Let’s Talk About Sex: Celibacy and Self-Love

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.

Life Lessons

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:

  1. 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.”

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

Just me.

***

Does sex influence your self-perception? Do you have any stories of or lessons from celibacy?

Other Stories
Kit Naylor’s “15 years without knocking boots”
Precious Princess’s “My Self-Imposed Sexual Sabbatical” 

“When they take of their glasses and put down their hair”: Defogging the Glasses Girl Stereotypes

Part 2

Things He Says:

Are you the geeky type or the sexy librarian type?

Thing She Says:

This post further explores the other side of the glasses coin, about the geeky girl and sexy librarian tropes. To read Part 1 about being a babe behind glasses, click here.

Geeky Girl or Sexy Librarian

Also because I wear glasses 24/7 (except for when I’m sleeping), I’ve been referred to as both a geek and a sexy librarian. When asked if I’m basically a sexy glasses-wearer or a nerdy/geeky glasses-wearer, I want to say that I’m just a glasses-wearer—no skirts or gaming controllers included. These two roles are seen as contradictory rather than complementary. When guys ask me this, that makes me think that I must be one or the other.

What do these categories mean?

These opposing depictions of females wearing glasses have different connotations. Is one depiction more attractive than the other? In my experience, most men want sexy librarians and make a sour face when it comes to geeky girls. (Maybe I’m just thinking about my high school band days…who wants to be with that geeky band girl? Ew.)

(Freaks and) Geeks

What do they even mean by “geeky girl”? The people’s dictionary distinguishes nerd from geek:

  • Nerd: smart; lacks social skills; nice but reclusive
  • Geek: not necessarily smart; more social with fellow geeks; into video games, comic books, fandoms (like Doctor Who)

Here, geek has more of a positive meaning, yet the geeky girls who play video games are often assaulted online just because they’re women.

In 2014, a movement called #GamerGate revealed the widespread harassment women gamers face online. Angry misogynists took to the Internet and gaming platforms to vent their hostility toward these geeky girls, sending them rape and death threats. Feminist Frequency founder and media critic Anita Sarkeesian created a YouTube series on gaming to point out the sexist representations of women characters in video games. She calls GamerGate “a scary, violent, abusive, temper tantrum” that’s “an attack and an assault on women in the gaming industry. Its purpose is to silence women, and if they can’t, they attempt to discredit them.” Not all male gamers are intent on terrorizing women, but GamerGate brings to light the rampant sexism in video game culture.

Men are also victims of this geek/nerd distinction. On TV and in films, a nerdy man is unattractive and lives in his mother’s basement. A geeky man is psyched about Game of Thrones and Minecraft. It goes both ways with men and women (and eHarmony and Cosmopolitan want you to date a nerdy guy). So is being referred to as a geek or nerd a bad thing?

Sexy Librarian

The other glasses-wearing gender stereotype I’ve encountered is the sexy librarian.

Close your eyes. Imagine a sexy librarian. Did you picture a female with her hair in a bun, wearing glasses, an open blouse, a skirt, and/or knee-high socks? Don’t worry, so did I. The same holds for a secretary and school girl (like “Hit Me Baby One More Time”—with glasses).

Librarians have clearly become a sexual fetish in popular imagination. Is the librarian an extension of the nerdy bookworm, who is defined as being quiet, shy, and vulnerable (and goes back to the whole geeky/nerdy gender stereotype)? (Hey, even eHarmony wants you to also date a librarian…)

When I search “librarian with glasses,” articles about how to wear the sexy librarian look instantly emerge. Why does even Google automatically connect librarian with sexiness? And why is the librarian sexy in the first place? Is it because she’s stern, closed, and buttoned-up? Is it because she’s surrounded by a wealth of books? Maybe it’s because librarians are most often depicted as prudish and repressed on the surface with her persistent “Shhh”s and scowls, but really closet an untamed sexuality beneath her strict façade. Maybe it’s because librarians are seen as a source of knowledge that must be acquired through conquest. As a book is opened to reveal information, the librarian must also be opened to access the information between her legs—the male fantasy.

