The sur­pris­ing ben­e­fits of swear­ing off sex

As in­creas­ing num­bers of women are opt­ing to take a sex sab­bat­i­cal, Emma Ledger explores the grow­ing trend for Net­flix, no chill…

Grazia (UK) - - Contents -

FOR LAURA JANE WIL­LIAMS, the turn­ing point came when she found her­self in a stranger’s bed af­ter yet another un­sat­is­fy­ing one-night stand. She was us­ing hook-ups to try to get over acute heart­break, af­ter her boyfriend dumped her then got en­gaged to her best friend. But af­ter two years she de­cided to swear off sex com­pletely.

‘I was sleep­ing with lots of men to try to fill the void and take back power, but it was so un­ful­fill­ing,’ says Laura, 32. ‘I de­cided to have a year of sex­ual ab­sti­nence. It was a quiet time of re­flec­tion, and it was in­spir­ing. My in­ter­nal di­a­logue had be­come quite mean, so it was a chance to rewrite that.’

In a cul­ture where sex sells, few of us want to shout about not get­ting any. Un­til now. The num­ber of peo­ple choos­ing a pe­riod of celibacy is on the rise. One US study found 32% of women have ab­stained from sex for six months, and 27% for a year or more. Another re­port prompted claims that Mil­len­ni­als are un­der­go­ing a ‘sex re­ces­sion’. The Amer­i­can Gen­eral So­cial Sur­vey of nearly 27,000 peo­ple found 20-some­things are more than twice as likely to be ab­sti­nent as Gen­er­a­tion X were at the same age.

It’s a sim­i­lar story over here. A UCL study of 16,000 Mil­len­ni­als dis­cov­ered one in eight were still vir­gins at 26, while the Na­tional Sur­vey Of Sex­ual At­ti­tudes And Life­styles re­ported in 2001 that peo­ple aged 16 to 44 were hav­ing sex on av­er­age over six times a month – by 2012, that had dropped to fewer than five times. The reasons range from mas­tur­ba­tion and porn be­ing less taboo, to peo­ple ac­tively choos­ing to wait longer to have sex.

Still, whether it’s a de­ci­sion or cir­cum­stan­tial, hit­ting pause on sex can be pos­i­tive. Lady Gaga and Nicki Mi­naj have spo­ken about us­ing pe­ri­ods of celibacy to boost their cre­ativ­ity, and US self-help guru Tim Fer­riss ad­vo­cates try­ing it to in­crease con­fi­dence and focus.

For Priya, 28, 18 months of ab­sti­nence was un­planned, sparked by dat­ing app burnout. ‘I’d been sin­gle for two years and was dis­il­lu­sioned with the dat­ing-drink­ing-dis­ap­point­ing-sex carousel never lead­ing any­where,’ she says. ‘I didn’t wake up one day and de­cide; I just started think­ing more care­fully about what I wanted. Then two months with­out sex turned into six, and I found I loved hav­ing more time for me. Some of my friends thought I was mad, es­pe­cially those in cou­ples who I think be­lieved I’d be turn­ing down loads of hot sex.’

The per­va­sive feel­ing that ev­ery­one is hav­ing more fre­quent and bet­ter sex than you can be op­pres­sive. For Priya, step­ping away from that helped bring clar­ity to other parts of her life. ‘I found it re­ally help­ful to focus on ways to make my life bet­ter that weren’t to do with men. I got a great new job, had more time for my friends and moved to a much nicer flat. I con­tin­ued to date and de­cided to tell the guy around date two or three. It did change the vibe a few times, but my think­ing was if they couldn’t han­dle a fi­nite pe­riod of no sex they weren’t the man for me.’

For some it seems that tak­ing sex off the ta­ble is part of self-care. Sex ther­a­pist Dr Nan Wise says that although there aren’t any phys­i­o­log­i­cal ben­e­fits to ab­stain­ing from sex, if you be­lieve it will im­prove your men­tal health, it prob­a­bly will. ‘For peo­ple who be­lieve ab­sti­nence is go­ing to help them, the be­lief it­self may drive some of the ben­e­fits,’ she says. Ac­cord­ing to Melissa, 30, who took a year-long sex sab­bat­i­cal last year, there are un­ex­pected pos­i­tives. ‘I found my­self more con­fi­dent in my body. I was look­ing good for my­self and that is one of the best feel­ings,’ she says. ‘I no longer had hangups or in­se­cu­ri­ties be­fore and af­ter hav­ing sex with some­one, and de­vel­oped a bet­ter con­nec­tion with who I am. That feel­ing has stayed with me and I’m stronger for it.’

Dur­ing Laura’s planned year of ab­sti­nence, she moved to Italy to teach English in a con­vent. But when she moved back af­ter 11 months she met some­body at a work event and they had sex. ‘ The op­por­tu­nity pre­sented it­self and I felt em­pow­ered,’ Laura says. ‘It was good, re­spect­ful sex. Just what I wanted. I didn’t feel I had to get to an ar­bi­trary date that I’d set. I had healed and I now liked my­self.’

Laura met a boyfriend soon af­ter, but they have since split and she’s celi­bate again. ‘I ap­pre­ci­ate not hav­ing the dis­trac­tion of hav­ing to pan­der to a man, and the sub­stan­dard sex. I know so many clever, suc­cess­ful women who aren’t hav­ing sex be­cause the sex on of­fer isn’t good enough,’ she says. ‘Sex­ual ab­sti­nence has changed me. It’s an op­por­tu­nity to con­nect with your­self, to prop­erly en­joy go­ing out with friends rather than look­ing for a bloke to take home. It al­lows me to be a lot more present and focus on the pos­i­tive re­la­tion­ships in my life with friends and fam­ily, rather than seek­ing out a new one. For now, this serves me very well.’

Celibacy might be de­fined as a lack of sex, but per­haps not putting out could be the se­cret to sort­ing your life out.

Laura (right) found celibacy of­fered a chance to re­con­nect with her­self

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