One writer’s journey to celibacy and connectedness with self.
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Sex is so fucking beautiful when done well. I realised that the other night whilst watching Gaspar Noe’s movie Love.
When I was a little younger, the amount and nature of the sex I was having was something that defined my entire concept of self. Whilst I would’ve considered myself sexually liberated in the way that I don’t believe sluts exist, a lot of my sexual experiences have been drenched in shame. Let’s just say sex and I didn’t really get off on the best foot (feel free to read more about that here.) Thankfully, hindsight has allowed me to see that I was coming to the table without embodying the kind of intimacy I yearn for. But now I’m not having bad sex. I’m actually not having any sex at all (except with myself) and haven’t been for months. Although at first, it felt like I was comically projecting myself into doom plan C – owning seven cats (one called Missy) and dying alone – the past 8 months of almost complete sexlessness have been glorious.
It’s so weird the way we talk about sex. Like, the term “having sex” implies a sense of ownership over the act by the parties involved. Honestly, sex seemed to be having me a lot of the time. Mostly it was silent and dissociative. I struggled to stay in my body for these encounters, often finding myself thinking about literally anything else. And a scarily large proportion of the sex I’ve had was unsober. It gives me a little bit of anxiety writing that, but it is actually the truth. And something that probably would’ve continued long into the future had I not stopped to ask myself: do I actually enjoy this?
Upon contemplating the answer (no), I made a decision to quit it cold turkey. After all, this method had been effective in ending other addictions I’d succumbed to in the past. I needed to be celibate in order to hear myself and my heart clearly. And in that way, the fear that celibacy would limit my physical capacity to give and receive love, could not have been further from reality. It’s important to note that there are invariably “ideal celibates” if you talk to the Catholic Church, and I’m definitely not one of them. I love kissing and touching and playing with sensuality, even if penetrative sex is off the table. I have that type of flirting-is-art personality that could possibly trigger you on a bad day if you left your boyfriend near me (without my knowledge that he was your boyfriend). That’s why I felt such sweet relief in setting myself this hard boundary. I no longer felt like I owed my consorts access to my body. There was no sex fuel in my flirt fire.
This made me take greater notice of who I was actually flirting with and why. What were my goals for the conversation? Was it to feel noticed and to walk away connected, or with the aim to build a deeper relationship? I realised that these men were often people I didn’t want to associate with beyond general human pleasantries. It seemed my standards were entirely broken.
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The road to disillusionment
When I was 16 or 17, a few close friends fell in love with me. By the time they’d mustered up the confidence for a confessional monologue, I had no idea how to respond. Without an “I love you too too” to meet them with, I was demonised for being a heartbreaking bitch, made evil for my allure. I struggled to understand what they saw in me and was always frustrated by the fact that they hadn’t felt comfortable enough to communicate their forming feelings before it became an unrequited outburst. It all felt very unfair, but I wore it into my sexual experiences with this sense that I owed lovers something, or had a debt to pay. Like sex when I wasn’t into it.
In both romantic and platonic encounters, my subconscious ‘you are in danger’ sirens would go off as soon as real heart-open love loomed. Regardless of the type of love – be it eros, agape, philia or storge – suddenly, I would feel this insatiable urge to start acting like the most unattractive/undesirable/non-empathetic version of myself and ditch the other human. In a backwards way, this was the best my traumatised brain could do to avoid living the heartbreaker status I loathed – by closing my heart invisibly. I began mixing platonic and sexual relationships together in a self-antagonising salad of “who actually cares about me?” Hot tip: having sex with friends is only fun when they’re the kind of friends you can talk to about the sex you’re having.
Legs closed, heart open
It’s funny because removing sex and its associated anxiety has helped me stay a moment longer in these moments when closedness is threatening. Instead of trying to decipher whether someone’s gaze, body language or tone is implying they want to get naked with me, I can actually enjoy their company. This was a wild concept for me at first: being hypervigilant of sex in this way. I think I used to suspect everyone of wanting to fuck me secretly. Do you know how much energy it takes trying to preempt unwanted sexual advances? Lots. And by the laws of the universe, I think I ended up just creating and attracting them even more so.
So, in the spirit of avoiding unhealthy extremes, I’m actually very open to good sex with an excellent human being if it so arrived. It’s just that sex might have a harder time reaching me now that I’ve clarified my boundaries. In the meantime, I’ll keep practising my kissing, hugging and touching (myself and others) until my touch is electrified with warmth in the ways I want it to be. And for right now my current self-pleasure homework is to increase the length of my orgasms, which has been coming along swimmingly. And if you take nothing else away from this: loving sex only. I guess sex and self-love do go together, after all.