7 Things I Learned After A Year Of Celibacy

The most important lessons I learned about sex were when I wasn’t having any.

1. 1. I used to have a lot of sex.

I’m not shy about it. I was a woman with many casual sexual partners, and for a while it was really very fun. I revelled in it. Played up to the role. I was a good-time gal and wanted you to know it. I was in control of my sexuality and unafraid to explore it – and exploit it.

Then it stopped being fun. Somewhere along the way – the way being several years of drunken promiscuity with more men than I’ll admit to – my intentions got muddied. Tarnished. I was using sex as a weapon, a way to keep distance between me and every bloke I kicked out of my bed at 4am. Hats off to you if you can enjoy no-strings-attached sex, but me? I was playing a role, a sort of Samantha-Jones-meets-Russell-Brand playgirl, and I wasn’t happy. It took me a while to realise it, but once I did – once it hit me that I was lonely, and a bit of a phoney – the reality was devastating. So I closed my legs. For a year I didn’t date. For 12 months I asked myself who I was, what I wanted, and how I could bridge the gap between those two things.

2. 2. It’s lonelier to be in bed beside a stranger than it is to be in bed alone.

Sian Butcher / BuzzFeed

The turning point for me was being in bed with a balding Australian who wouldn’t speak to me on nights out with mutual friends and yet, somehow, I’d always take home. One lazy morning I leaned over to him and said, “Make me come…” His answer was to check his watch, and get up to go shower. He might’ve known the sound of my orgasm and the taste of my kiss, but I couldn’t find the words to tell him how humiliating his treatment of me – our treatment of each other, to be fair – was, because there was absolutely no intimacy. Once I was celibate, I saw that the sex had been a pseudo-surrender: I could pretend to be revealing parts of myself, but really was using my body to ensure I’d never have to. It’s the most isolating thing I could’ve done. No wonder I felt lonely.

3. 3. Nobody can love you until you love yourself.

It’s almost embarrassing to write that, hackneyed phrase as it is, and yet it’s the truest thing I know. I reckon on some level I was after somebody to prove my own worth to me. My high school sweetheart of almost a decade had dumped me to marry my best mate, and that affected, so deeply, how I thought of myself. I think I was looking for parts of myself in every man who I seduced. I revealed my most unkind, mean version as if to see who would challenge me and love me anyway. Some men tried, and I couldn’t respect them for it. I didn’t trust anyone who wanted to be with me, because what poor judgment did that demonstrate? I could never date a man actually interested in such a broken half-woman. It’s because I didn’t like myself that I couldn’t believe anybody else did. Nobody can love you until you do.

4. 4. Good sex is sex with somebody you actually like.

Sian Butcher/ BuzzFeed

In my most promiscuous years, the sex I was having was terrible. I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but once I declared my year-long vow of celibacy I allowed myself to have the kind of fantasies I’d previously denied. I let my mind wander as to what it would be like to be kissed – every last inch of me. To have a man take his time, to be explored deeply, widely, to be looked in the eye. Sex with somebody you like as expression of intimacy, and not as a substitute for it, is just about as hot as it gets. Sex acting out what you think you should do based on some bad porn you’ve googled? Not so much. Sex with a man who claims not to “know you well enough” to go down on you? Even worse.

5. 5. A sexless life isn’t a loveless life.

As soon as I stopped making sex my focus for a night out, or for parties or work events or any other time I left the goddamn house, the love in my life increased exponentially. It was inversely proportional. When I wasn’t trying to sleep with men, men were suddenly more interested in me. In what I had to say. I was very honest about my year of celibacy, and it fascinated them. I had so many conversations about the pressures they felt to “perform” a certain way in the bedroom, about how much they, too, wanted real connection, a partner. It was enlightening. We’re largely sold this idea of men as single-minded fuckboys, shagging around and not wanting to be bothered by commitment, that it’s us girls who pressure them into marriage and babies, and it shouldn’t have been so shocking to me that actually they wanted to be as seen and as valued as I did. They want families and community, too. Plus, boys make really good mates when you’re not trying to shag them. A revelation.

6. 6. It’s not actually as hard you you’d think to go without.

Sian Butcher / BuzzFeed

The most commonly asked question I get about a year of celibacy is “But didn’t you go insane?” Look, I’ll be upfront: I wanked furiously. Of course I did. And I missed the weight of a man’s body on top of me. But the longer I went without sex the easier it became, and the more I was determined that when I did start engaging again it would have to mean something. It’s a bit like doing dry January – there’s an end point, and when you reach it it’s not worth your first drink being a warm chardonnay in a plastic cup. Oh no. On 1 February you spend all day dreaming about an ice-cold pint served in a frosted glass, beads of condensation dripping down the glass as you lift it to your mouth and let the bubbles dance on your tongue. And so with the first lay after a dry spell.

7. 7. I will never be ashamed of my history.

My story is one about sex and the body – it’s one about feelings and the heart. Nobody else gets to decide what my history is. I got hurt, like a bajillion other people have been, and I had to figure out my shit, like a bajillion other people have. That’s not sickening and unworthy. That’s human.

Some men I’ve dated don’t get it – but I’d do it all again, unapologetically. I continue to date again, in hope. Unapologetically. I will meet a million different
men at a million different events, and with some of them I will think, OK, let’s see if there is something here. I will go out with them and drink with them and
laugh with them and wonder about them. Sometimes, I’ll go home with them
too. If it feels right. I play fast and easy with my feelings because the alternative – shutting off my feelings entirely, as I had done – is just too damned depressing. It’s par for the course that some men won’t understand that. That some won’t understand that I’m proud of what I did to become who I am. Not that I shagged around, but that I got down in the trenches with every last damned hang-up I have, and shone a light on the fuckers until I wasn’t scared any more.

I did the work. I did the work, and I will never not reveal what that work looked
like. I’m still learning, but I have learned enough to understand that you have
to own what you’re ashamed of or else it owns you. My one won’t be deterred
by the dirt under my fingernails. My one will thank me for it. My one will
understand. The blokes who don’t understand, who don’t get what it took, they
aren’t my one. The ones who don’t understand are another lesson learned, all
in the name of what will be.

8. Becoming: Sex, Second Chances And Figuring Out Who The Hell I Am is published by Hodder and Stoughton and out now.

Follow Laura on Twitter: SuperlativelyLJ

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