“I Don’t Miss It”: Celibacy Is Bringing Some Women Peace

“I Don’t Miss It”: Celibacy Is Bringing Some Women Peace

Celibacy has had a rebrand. Previously, celibacy was often intertwined with religious ideas of purity and chastity, but for women today the concept is much wider and the reasons behind it more varied. These days there’s a better awareness of asexuality and the nuances within that. Reproductive rights are increasingly under threat as abortion access has been stripped away in many parts of the world, while a number of women have faced legal punishment for undergoing abortions. The 4B movement, in which a woman forgoes sex and relationships with men as a feminist statement, is gaining traction among a new younger audience. Survivors of traumatic events are using celibacy to recover. And that’s all before we look at the benefits it’s bringing to people’s lives when they choose this way of being from an empowered place. Of the women choosing celibacy, some are trying it temporarily while others are sticking with it, seeing if it provides an answer to the modern dating scene they’re so fatigued by — whether the goal is still to meet a partner, or to shift focus towards a life lived single. 

Various studies have shown that Gen Z and millennials are having less sex than previous generations, and usually that data is presented in a negative way — as if to say, that these young people should be having more sex. Kay Lee, 36, from Los Angeles, believes this isn’t the right attitude. “Abstinence has been the best decision I have made in my adulthood,” she says. Having been abstinent for five years, she feels content continuing this way but is open to this one day changing course if she meets the right partner. Lee married her childhood sweetheart young, and “did things the ‘right’ way,” as she puts it, which meant being a “trad wife” and giving her all to her marriage. Following their divorce, she began dating again and found “the scene to be really awful.” At that point, aged 31, she decided to be celibate. “I realized I wasn’t interested in casual sex,” Lee says. “I have way too much to lose now at this point in my life and I care about my health and wellbeing too much to risk it. It’s funny because now the word abstinence doesn’t accurately describe my sentiment anymore. To abstain implies restraint and I’m not restraining myself. I have no urge to share myself with anyone in that way at all.” 

On TikTok there are 22.8k posts under the hashtag for celibacy, and there you will find videos of women talking about their journeys with it, how long they’ve been abstaining, and the positives of this lifestyle choice. Bumble’s recent billboard campaign, which included the phrase: “You know full well a vow of celibacy is not the answer”, sparked such huge outrage that they later apologized to their community. Celibacy might well be the answer, or one answer at least. Julia Fox recently revealed she’s been celibate for nearly two and a half years, citing the overturning of Roe v. Wade, explaining that “until things change” she doesn’t feel comfortable engaging in the act. Though she missed sex at first, she said that now she’s “never been better.”

Abstinence has been the best decision I have made in my adulthood.

Kay Lee, 36, los angeles

Some people plan on abstinence being a long-term state that doesn’t have to have an end date. Lee feels this way about her celibacy, glad for it. “I am happy and free in a way that I never have been before,” she says. “To me sex can be like a drug. Sex can function like an emotional bandaid and you become so attached to it, that having or not having sex impacts your quality of life.” Lee says this is a “weakness” she has felt in herself in the past, and that overcoming this has helped her mind feel “clearer.” “I gained more space to consider my own goals when I went celibate. Making progress with building my own life as a single woman has been far more fulfilling.” Like Fox, Lee used to miss sex and still gets aroused, but with time she now “doesn’t even remember” what the appeal of it used to be. 

For women who have experienced feelings of disillusionment in their sex and dating lives, a vow of celibacy might help someone recoup or figure out what needs to change in order to find greater fulfilment here. Ammanda Major, a Relate therapist specialising in relationships, says it’s unsurprising women are using celibacy as a tool for their emotional wellbeing when we consider this. “Celibacy can be a helpful option to people and support them in feeling in control. You’re taking charge of where you are, and how you want to conduct yourself; how you’d like things to be. It can be a healthy way to go about relationships,” Major says. “I think young women can often find it empowering to put their own boundaries in place, boundaries that feel comfortable to them.” 

