I Tried Celibacy To Find Sexual Healing — But It Backfired

Just thinking about having sex with someone literally made me feel nauseated. Image: Thinkstock.

I couldn’t handle being desired.

Content notice: sexual assault

Last summer, I had a boyfriend for eight days. Don't bother begging to differ that he was actually my boyfriend, because he was.

We had sex — once. In this case, once was enough. When we had sex, it was in his attic bedroom on a hot July afternoon.

I have to admit, it was pretty fucking fantastic...except that it wasn’t.

Physically, I felt amazing, but I wasn’t connected emotionally. It’s not that I felt some kind of block coming from him or that I didn’t trust/respect/like him, because I did. The connection we had was nothing less than magical.

Despite this, I felt myself emotionally detach from what was happening in front of me, unable to get into the moment. Instead, I was in my head. My head was filled with anxiety, shame, discomfort, and fear. That’s why when he said, “I’m getting close,” I told him that I had already come. It wasn’t a lie, but it was misplacement. I just wanted it to be over.

In that moment, I realized I had a problem. No, it wasn’t just the shitty guys I usually dated. It wasn’t just the circumstances: It was me.

I didn’t allow my emotional walls to come down.

The first time I noticed this disconnect was with my first long-term partner. When we had sex, I felt myself withdrawing emotionally from the experience and overcompensating to try to trick both him and myself into thinking I loved it. In fact, I wanted to have sex everyday, just to prove a point to myself!

Fast forward a year later and here I was again.

I ended the relationship soon after this. I told myself it wasn't because of the sex, but it probably was, subconsciously.

I couldn’t handle it. I couldn’t handle being desired. One of my own internal limiting beliefs has to do with being wanted, as being adopted and being “abandoned” by my father (via my parents' divorce) has left me with a subconscious notion that I am unwanted.

I tend to assume that other people don’t want anything to do with me, even if they’ve welcomed me somewhere, hired me, or told me that they like me.

So, when a romantic interest expresses desire for me, I typically feel uncomfortable and try to push them away.

In the months before this, I had gotten myself into quite a few precarious sexual encounters. I felt used, lost, and frustrated. I wasn’t being safe or smart. I wasn’t using condoms or caring if someone had been tested recently (I sure as hell hadn't been!). I wasn’t dating people or acting in ways that were in line with my values. I was settling for guys who weren’t really that into me or who were clearly using me for sex (or to stroke their egos).

Knowing that I was having this kind of sexual dysfunction led me to decide to become celibate.

No more sex — no touching, fondling… Nada. I was done.

I had a new mission: to heal. I didn't set out with a deadline in mind. I wanted to be able to overcome the demons of my sexual past in order to reach a new horizon. One where I could maybe have a healthy sexual relationship with another human.

At first, everything was great. I was traveling the country, living nomadically at this point, so dating was the last thing on my mind. I was busy having adventures, exploring new cities, and making my home in Airbnbs to worry about men.

Sure, I went on a couple of dates — I never took dating off of the table. But keep in mind that this was over a period of six months. I only had two dates in six months. (Also, they were two of the worst dates I’ve ever been on.)

At this point, I considered trying to make it to a year of celibacy. I changed my mind about time in part because my anxiety was starting to get to me; I was wondering when and how this period would end. Living in the unknown was going to be very difficult for me.


 

I started to notice my own bad sexual habits: using sex as a pawn, using sex as a way to lie to myself about my own self-esteem, using sex to fill an emotional void I had created through years of destructive relationship patterns.


 

I also needed to feel like I was in control of the process. I was already becoming worried that I wouldn’t meet the “right” person with whom to break my celibacy — I figured, why not put my own time stamp on it? Then it wouldn't be about someone else.

Sure, looking back I can see how I played right into the hand of my control issues, but I felt that this was my way of bringing it back around to my desires.

Around month seven of my celibacy, I moved close to my hometown. I was going to start a new life — or at least, a new year — seeing what it would be like to live in the Cleveland suburbs.

I distinctly remember depression settling in for another visit around this time. It wasn’t that I was unhappy with the path I’d chosen. After a year filled with travel, emotional highs and lows, and blowing my finances out of the water, I wanted to have a quieter life. (This is perhaps another example of my extremism, since I went from having no home to having a one in a quiet suburb.)

