There are many reasons why abstaining from sex altogether might work for someone, but celibacy, whether or not it’s for religious reasons, is an enormous taboo in spite of the crooked emphasis on purity for women. If folks opt out of sex, it must be because they can’t “get any” because we can’t imagine there would be benefits to saying no to sex. So what do we know about choosing to be celibate? Why do it? And can it actually improve your quality of life?
“It’s fascinating how things have changed in 50 years,” says Jill Whitney, a marriage and family therapist. “Once, if you didn’t have a partner, it was assumed you’d be celibate. Now, we act as if there’s something wrong with that.”
For some, ending a relationship could be the cue for a period of celibacy — maybe you’re recognizing some patterns in your romantic life you want to change or you’re feeling vulnerable or particularly tender.
Whitney explained: “You might not be interested in casual sex; maybe it just doesn’t appeal to you, or maybe you’ve tried it and didn’t like it. Maybe you find it hard to keep feelings from popping up even when you don’t want them to, so it’s simpler to avoid having sex when you know you don’t want a relationship with the person.”
When asked about her reasons for remaining celibate for 12 years, author Sophie Fontanel told New York magazine that she “wanted to recover my body. My real desire was to re-want having sex. When I stopped, I was so excited to be alone in my bed.”
Remember: If you’re choosing to refrain from sex, you can dictate what that means for yourself. You might not be having intercourse with another person, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you choose not to use that time to get acquainted with yourself.
While this isn’t necessarily true for everyone, the absence of sex can mean the absence of drama and more space and time to connect with the rest of your life.
“I became less restless when I didn’t have a date, and grew more at ease with myself, watching my desires and turning them towards somewhere else,” wrote Laura Yan in a 2016 essay in Good.
Without sex, you’re not going to contract an STI and you aren’t going to get pregnant, which are pretty big sources of anxiety, especially since birth control isn’t always effective. And even though sex can make us healthier, the unrelenting emphasis on it has us believing that the only real intimate relationship is one that involves sex. This is a super-dangerous idea; it not only confines us to imagining intimacy in limited ways, but it excludes folks who identify as asexual or who have a low sex drive from the narrative of what a healthy relationship can be.
“Many people have mental health issues surrounding sex and relationships,” says Jonathan Bennett, who runs the website and business The Popular Man. “Whether it’s surviving sexual and physical abuse or dealing with issues of attachment and abandonment, for some men and women, sex isn’t a pleasurable experience. For them, celibacy allows them to live a happy and healthy life.”
According to a 2010 study, women who abstain from sex were more likely to have positive health behaviors, such as refraining from drug use. If you’re choosing what’s best for you in spite of social pressure and preconceived notions, that’s a decision you should feel good about. The essential thing in celibacy and in sex is doing what’s right for you as an individual,” says Jill Whitney. “It doesn’t matter whether your choice makes sense to anyone else; it’s not their business. If taking time off from sex seems like the right move for you, then embrace it and enjoy whatever you experience in the process.”