Boundaries are something that Hannah, 33, from London, who wants to keep her surname private, thinks about a lot in the way of sex. She began having periods of celibacy — each lasting for around two months at a time — over a year ago and calls these stints “fasting,” entering them typically when she begins dating someone. “I’ve been in long-term relationships, pretty much back to back, so I’ve always had access to sexual intimacy. If I’m dating, I do tend to rush into sex. So for me, celibacy while seeing someone is significant,” she says. Of course, there is a difference between actively choosing to forego sex, and wanting to be sexually active but not meeting the right potential partners. This isn’t the same as taking a break from sex or taking it slow, it’s an “active” commitment — there are people Hannah does want to have sex with, but she’s choosing not to until she sees relationship potential. For Hannah, celibacy is a state of flux that helps her navigate her dating life, as she first began exploring it after a 10-month situationship that left her thinking it was time to “try something different.” Hannah has only told a date her current choice once, and it was met with a bad reaction. Mostly, it’s something she reflects on internally, checking in with herself as to when it feels right to start or end a period of no sex. 

Celibacy can be a helpful option to people and support them in feeling in control.

Ammanda major, sex & relationship therapist

Over the last year, this has worked well for her. “Modern dating has so much hookup culture and is often non-committal, so when I abstain, as someone that wants to build a lasting relationship, I feel liberated,” she says. “I don’t have the pressure of needing to sleep with someone to see what’s up. It feels good to have some personal boundaries about it. Knowing I can’t have sex, it makes things a lot easier for me because when it comes to the end of the date, I’ve got a real solid reason for not bringing somebody home with me — I leave it at a kiss and put some distance between me and them sexually.” With the time and energy she’s gained back, she has date nights for herself, doing things that she’d usually reserve for partners, like making a nice meal. This is important to note, as Caroline Plumer, psychotherapist at CPPC London, says: “These can be very sensitive topics for some people. There is also the assumption from some that a single person must be lonely or feel they are somehow lacking something.” Celibacy, the way young women are using it today, is about taking something back for themselves, rather than being an experience of loss.

In fact, celibacy can be healing more than anything else. Yasmin, 26, from London, who doesn’t want to share her full name, has been celibate for 10 months, after “going through some unhealthy sexual relationships and experiencing a sexually traumatic event.” At first, Yasmin wanted to avoid sex out of fear, but after a few months of therapy moved into a space in which remaining celibate became a decision rooted in prioritising her “safety, pleasure and comfort.” “In the past, I have used sex as a form of validation, or I have used it as a way to make me feel good when I felt bad,” she says, “but I would prefer to see sex as a bonus to already feeling good, rather than rely on it to fix any negative emotions I may be feeling towards other things in my life.” This period will be temporary for Yasmin, as someone who loves sex and physical intimacy, but it’s one that has been essential in helping her get what she wants out of future sexual relationships. 

When coming out of a period of celibacy, especially if you’ve been dating someone, Major says it’s wise to talk about it first so that all parties can “adjust” and expectations can be made clear. “Being honest sets the scene for a positive sexual experience or life with those involved,” Major explains. Being celibate long term might make the act of eventual sex “a bigger deal” for some people, but as Major puts it, “any decision we make about a relationship comes with emotional risk.” Sex can come with repercussions for anyone, no matter how they choose to engage with it.

Yasmin is thinking about whether to end her celibacy. She previously stopped dating women, worried they would be less interested in her with sex not an immediate possibility, but now, encouraged by friends, she feels more optimistic about the way love interests might react if she begins dating again. “I am at a place right now where I would be ready to come out of celibacy, but at the same time, I’m not going to rush into anything as I am happy with things as they are, too,” she says. “Becoming celibate has helped me to regain my self confidence and realize that I am truly in control of my own body. By not having sex, I have found myself feeling much more secure in my decisions. My only worry is that as I’ve gone so long without sex, what if I’ve forgotten how to do everything? I don’t really miss sex, because usually, the more I have it, the more I want it, so in this period of having nothing, I don’t really feel much of the desire for sex.” There is no rush, and celibacy has helped her trust that when the time is right, she’ll know.

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