The first time I decided to stop having sex was the summer of 2013.
I was 22 and had just begun working through recent body-related traumas with my new therapist. I knew I had been engaging in reckless sexual behavior for over a year, and this was the first time I had really called myself out on it. I had let myself believe I was simply engaging in sex positivity, bodily autonomy, and unlearning double standards. Though all of those are real and necessary and things I wholeheartedly believe in, those were not the real reasons I was having sex.
I had gotten to a point with sex where it had begun to feel like an insatiable compulsion. I couldn’t go out drinking and not go home with someone without the explicit end goal being sex, a one-night stand. And if I didn’t find someone to sleep with, I felt like a failure — I had not made myself desirable enough. Coming home empty-handed, I would go through what felt like emotional or psychological withdrawal.
I decided to make a pact of celibacy with myself. My goal was to be celibate for five months. I ended up being celibate for ten.
Of course, celibacy is not for everybody. There is no shame in having sex, just as there’s no shame in abstaining from it. Having said that, here are five lessons I learned from practicing celibacy.
- I Am More Than My Body
When I stopped worrying about how to get men interested in my body, I was able and ready to look inward. I found things about myself that I both admire and am ashamed of. On one hand, I am smart, funny, perceptive, witty, powerful, and kind. I can also be blunt, vindictive, passive aggressive, and aloof. I saw my whole self. Seeing oneself can be difficult and can hurt, but it also enables us to see how we might use sex as a distraction from self-reflection.
More Radical Reads: Worthy of Pleasure: Sex Beyond Consent
- My Body is Not a Consolation Prize
It has taken me years to believe this, but my body is not the second-best to anything. It is not the thing I gift someone when I feel I have shortchanged them in some other respect. I had long internalized a belief that my depression and anxiety would always come between me and love.
- I Can Give My Body What It Needs
Choosing to not have sex didn’t put my libido on standby. That would make celibacy so much easier, though I suppose that would defeat the purpose. Celibacy, for me, is supposed to be difficult; it’s supposed to be a challenge. That way, every day I choose to abstain feels all the more like a choice.
But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss sex, touch, or orgasms. Thankfully, you don’t need a partner for that. Without someone else to depend on for pleasure, I am tasked with finding new soft spots, sensitive nerves, and enduring flesh — a fun adventure. Regardless of celibacy, it’s important to learn one’s own body and become well-versed in self-pleasuring.
More Radical Reads: Creating a Culture of Consent
- There Are So Many Other Things I Want to Do
One of the most rewarding consequences of celibacy is increased productivity. With fewer distractions and more energy, I could shift my focus from drinking and sex to writing projects and therapy. The late nights and even later mornings I used to spend having sex can now be spent on poems, essays, practicing guitar, community outreach, creating lesson plans, and — wait for it — actually sleeping.
- I Can Create Space for Healing
Celibacy has given me the time and space to heal from trauma. When my careless behavior began to scare me more than it scared the people watching me fall, I started to set my baggage down. It was then I was able to feel the pain both my body and spirit were in. I realized how resilient I am, but also how I had learned to hurt myself and deal with the consequences later. Celibacy taught me to redirect that energy towards self-care.
Though this exploration, I realized that for me, celibacy was less a result of trauma and more a needing to raise my standards. There is healing in that, too. Through spending time alone and becoming my own best friend, I realized that I deserved better than the men who didn’t care if I had an orgasm, the men who didn’t care if I consented, the men who lied to me about their relationship status.
And, while I continue on my journey towards unending and unconditional self-love, I will add to the list of things I am worthy of.
The great thing about celibacy is that it’s a reversible decision. When I felt like I was in an emotionally healthy space to have sex again, I did. I think I am coming close to being ready again, but I promise myself that I won’t until I’m sure I’m not acting from a place of hurt. Sex should be fun. I can’t wait for that to feel true again.
[Feature Image: A Black woman with natural, shoulder-length hair smiles in front of a grey background. Her head is tilted and she looks to the side. She crosses her arms over her chest with her hands resting on her shoulders. On her left wrist is a silver bangle bracelet.]