After a breakup – especially after an emotional one – you might have found yourself being nudged by friends to download a long-abandoned dating app and find someone to help you bang away the heartbreak. Rebounds are as normalized in our culture as crying into a pint of ice cream.
For a lot of people, casual sex is the ideal balm for breakup burns. (And so is ice cream!) Sex gives them the opportunity to have a fun, physical connection with someone, and to reaffirm their confidence and desirability… without jumping into an emotional arrangement they’re not ready for. Everyone heals and moves on from relationships differently, and hookups or casual sex partners are a valuable part of the process for many people.
But what if you’re not one of them? What if, after a breakup, you think it might be better for your head and/or your heart to abstain from sex altogether for awhile?
There’s Nothing Wrong with Celibacy
“There are a myriad of reasons to not have sex, with the main – and most obvious – reason being that you don’t want to,” I pointed out in a prior post. “Whether it’s to refocus your energy on other areas of your life, observe the traditions of your culture or religion, or because sex isn’t something you’re interested in (ever or just right now), choosing not to have sex is a valid and often empowering decision.”
While having sex can be great for your health, you can reap the same benefits from other activities like exercise and making room for (non-sexual) intimacy in your other relationships. And as we’ve already covered on the Peepshow Toys Blog, sex isn’t the only way to experience pleasure. From masturbation to ASMR, pleasure takes many shapes, and choosing to abstain from sex isn’t the same thing as denying yourself toe-curling delights and satisfaction. Living a sexless life is not living a substandard one.
Unfortunately, there’s definitely a stigma around celibacy. “While openness around sex has been steadily growing, you never really see celibacy being portrayed in a positive light. Often, it’s associated with uber religious folks and for liberal-leaning communities, it’s the kind of thing that makes you scrunch up your nose. When I tell people I haven’t had sex in eighteen months, they literally can’t fucking believe it,” writes Sara Radin for Dame Products.
In an ideal world you wouldn’t ever have to justify your choice to be celibate to the people around you. Unfortunately, it’s normal – even expected – in our culture to pry into people’s dating life. We consider relationships fair game for interrogation even in casual or professional settings; friends and family feel even more entitled. If you’re queer and/or polyamorous, you already know exactly how invasive and emotionally taxing navigating these intrusive conversations can be. But if you find yourself stuck in a conversation where someone is insisting you’ll be back on Tinder in no time, try to focus on the reason for your choice: yourself.
When deciding to be celibate, you’re not giving something up. You’re choosing something different.
Radin continues, “In order for our culture to truly champion sex positivity, I believe we need to have more open and empathetic conversations about celibacy too. We need to view celibacy, or whatever a person chooses to do with their own body, as acceptable, allowable, and awesome […] it is up to each individual to determine what works for them and what doesn’t.”
Benefits of Post-Breakup Celibacy
Whether you’re giving up dating entirely or you’re just nixing sex from your pursuit of romance until further notice, going celibate comes with a plethora of perks. Here are just a few, in case you need help on your pros and cons list:
Giving yourself time to heal. Breakups can be incredibly painful and emotionally messy, especially if they happen because of unresolved (or unsolvable) issues. Choosing to be celibate can give you room to hurt and mend without the emotional complications of finding and experiencing sex.
Enjoying independence in its many forms. Our culture actively discourages going it solo, which is unfortunate because everything from going to the movies to having an orgasm can be done alone – and it’s often better that way. “In my case, celibacy gives me a chance to explore being on my own. Not just being single, but being independent by choice,” an anonymous woman tells The Cut.
Giving yourself time to do some soul-searching. “Taking this time to be with myself has allowed me to better understand and work through some of my own struggles with intimacy,” Radin writes, “I don’t think I would’ve been able to do that if I had not decided to abstain from certain sexual activity.”
Spending your time, energy, and money on other things. As anyone who’s ever lived the hookup life can tell you, getting laid is a laborious process. If it’s worth it for you, that’s awesome; and if it’s not, congratulations on the free time and fatter wallet.
Putting yourself – and self-care – first. “My choice then to become celibate was so that I could completely focus on myself — figuring out who I was, what I wanted from life, and more importantly, learning to love myself,” another anonymous source told the Cut.
Building boundaries and expectations for the future. Anonymous writes, “So many millennial men get away with romantic apathy. I decided during my celibacy that if someone wasn’t willing to pursue me with the same attention I pursued them with, they weren’t worth it.”
Removing yourself from unhealthy behavior cycles and self-destructive habits. Using sex to mask or avoid emotional pain, faking orgasms and enduring an unsatisfying sex life, having sex with risks you’re not actually comfortable with… It can be easy to get stuck in damaging cycles. Stepping back from sex can give you the room to recognize these patterns and address the underlying causes/motivations.
Taking your sexual satisfaction into your own hands. “[Masturbation] can be an intimate, affirming activity, allowing you to deepen your connection to your body and sensuality,” I said in a prior blog post. With only your own needs and expectations to manage, you’re safe to explore.
Prioritizing other areas of your life. Without the resources sink that is seeking out sex, you can spend more time cultivating friendships, getting into new hobbies, further your career, or devote more time to parenting (or starting a family.)
When Should You Have Sex Again?
Celibacy may be a temporary decision for you, or it might be something you commit to for a lifetime. You might date while celibate or you might not. You might decide to fully abstain from sex, or you might partake in some sexual (or sexualized) activities but not others. You might start having sex again because you’ve been seeing your therapist for awhile and you feel prepared, or you’ve met someone who meets certain criteria or reaches several relationship milestones with you. You might decide to remain celibate because you realize you feel happier with sex off the table.
What form your celibacy takes and how long you live according to those boundaries is entirely up to you, and if those choices fluctuate, or you eventually decide it’s not the lifestyle for you, that’s okay.