The power of celibacy:’ Giving up sex was a massive relief’

The plethora of dating apps has bolstered societies obsession with sex, but many people find that a period of abstinence stimulates them happier and healthier

In a world where you can get a sexual partner faster than a pizza delivery, it has never been easier to play the field. Yet, despite all that swiping right, a surprising number of people are not having sexuality at all- not for religious reasons, or because they can’t get a date, but because they find that celibacy stimulates them happier.

Some have never had much interest in sex, while others are taking a break to address personal problems, recover from bad dating experiences or alter the style they approach relationships.

Catherine Gray, the author of The Unexpected Joy of Being Single, gave up sex for a year in 2014.” Between the ages of 16 and 34, I hadn’t expended more than a few months single ,” she says.” I felt incomplete without a plus-one and constantly hunted acceptance. I reached rock-bottom after being disproportionately crushed by the failure of a six-month relationship, so I decided to give up sex and dating for an entire year .”

Although deleting her dating apps felt like” giving up a drug”, celibacy turned out to be a huge relief.” Instead of doing what my boyfriend wanted to, I detected what I liked, developing a love for yoga, photography and travelling. I garmented differently and no longer cared about attracting men. I started to see myself as a person- rather than a girlfriend or a sexual plaything .” The period of celibacy changed how she approached dating; she is now in a healthy relationship.” I realizing that I had an anxious attachment style and that, if I started dating again, I would need to change who and how I date. If I feel insecure in the early stages of a relationship, I know it’s because I’m dating someone who is emotionally unavailable, so I back away, rather than persist .”

‘ Casual sex is really fun- if you’re emotionally in the best place’ … Eleanor Conway, who tried celibacy for 10 months.

The comedian Eleanor Conway used to tell people that her three vices were drinking, drugs and men.” I’ve always had an addictive personality ,” she says. In 2014, she gave up the first two vices-” and my alcoholic behaviour transferred to Tinder. It’s so easy for a straight girl to date and find casual sex. It’s really fun, if you’re emotionally in the best place .”( It’s also great material if you are a comedian; it inspired her demonstrate You May Recognise Me from Tinder .) Over time, however, the “admin” of looking for matches became too much.” The dates became a drag and any sexuality I had as a result was rubbish. The more sober I got, the more difficult it was to engage in casual dating. It was like my superpower stopped running .”

In 2018, she tried celibacy for 10 months.” Surprisingly, it was a massive relief. I stopped seeing men as sex objects and females as rivalry .” Conway detected her platonic relationships with men and women improved and she was able to focus on her career. She is open to a sexual relationship now, but she knows it will happen only if she has a true connection with a person.

Self-imposed celibacy seems more common among women, but humen, too, can be damaged by casual encounters. Tom gave up sex 18 months ago, after he came out of an abusive relationship and joined Alcoholics Anonymous to address addiction.” I was promiscuous when I was drinking ,” he says.” But I chose to become celibate to subsistence my recovery .” He soon realised he had been using casual sex to cover up his loneliness. Going celibate has given him the opportunity to address these feelings and improve the other relationships in his life.” I run mountain biking, I help out at AA and I spend time with friends. I’ve got more day for my family and it’s made those bonds stronger .” Although he acknowledges he sometimes misses sexuality, he believes it is not worth jeopardising his newfound happiness.” I will merely have sex again if I know the relationship is right for me. I recently dated someone for several months and we never slept together. It was nice that we realised it wasn’t right before complicating things with sexuality .”

‘ I think young women feel more empowered than ever to reject the sex roles they’ve feel pushed into in the past’ … Shirley Yanez, who stopped having sex in 2005.

Many people find that a short period of celibacy is enough, but others make it a way of life. Shirley Yanez gave up sex in 2005, after serious health problems led to a hysterectomy. She also experienced financial difficulties, which kicked off a period of self-reflection and a career change.” I wasn’t able to have sex for a year after my operation. But I came to realise that I would rather focus my energy elsewhere in life ,” she says.” The best part of being celibate is there are no distractions. I can focus fully on my passion, my purpose and my work .” In the past 15 years, she has set up a business to support British manufacturing; she also offers life-coaching services for homeless and young people.” I teach young person about the positive mental health benefits of celibacy ,” she says.” I never tell them what to do, but I talk to them about the importance of making their own decisions rather than being influenced by media or peer pressure .”

Yanez believes that celibacy among young people is on the rise, especially among daughters.” I think young women feel more empowered than ever to reject the sexual roles they’ve felt pushed into in the past. Self-esteem is improving and they seem to feel more able to use their voice. They’re fighting back at school, in the workplace and also on the dating scene .” Yanez is not closed off to a sexual relationship in future, but it is not a priority.” Even though I never try sex or relationships, my lifestyle actually seems to construct humen more interested in me, as they see it as key challenges .” She admits she is ” lucky” that she feels comfortable with her decision.

Single people can feel like outsiders when they choose celibacy, but this feeling is often amplified for couples.” There’s an enormous pressure in our society to be sexually active and have great sex all the time, but not everyone has positive experiences or gets a lot out of it ,” says Ammanda Major, the head of clinical practice at the relationship charity Relate.” There’s lots of’ shoulds’ and’ oughts’ when it comes to sex and people are quick to judge .”

Amy and her partner, Harry, haven’t had sexuality for more than six of their seven years together.” It was never a big part of our relationship and after a few months he became stressed at work and didn’t want it ,” she says.” I was relieved, because I’ve never enjoyed sexuality .” Since then, the couple have been in an affectionate, celibate partnership.” We nuzzle every night in front of the TV and in the mornings when we wake up. He always kisses me when he comes in from work .” They love spending time together and feel that they are soulmates.” We have talked about this and both agree that we have enhanced each other’s lives so much. Sex merely isn’t that important to everyone .” When she was younger, Amy was worried about expectations and felt pressured to fit in.” I used to have sex rapidly in relationships, because I felt like it was something I had to do if I wanted a romantic partnership ,” she says. For many years, she hid her feelings, as she feared people would react negatively or repudiate her.

Major says a sexless relationship can still be ” real”- provided, of course, that both partners are happy with the idea.” Most people want to be loved and cared about by their partner, and there are plenty of other ways to experience that other than through sex .”

As for single people, Major says that casual sex can be fun for some, but not others.” Sometimes having a period of celibacy can provide the space to reflect on what you really want for yourself .”

Some names have been changed

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