people I know constantly had sex. A female friend, smart, funny, absolutely beautiful, confessed she hadn’t slept with anyone for six months. I was shocked.
Another sex myth is that everyone is doing it all the time, as we’re led to believe by the media. But we’re not rabbits in heat. College, for example, isn’t always the holy grail of alcoholic orgies and girls gone wild it’s cracked up to be (at least it wasn’t in my social circles). In 2015 (also the year that catapulted my sexual sabbatical), New York Magazine polled 700 college students and found that 39% were virgins at the time of the survey. Additionally, Millennials (aka “the hookup generation”), are surprisingly having less sex than Gen Xers—with less partners and more likely to “abstain in their twenties altogether.”
Not everyone has casual sex either. I was also surprised that some of my friends (particularly those in long-term relationships or marriages) have only ever had one or two or three partners. I’m only competing with myself, and shouldn’t hold me or anyone else to a culturally fabricated standard.
Gimme Gimme More
Hills ends The Sex Myth with a reaffirming revelation: “You are not your sex life.” To believe that your “value and identity lay in something more than how often [you have] sex, how many people [you have] slept with, or how adventurous (or not) [you are] between the sheets” does a great disservice not only to yourself but to others. Theoretically my feminism doesn’t view people as sex objects, yet in actuality I was the one objectifying while being objectified. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Love thy neighbor as thyself.
Closed for business coupled with the dreaded Valentine’s Day, I feel more alone than usual, but will not allow Cupid’s bow to fuck up my recent sexless streak. I will be more considerate of myself, caring toward my mental and physical health. Id is now did.
No more perpetuating sex myths. No more hookups. No more walks of shame.
Does sex influence your self-perception? Do you have any stories of or lessons from celibacy?