I have a fantasy, he says, of a librarian. Aimee Bender, “Quiet Please”

The sexy librarian is an almost an exclusively female stereotype, despite the Men of the Stacks taking on a steamy librarian version of the hot firemen calendar. The American Library Association reveals this gender discrepancy, illustrating that there are unsurprisingly more female librarians and library directors—both of whom earn a lower salary than their male counterparts. The closest male equivalent to the sexy librarian I can think of is the hot English professor—intellectual af, reads your favorite books, probably has tattoos, and often has some emotional baggage (think Ezra Fitz).

So back to the question. Are you the geeky type or the sexy librarian type?

When I search “babe with glasses,” Google gives me all porn sites. “Big breasted cute girl with glasses fucked and jizzed in,” for example. Women who wear glasses (whether considered attractive or not) are mostly thought of in sexual terms, as the beautiful swan and sexy librarian stereotypes suggest. Like it or not, we’ve become Halloween and frat party costumes (not to mention the CEOs and office hoes theme), while men wearing glasses have become the Clark Kents here to save the day.

Why are we put into these categories?

There isn’t anything wrong with a little bidirectional flirtation, but the danger lies in the loaded meanings these roles carry. Too many times I’ve been called a “sexy librarian,” just because my vision isn’t 2020 and I’m wearing something on my face. Just because I use glasses to see doesn’t mean I want to be told I look smarter, sexier, uglier, geekier. I don’t want my eyewear and gender to make me look like something I’m not. Mia Thermopolis wouldn’t put up with this sexist stereotyping, and neither do I.

Helpful resources:
Book Riot
Nerd Girls
XO Jane
The Geeky Girls
Girls With Glasses

“When they take of their glasses and put down their hair”: Defogging the Glasses Girl Stereotypes

Part 1

Things He Says:

Are you the geeky type or the sexy librarian type?

Thing She Says:

I wear glasses. Not for fashion. Not to attract suitors.

I’ve worn glasses my whole life because I have strabismus and poor vision, but often this necessary accessory elicits unwanted comments. In elementary school, kids who wear glasses are called “four eyes.” In middle school, they’re called “nerds.” But when they become adults, an unusual shift occurs, and they’re transformed. For those of us who remain bespectacled in our adulthood, former insults turn into pickup lines and wearing glasses often becomes a seductive aesthetic.

When men flirt with me, they comment on my eyewear. It’s something I don’t ask for but something I’ve come to expect. For the sole fact that I wear glasses, I will be asked one of two things (or even both):

  1. Can I see you without your glasses? or
  2. Are you the geeky type or the sexy librarian type?

While the first question kindly asks for my consent (and my answer is always “no”) and the second seems like harmless teasing, both illustrate in different ways what men think about women—as beautiful swans hiding under glasses, sexy scholars, or geeky girls.

These perceptions pose problems, and we’ll unwrap their meanings here.

Ugly Duckling to Beautiful Swan

Mia Thermopolis plucked her brows, straightened her untamed locks, and swapped her glasses for a tiara in order to become the Princess of Genovia. Laney Boggs lost her artsy frames for Freddie Prinze’s prom queen antics. For teenagers in unforgiving high schools, wearing glasses royally sucked. But put on some makeup, wear less clothing, and Ms. Unpopular becomes the “It Girl” on campus. Everyone realizes she was beautiful all along.

But this isn’t just fiction. I think about these strong heroines when men are curious what I look like without glasses. Without knowing it, they’re reaffirming the narrative of ugly duckling to beautiful swan—that behind every frumpy girl in glasses is a bombshell of a babe. From a woman’s perspective, this makes me feel that I’m ugly or insufficient as I am and need to change (remember that reality series about women who underwent plastic surgery to become beautiful?). I don’t hide behind glasses because I secretly want a man to make me beautiful. I wear glasses so I can see!

