The Art Of Not Having Sex: 5 Women On Why They Are Celibate

photographed by Erika Bowes.
It’s no secret that we’re living in an age that encourages sexual liberty: "Experiment and explore! Have a one-night stand! Have a more-than-one night stand! Do them! Do you! Do one! Do all!" And yet, an underground group of modern women is navigating a culture obsessed with sex and exploring their sense of self through short- and long-term abstinence. Ahead, we speak to five female twentysomethings who have all chosen to press pause on physical intimacy for different reasons and time periods, in search of the potential soul ties between sexual behaviours and personal identity.
1 of 5
"Sex is great when you are enjoying it but having sex is not an essential condition for living your best life."

Name: Annie
Occupation: Writer
Age: 25
How long did you live sans sex? 6 months
Why did you do it? I was feeling lost post-university, struggling to find my place in the world. I was clutching at old parts of my identity and wanting to keep having wild one-off sex because that's what I had enjoyed before. I wasn't enjoying it any more and a couple of shitty encounters made me realise that. I was exacerbated by what hard work dating and hookups can be and was being messed around and ghosted by men who I wasn't bothered about but it was still bruising to my sense of self, which was fragile at the time. I decided it would be empowering and healing to opt out of this for a while.
What was the most challenging thing? Not having sex sends you and your vagina a bit wacky. It can leave you feeling undesirable, even if you have chosen celibacy – not accessing that part of yourself can be lonely.
What was the best thing? A sense of freedom and empowerment. Having a clear mind and being able to throw yourself into lots of other things.
How much of your identity do you find in your sex life? I love sex and it's always been a big part of my identity that I do it whenever and however I want without feeling hindered by society's false moralities around it. After choosing not to have sex or interact romantically with men for an extended period of time, I would say this has changed. Sex is great when you are enjoying it but having sex is not an essential condition for living your best life.
2 of 5
"What started as a block on sex ended as a liberation of my independence."

Name: Mollie
Occupation: Behaviour coordinator
Age: 26
How long did you live sans sex? 9 months.
Why did you do it? I wanted to get some control back after a breakup and felt like I was trying to fill a void with meaningless sex.
How did this affect your dating life? Along with celibacy I also avoided dating – it gave me time to do things I wanted to and learn more about myself. I spent my weekends with friends or going to events on my own without thinking about the prospect of meeting anyone romantically. I felt free from any social conformities to "get with anyone" and when I went on nights out I had a sense of total independence. What started as a block on sex ended as a liberation of my independence.
What was the most challenging thing? I thought the challenge would be to stop myself from sleeping with anyone when drunk but the temptation was never a problem because I was busy enjoying my time without the worry of who I might meet on the dance floor or wake up next to...!
What was the best thing? Moving away from the need for nights out that lead to scandalous stories or pressure that a modern independent woman should have sex as much as they want. While I still believe that, I was putting an unconscious pressure on myself to sustain behaviour which resulted in poor sexual experiences. The thinking space of celibacy allowed me to value company in a platonic way, which led to richer interactions with people.
How much of your identity do you find in your sex life? Actually very little. I got into a habit of needing to find the next sexual experience to define my "singleness" and measure my desirability to other people. My period of celibacy moved me away from that to a much more self-reflective position. Now when I have sex it’s more about an intimate connection with someone in which my identity is continued and not created.
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3 of 5
"I want the next person I sleep with to be someone I’m able to be confident and adventurous with, without doubting myself."

Name: Ola
Occupation: Sales advisor
Age: 24
How long have you lived life sans sex? Around 10 months
Why are you doing it? The last person I slept with was a 'friends with benefits' situation, and because of this I don’t think I was able to be as free as I wanted to be, so towards the end, the sex ended up being mediocre. Because of this, I want the next person I sleep with to be someone I’m able to be confident and adventurous with, without doubting myself.
Has faith/spirituality played a part in your decision? No, if my religion was going to affect my decision I don’t think I would have sex at all and waited until marriage.
What’s the most challenging thing? The hardest thing is I miss the intimacy that comes with being with another person. The sex bit I can do by myself but it’s the kissing and the touching. I miss that.
What’s the best thing? No stress and no risk of STIs.
How much of your identity do you find in your sex life? None, it doesn’t define me. Whether I’m doing it or not, it won’t change me.
4 of 5
"I stopped feeling like I had to keep trying to have and enjoy sex for the sake of trying to be what I thought was 'normal'."

Name: Gillian
Occupation: Scientist
Age: 24
How long have you lived life sans sex? About 4 years
Why are you doing it? I'm asexual so I'm not really attracted to anyone, and I didn't enjoy sex a whole lot either. Once I realised that asexuality was a thing and that maybe nothing was wrong with me after all, I stopped feeling like I had to keep trying to have and enjoy sex for the sake of trying to be what I thought was 'normal'.
What’s the most challenging thing? Aside from one or two strange comments about my asexuality or long-term singleness, there haven't been any challenges.
What’s the best thing? I feel a lot more comfortable with myself now that I'm not trying to make myself do something I don't like. It probably shouldn't have taken me that long to figure out that I don't have to do something just because most people like it, but I got there eventually!
How much of your identity do you find in your sex life? For me, not having sex is tied closely to my asexuality, and being asexual is an important part of my identity, but it's by no means the whole of it.
5 of 5
"As you get to know God more you realise there’s significance to our bodies and our being."

Name: Rosey
Occupation: Jewellery design student
Age: 23
How long have you lived life sans sex? 23 years
Why are you doing it? I see having sex as a big deal. I know it’s not a ‘common’ thing to hear, but making yourself vulnerable and being intimate with someone isn’t something I consider should be done lightly. I’m a Christian, so I’m waiting until being married.
Has faith/spirituality played a part in your decision? Definitely. As you get to know God more you realise there’s significance to our bodies and our being. I feel loved so I don’t try and find it through other things, like being sexually close with a man.
How does this affect your dating life? I’ve been in a long-term relationship and it’s something you talk about. We shared the belief about wanting to wait. I’m not saying it’s easy and straightforward but having clear boundaries for yourself about your body makes it easier. I feel like once you awaken that kind of love it’s hard to bring it back.
What’s the most challenging thing? If I’m honest, when single I don’t find it challenging! It becomes more difficult when you’re in a relationship, but I’m clear on my decision and I’m totally happy with that. When you feel strongly about something and its benefits, you don’t doubt why you’re doing it.
What’s the best thing? I don’t feel tied to anyone emotionally or physically; there’s a freedom in waiting to share yourself.
How much of your identity do you find in your sex life? Not much. We’re more than what we do; me not having sex is just another facet to myself.
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