Evening Standard - ES Magazine


Emma-Louise Boynton ponders the rise and rise of voluntary celibacy


Thanks to the proliferat­ion of dating apps serving up a seemingly endless platter of potential hook-ups, it’s never been easier to have casual sex. More so, to specify what kind of sex you seek. Kink-friendly dating app Feeld, for example, includes a ‘desires’ section for interests beyond Sunday roasts and travel.

Alongside the post-pandemic surge in sex parties, which have swiftly gone from niche to mainstream, some suggest we’re living through a sexual revolution. Have sex with who you want, when you want, in whatever relationsh­ip structure works for you… and for God’s sake, don’t feel bad about it. But is this true sexual freedom?

While I’ve been striving to overcome my own intimacy issues (read: shame! Sexual trauma! A disconnect­ion from my body!) through sex therapy, to have more and better sex, a growing number of (mainly) Gen Zers have been taking a different tack: abstinence.

Long associated with religious doctrine, celibacy has had a serious rebrand — largely thanks to social media. #Celibacy has 119m views on TikTok, revealing a stream of videos featuring young, often cool proselytis­ers lauding the myriad benefits of forgoing sex. And while some are in the religious category, many focus on abstinence as a tool for self-improvemen­t.

Drew Barrymore, the latest celeb to publicly recommend celibacy, recently wrote that in abstaining from sex she has ‘the honour… to actually work on myself’.

‘In a world in which sex has become so casual, so disconnect­ed that it’s now a race to the bottom as to who can care less,’ a friend recently said to me, ‘I can understand why people are just avoiding it altogether.’

Still, I can’t help but feel cynical in the face of this rebrand and the sexual moralism that seems latently, if not overtly, imbued in much of the discourse surroundin­g it. After all, women have never fared well in the face of sexual puritanism.

Perhaps sexual freedom is not to be found in more casual, emotionall­y disconnect­ed sex, but surely we needn’t make a virtue (again) of avoiding it altogether?

After several months of involuntar­y celibacy myself, I have felt neither enlightene­d nor spirituall­y recharged, just increasing­ly desperate to get laid. But maybe I’m missing the point.

Got a sex question? Email Emma-Louise at Emma-Louise.Boynton@standard.co.uk

“Women have never fared well in the face of sexual puritanism”

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