Between Hinge, Tinder and the myriad dating sites out there (gluten-free singles, anyone?) it’s become ridiculously easy to snag a date or score a hookup on a moment’s notice.
While this is all good and fine, I think it also opens up the floor for a very frank conversation about sex. And by that, I mean a conversation about why you shouldn’t be having any.
Don’t get me wrong, I think the ability to expand our dating horizons is a fantastic reality and one worth exploring. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with experimenting, meeting new people and opening yourself up for new experiences.
At the same time, I think that needs to be balanced with a healthy dose of abstinence every now and then. That’s right, a complete and total lack of sex of any kind. I like to think of it as a personal tune-up for one’s priorities and goals beyond just the physical.
Before you start chiming in about how insanely radical that sounds or that it’s not realistic, hear me out — as someone who tried a year-long period of self-induced abstinence, I learned a thing or two that reshaped the way I view relationships, myself and, most importantly, sex.
My foray into the world of abstinence didn’t come about as the result of any religious preclusions or moral considerations. Quite the opposite actually — my earliest sexual experiences were with men significantly older than me, and it was during this time that I began to view sex as a way to boost my self-worth above all else. I began to equate my own value as a human with external gratification, and it became an incredible drain on my emotional wellbeing.
By my early 20s, I was fed up with my dating life.
It became clear to me that this wasn’t working, and I needed to find a way to dissect my understanding of how sex fits into relationships. My answer: no dating, no hookups, no casual relationships. Nothing. I cut myself off from any outside influences and carefully unraveled my personal priorities.
I never thought I would abstain from sex for a full year. Ever. And, let me tell you, at times it felt like five years. I don’t know about you, but for me sex is a pretty enjoyable part of dating, and forgoing any physical contact for a whole year is a long time.
The first few months were the worst. I was lonely. I watched, with a tinge of jealously, as my friends pranced around with a cavalcade of fun new hookups. They shared their exciting stories, and I hung on every word. I so badly wanted to hop back on the bandwagon and throw away the key to my imaginary chastity belt. At times I forgot why I was doing this in the first place.
It wasn’t until about the six-month mark that I really began to feel an actual transformation take place. My relationship with myself became much more amicable. I didn’t despise myself for the way I let men treat me. I wasn’t drained after hour-long arguments and late-night bickering.
I started journaling and rediscovering parts of myself that I had forgot existed. Forgive the cliché, but I took time to work on myself. I realized the toll that attaching sexual desirability to my self-worth had taken on me after all those years.
As I began to unearth this newfound sense of empowerment, I saw myself experience immense growth. It wasn’t just me — my friends, co-workers, family members —everyone began to comment on how different I was. I was lighter, more emotionally present and, above all, happy.
I’ll never forget how gratifying it felt to be fully in control of my body, 100% of the time. I know this realization is largely in part a response to my past experiences and failed relationships, but I felt a newfound sense of freedom knowing that my body wasn’t merely a tool for someone else’s gratification. It was about what I wanted, and I had the power. This was something that I hadn’t felt for a very long time.
As my sex-free one-year anniversary rolled around, I knew I was ready to get back into the dating pool. That in itself was a pretty terrifying moment.
Don’t get me wrong, I was excited to dip back into the world of dating (and sex…I had really, really missed having sex), but there was an extra layer of gravity attached to my choices. I had done an immense amount of work to better myself and get to a place where I could make more informed decisions about my emotional health, and I wasn’t about to let that go to waste.
Ultimately, my year of abstinence was more akin to an off-the-cuff experiment than a calculated move, but I would do it again in a heartbeat.
After taking that time off, I found that I was much more adequately prepared to forge healthy relationships — it was like hiding away in a time machine and emerging later as an older, wiser and more in tune version of myself.
Will abstaining from sex work for everyone? No. Should you consider it? 100 percent.
Again, I’m not saying this is the answer for every person, but I think it’s worth considering for those who are looking to gain a new perspective or insight into what they want from a sexual relationship.
Many of us, perhaps even without knowing it, tend to repeat the same patterns or fall into the same routines because it’s merely a habit. And, given my experience, the best path to more enjoyable and meaningful sex is to not have any for a while.
If any part of you feels like you need a change or are unhappy with your circumstances, take a moment to understand why. Listen to your own personal needs and don’t be afraid to do something drastic about your concerns. Forgoing the physical gratification of sex and intimacy helped me to understand my particular issues.
After all, there’s nothing more important than the relationship with yourself, even if the road to that realization is incredibly long, rocky and sex-free.