I had just lost a baby. I force fed myself tequila as I wailed over the phone to my best friend hundreds of miles away, and waited for my ex-boyfriend — the baby’s father — to show up and magically make the pain go away. He never showed up, physically or emotionally, and I spent the weeks leading into the new year drunk and suicidal.
Now, years later, I am in a totally different place. I’m proudly celibate, and it’s taught me more about my relationship with sex than anything before.
I’d always been nervous about sex; it was never a mountain I aimed to climb or conquer. I grew up devoutly Christian with the intent of waiting until marriage, but I lost my virginity at 17 as a knee-jerk reaction to my high-school sweetheart losing his — and so began my sexual journey. Like many young girls, I wasn’t really ready, and even though my partner was a nice guy, it wasn’t what I envisioned. I grew up with this idea of a really momentous “first time” that would be sweepingly romantic and full of tenderness. I didn’t understand how to set boundaries for myself, and I let the title “boyfriend” become the only requirement needed for sex.
Being in an “adult” or “committed” relationship that didn’t involve sex never felt attainable or realistic. There wasn’t a magic “re-virginize me” button I could press that would undo my choices, so I accepted that sex would always be a non-negotiable in a relationship.
That changed when I met a person I thought I was going to marry. It was like unlocking a sexual Rubik’s Cube. It was safe and fun, and I felt confident and secure in the sense that the connection was mutual… until he cheated and we broke up.
We spent a year apart, then reconciled only to deal with an unexpected pregnancy scare that changed the course of our relationship. I had always expressed I never desired or wanted to be a mother in any capacity, so I was scared. He had always expressed that he desired me to be the mother of this children, so needless to say we were on separate pages. Two months later, I had an early miscarriage and my entire world turned upside down. The miscarriage was quick and swift, but I carried the guilt and shame like I had a boulder duct taped to my back.
I initially set out to be celibate as a means of punishing myself for my carelessness in trusting my body with the wrong person. It felt like an easy math equation to subtract sex from the picture altogether because I didn’t trust myself. My grave error had cost me a lot, and it wasn’t a mistake I wanted to make again.
But as I began going to therapy, digging into a relationship with God, and healing, slowly my motives changed. I realized that for me, sex is a pizza that requires all the right toppings for me to be satisfied. I can’t just settle for whatever’s around, or it’s meaningless to me. Whenever I chose to have sex outside of those parameters, I was doing myself a disservice. I came to understand that my first priority should be my wellbeing, which means not having sex just to prove I’m a “grown woman.”
I realized that for me, sex is a pizza that requires all the right toppings for me to be satisfied.
“I’m going to be celibate” or “I choose not to have sex until…” are not statements that have won me popularity with my friends or in dating. In the past few years, I’ve grown an awareness and love for myself that I wish I had before. That eventually made its way into my closest relationships. My family is very religious, so my choosing celibacy after my miscarriage was met with joy and hand claps. As a Christian, faith does play a part in how I view the scope of sex, but it’s not the sole reason why I choose to be celibate. It’s painful to think it took having a miscarriage for me to think introspectively about sex, but losing a piece of yourself forces you to figure out how you got so lost in the first place.
My friends are aware of all my sexual history and the miscarriage, but that doesn’t keep them from encouraging me to have sex. Their lack of enthusiasm about my choice feels like an extension of my dating life. The dating pool doesn’t blow confetti when you say “I’m celibate” — it retreats like prey running from a lion. My dating life since choosing celibacy has been met with skepticism, resignation, ghosting, and flat-out shock. How dare I say that I’m not going to have sex and expect a man to be okay with that?
The dating pool doesn’t blow confetti when you say 'I’m celibate' — it retreats like prey running from a lion.
When I first began telling men I was celibate, I played around with the timing and tried to decipher when it was “too early” or “too late” for this revelation. I had one guy ghost me after two months of blissful dates, and another tell me it wasn’t realistic for me to think a man will be okay with not having sex. I’ve had situations where a man attempts to sway me into having sex like a lawyer trying to win a big case. It becomes this weird objective of trying to see how far he can get, or trying to convince me I’m destined to be alone. I’ll be the first one to tell you: That doesn’t scare me in the slightest.
I won’t pretend that it’s easy or that I don’t feel defeated at times, because I do. But it’s a choice I stand by. I applaud those who have the agency to have sex how and when they want; it’s a human right they are entitled to have. By the same token, I’m allowed to have established boundaries and standards for my sex life, and in this case, it’s waiting until I’m ready.
Being celibate is first and foremost about me: loving, protecting, and holding myself to a standard that allows me to prioritize the type of sexual experience I want for myself. I’m human, so it can be lonely. I’m often met with questions revolving around how I alleviate my sexual urges, as if there’s some special secret. And guess what? There’s not.
Dating already feels like an Olympic sport between connecting on apps, the “talking stage,” exclusivity, then finally lapping the corner towards the finish line of a “committed relationship.” By choosing celibacy and being honest about that from the initial stages of dating someone, I’m not making it any easier on myself. While it may take a while, I’m hopeful there will be a man who wants to honor and support me in my celibacy journey, no matter where that takes us. Who won’t treat it like a chess match to win or a game he thinks I’m playing to be “cute” or “coy.”
Not having sex isn’t the end of the world when there’s so much more I want to discover about the person I’m dating than whether they can give me an orgasm or blow my back out. Being celibate has provided a surge of confidence and love for myself I never had before. It’s transformed how I view sex and the part I play in it, and I love that for me.
If you are thinking about suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the Suicide Crisis Line at 1-800-784-2433.
Welcome to The Single Files. Each installment of Refinery29's column features a personal essay that explores the unique joys and challenges of being single right now. Have your own idea you'd like to submit? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.