When I broke up with my high school boyfriend some ten years ago, I cried to my girlfriends that I would likely never have sex again. As someone who was still very new to sex, I thought a failed first relationship meant that I was destined to be a barren cat lady. For some reason, I started believing I wasn’t worthy of healthy love around that time, and I spent the next decade exercising that belief by having a good amount of sex with men who didn’t respect me.
That was until two winters ago, when I started up a casual fling with a good guy friend. He was the last person I had penetrative sex with, and like most of the men that came before him, he took me for granted. But the truth is, I was the person who really took me for granted. And for a long period of time that meant I had sex with people who didn’t really appreciate or value me…until that good guy friend ghosted me out of nowhere and I realized I couldn’t take that kind of treatment anymore. I had to take a massive break from fucking around.
Prior to that, a British friend of mine had told me she liked to wait 9 months before having sex with someone, and while the idea seemed ridiculous to me, I found myself so desperate I decided to adopt the rule for my own. I recoiled into a state of celibacy and couldn’t fathom giving it up so carelessly anymore to anyone.
Somehow, I happened to meet someone new quite quickly after that. But instead of feeling physically indebted to him, I spoke openly with him about my reasoning for taking it slow. This was not without my voice shaking, as I was not very comfortable being assertive about my needs, especially when it came to the bedroom. But to my surprise, this person was respectful of my logic, telling me he was ok with focusing on getting to know me first. So for the next five months, we hung out and slowly, over time, grew more physically intimate with each other. The relationship ultimately fizzled, and we went our separate ways. We never made it past third base.
Around that same time, I participated in a event about sex led by Myisha Battle, a sex therapist based in the Bay Area. Myisha led us in a worksheet activity in which you rate how aroused different scenarios make you feel, from one to five. The scenarios included different social situations, and as I went to fill in the sheet, I found myself bewildered about my relationship with sex. None of the situations seemed worthy of a higher number, as I realized my level of arousal felt increasingly circumstantial. Upon telling this to Myisha, she explained to me that I was likely the kind of person who enjoyed sex when I felt safe and secure, in other words, if I knew the person incredibly well prior. Something immediately clicked as I came to understand why I had never felt fully comfortable having sex with past casual partners.
That summer, my life started to fall to shambles, and I decided to begin psychotherapy. While my therapist encouraged me to take a long pause from drinking, smoking weed, and caffeine, it also felt like the perfect moment to take a break from downing large amounts of ketchup with every meal and my gnawing desire to date people in attempt to fill the voids of myself. I was depressed about a lot of things then, and saw my sex drive plummet even further into nothingness. I had officially become the barren cat lady I had always worried I would be, minus the cats.
It’s been eighteen months since I had penetrative sex and eleven months since I’ve made out with anyone. Now that I have moved out of my depressive state, I recently decided it is not only time I start opening up about this fact, but it is also time I stop feeling ashamed of it. After all, I’m trying this new thing where I celebrate all parts of me, even the ones society deems embarrassing or outrageous.
While openness around sex has been steadily growing, you never really see celibacy being portrayed in a positive light. Often, it’s associated with uber religious folks and for liberal-leaning communities, it’s the kind of thing that makes you scrunch up your nose. When I tell people I haven’t had sex in eighteen months, they literally can’t fucking believe it.
As women, we can never seem to win — despite being in the 21st century, society still chastises us for nudity, while also condemning us for modesty. For example, when Insecure actress Yvonne Orji came out as a virgin last year, it caused massive backlash online. People felt they had a right to comment on and criticize her decision to postpone sex. I can’t imagine what that wrath of judgment must’ve felt like just for living your life according to your beliefs.
Society likes to tell us that those of us who aren’t “getting laid” are “dried up,” often portraying sex-less folks as sad or pathetic. While I may not have had sex in over a year, I by no means feel sad or pathetic. In fact, taking this time to be with myself has allowed me to better understand and work through some of my own struggles with intimacy. And I don’t think I would’ve been able to do that if I had not decided to abstain from certain sexual activity.
In order for our culture to truly champion sex positivity, I believe we need to have more open and empathetic conversations about celibacy too. We need to view celibacy, or whatever a person chooses to do with their own body, as acceptable, allowable, and awesome. As long as sex is consensual and safe, it is up to each individual to determine what works for them and what doesn’t. And that is also subject to change, as we grow and evolve as human beings.
Whenever I ultimately choose to get down again, I want it to be with someone who feels special and worthy of my faux virginity. And right now, I’m willing to wait however long is necessary for that moment to arise.
It’s time to make celibacy cute again.
Sara R. Radin is a writer and journalist based in Brooklyn, New York. Her writing has been published by outlets such as The New York Times, Buzzfeed, and Vice.