Celibacy ended up being another example, since I went from YOLOing in my dating life, really pursuing things with anyone who hadn’t at least committed a felony, to complete celibacy, where sex was off of the table.

At this point, I slowly made my way back into the dating scene. In part, it was because I felt healed (at least to some extent) enough to put myself out there again. On the other side of the equation, though, I was also using dating as a way to alleviate my depression and distract myself from my feelings. I was cynical about sexuality at this point. Just thinking about having sex with someone literally made me feel nauseated.

I went from being indifferent toward not having sex to being repulsed by it.

Instead of becoming a sex-starved maniac who had resorted to humping pillows, I was comfortably going to sleep alone each night.

Because I was dating at the time, it might sound contradictory for me to say this, but I don’t view sex and dating as mutually exclusive. I figured that if I met someone I liked enough, they could wait for me to be finished with celibacy.

Truth be told, I also went into it assuming I wouldn’t meet someone I liked enough to break it, which was the exact result that I got (for two months, anyway).

That was the first red flag. The second was when I actually met someone I liked.

He and I went on a date and made out at the end of it. At first, it was nice, but I felt very uncomfortable. Probably 30 seconds into it, I found myself going back to overcompensating, acting like it was the best kiss I’d ever experienced, introducing tongue into the equation, and pressing myself up against him — when I actually wanted nothing more than for the moment to be over.

This interaction would turn into a pretty dysfunctional micro-relationship that tested my limits. I started to notice my own bad sexual habits: using sex as a pawn, using sex as a way to lie to myself about my own self-esteem, using sex to fill an emotional void I had created through years of destructive relationship patterns. Although he and I never had sex, the game of situational chess we were playing certainly led us down that road of thinking at times.

The worst part was how we actually split up: I invited him out to dinner on Valentine’s Day. He came over to my apartment, since we were going to hang out for a little bit first before going to get dinner. Well, somehow we ended up in the back staircase, with him trying to convince me to ignore the “Do Not Enter” sign and go up onto the roof of the building.

After convincing him that it was a bad idea (trust me, it took a lot), he started to act like he was going to pull the fire alarm in the hallway. He was acting like a fifth grader.

I wasn’t backing down, though. I told him that if he pulled it, I would absolutely give his name to management and the police.

This wasn’t going to turn into him pulling a big prank on me. It doesn’t work like that when you’re out of elementary school!


 

My therapist also suspected that this problem was something I've created as a means of distraction: By being celibate, while also bringing dating into the mix, I was creating drama for myself.


 

I was pretty much over him at this point, so I was relieved when he told me he was going to go outside and smoke. The worst part, though, was that he never came back inside. He just left without saying another word — on Valentine’s Day, might I remind you.

This was the real turning point: I saw how sexually repressed I was, and how awful I was starting to feel about my body.

I’ve probably always suffered from some level of body shame, but it was especially bad after this split. I was so fragile that even a trip to the gynecologist caused me to flash back to the time I was raped. Any touching in my vaginal area was fair game for emotional warfare.

The past few months have been about healing and reflection. I've realized that although this was my past, it doesn’t have to carry over to my future.

I also realized that celibacy was a mistake or, at the very least, something I was ready to part with.

This conclusion came to me during one my dating dry spells that took place after Douchey McDoucherson. I didn’t really go out with anyone again for a good month and it gave me a lot of time to think about things.

My therapist also suspected that this problem was something I've created as a means of distraction: By being celibate, while also bringing dating into the mix, I was creating drama for myself. This is a habit I have both when my life is calm and stable and when things feels out of my control.

I am no longer celibate. Although the situation turned out to be less than ideal, I see how I was subconsciously calling celibacy to me, and this guy to me, because he would give me what I needed to break free. It’s probably going to take a lot of time and trial and error before I really become comfortable with sex and dating, but I’m not committed to any particular outcome. I’m only committed to me doing what feels good to me.

Whether I’m single for another year, in a committed relationship next week, or having another string of almosts, I know I’m in the driver’s seat.

I think celibacy can be great. The journey is different for each person, as are the reasons one decides to walk down this road.

It’s always going to be tumultuous because of the healing that happens — but I think it's more about coming out on the other side a more tough, disciplined individual.  

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