Women aren’t the only victims of this ugly duckling narrative, as the 2005 reality show Beauty and the Geek, produced by Ashton Kutcher, capitalized off of the transformation of glasses-wearing men. This sex swap illustrates that women aren’t the only ones subject to others’ superficial perceptions based on what they wear on their face. However, it’s more frequent that movies and shows—like Ugly Betty, The Princess Diaries, and She’s All That—in pop culture ingrain this harmful idea into our minds that a woman who wears glasses is more beautiful without her lenses.

A guy once told me he liked my faded blue-silver frames. But when we were fogging up the windows of his car he told me to take off my “stupid fucking glasses.” I don’t ask a man on a first date what he looks like without glasses. Because I wear glasses, I expect the same respect.

 

Read about the other gender stereotypes revolving around glasses here.

Things He Says: A Womanifesto for Thing She Says

What are things he says?

Things He Says are universal, inescapable, all at once here and everywhere—before a young girl becomes a woman and throughout her lifetime. They aren’t only the hey babys or oye mamis shouted across sidewalks. They’re the thoughtless remarks that might sound innocent on the surface, but veil a deeper hostility toward women (a.k.a. misogyny). When a woman decides what to with her body—shave or not shave, take birth control or not, have sex with whomever she wants—she doesn’t ask for a man’s commentary. She doesn’t ask for a man to tell her she’s pretty/ugly, smart/dumb, fat/thin, or anything in between. These things he says make her feel unsafe, dirty, ashamed: “After days, weeks, months, and years of being objectified, shamed, policed, and stereotyped, women grow to feel inferior…”

Would a woman tell a man to shave his legs? No. Would she call him a slut for sleeping around? No. Then why do men say these things to women? It’s these remarks that reflect and perpetuate a patriarchal system in which men hold power and dominate while women are objectified and powerless. Thing She Says aims to make men aware of the things they say and their loaded meanings.

You’re not the things he says. You’re not alone. A collection of images and words said to women, Things He Says aims to create a safe space for women looking for a supportive community with whom to share their things he says.

Why do we question things he says? (Or, Why do we need feminism?)

Violence against women isn’t only physical; it’s the unchecked jabs, joking jeers, and off-hand comments that sear and scar. Unapologetic and uncensored, this blog interrogates the threatening compliments and criticisms that illustrate misogyny:

  • Street harassment: By the age of 14, 67% of girls have already been a victim of street harassment, with that number rising to 85% in the span of three years of her life (by the age of 17).
  • Slut-shaming: In 2010, two teen girls, Hope Witsell and Phoebe Prince, committed suicide after being relentlessly called “sluts” in their high schools. In 2012 and 2013, Rehtaeh Parsons (age 17), Audrie Pott (15), and Felicia Garcia (15) were shamed by peers and committed suicide. Their stories are mirrored in the countless girls and women victimized by the mentality that “Boys will be boys, and girls will be sluts,” regardless of their sexual activity.
  • Policing: Telling women what to do, say, wear, and think are all forms of policing, of asserting dominance over a powerless individual. When women resist this policing, we are regarded as bitchy, aggressive, unfeminine.
  • Gender stereotypes: The belief that women are supposed to be docile, passive, feminine, submissive, prude. If we’re not, we’re considered bitches, sluts, butch. Cultural archetypes (like Batman’s Harley Quinn, who embodies the seductive, murderous femme fatale archetype) enforce these stereotypes.
  • Body image: Women are surrounded by media that dictate what’s beautiful and attractive; young, thin, airbrushed models without body hair are plastered on billboards and magazines left and right. These ideals teach women how they should look—often to the detriment of their mental and physical health—and train men to desire certain physical attributes in a woman.

No matter if she’s wearing pants, wearing shorts, wearing nothing, he says the thing. On a plane and on a train, over here and over there, he says the thing. No, we do not want these things he says—here or there or anywhere.

Disclaimer: While the same issues also affect men, this blog specifically targets the things men say to women as expressions of systemic sexism.