Abstinence may seem like a bit of a strange topic for a sex blogger to write about, but I’ve always maintained that to be truly sex-positive you have to be accepting of people’s decision not to have sex, either right now or ever.
This might come as a surprise, but I was abstinent for a year. In 2012 I was in a very bad place mentally. I’d drunk myself half to death and found myself in rehab, attempting to claw back my life. The rehab programme was intense. We had groups from 9 to 5 on Monday to Friday, morning groups on weekends and a curfew fit for a pre-teen. With such a regimented programme, I had few opportunities to get my rocks off but, to be honest, I didn’t want to.
After putting down the bottle, I was overwhelmed by feelings. Alcohol had let me run away from my emotions but, newly sober, there was nowhere to hide. I was overwhelmed by feelings and memories, and I needed to focus on working out how to live without alcohol. I had been drunk for so long that I didn’t even know who I was without booze. Sobering up began a period of reflection and resurrection. Fucking didn’t fit into that plan.
Not everybody in detox and rehab had the same idea. On my first day in detox I was told to be careful because “the men might swap their alcohol addiction for an addiction to you”. It wasn’t that I was anything special. I was just the only woman under 50. Addicts notoriously play addiction whac-a-mole. When our drug or behaviour of choice isn’t available, we find another. Over the years I’ve dealt with alcoholism, eating disorders and self-harm; all addictions (at least for me). Sex is another one of my pesky moles. At times it has been compulsive and, knowing that, I swore off sex while I dealt with my perennial need for something, anything, to throw myself into…and drown in.
As someone who has always been promiscuous, it was strange to shut off that part of my life. I still masturbated, but my sexuality became mine and mine alone. Removing other people from the mix meant I focused solely on my pleasure. What did I want? What did I even like? My previous relationship was with a man who shamed me for my sexual predilections. I don’t think he was even aware of the fact he did it. I think he just couldn’t understand why I did the things I did because they were so alien to him. Whatever the reason for his attitudes, I internalised his disgust and disappointment.
With all the time for reflection that rehab afforded me (and fuck me, there was a lot), I looked back over my life and realised I was happiest before I tried to become what others wanted me to be. I’m opinionated, stubborn, promiscuous, selfish, flaky and not even remotely what could be considered normal, but I have good traits too. I’m loyal, honest, determined and, when it really matters, I can be depended upon to pull out all the stops for those I care about. These traits are me, not what I like in bed or how many people I sleep with.
This new found clarity didn’t lead me to jump into bed with anyone. Having now reconnected with my old sexual tastes, I was faced with a new issue. I had no idea how to flirt or fuck without booze.
On New Year’s Eve 2012, when I was just shy of six months sober, I went to one of my regular haunts. I was surrounded by old friends and more than a couple of more than friends. Everyone was congratulating me on my sobriety and saying how well I looked, but one person in particular seemed particularly impressed by my transformation. He was an old fuck buddy, someone I had occasionally slept with over the previous four years. He was a safe option to dip my toe back into the water.
On New Years Day we went to bed, and it was awful. I was so self-conscious. I was wooden. I couldn’t move naturally. I actually seemed to have forgotten how to have sex. When I went home that night I worried that I’d never be able to have casual sex sober. The thought that might be true filled me with terror.
In early 2013, still sober, I found myself battling another one of my demons. I’d made the mistake of going on a diet, but that quickly morphed into anorexia nervosa. As my weight decreased, my sex drive faded into non-existence. I spent 2013 believing I was asexual. I didn’t have a single sexual thought. I didn’t find anyone attractive. I didn’t even indulge in solo sex. This period of abstinence was different from the first. It wasn’t an active choice intended to provoke personal growth. It was like a switch had been flipped and I just stopped being sexual.
I was abstinent for the whole of 2013 (minus New Years Day). It wasn’t until my weight increased to a BMI of 17 that I felt my sexual urges begin to stir. When they finally roused, I was ravenous.
In January 2014 I ended my year of abstinence. I also began drinking again. Alcohol was responsible for me meeting the first two men but it wasn’t responsible for my increased sexual confidence. The first period of celibacy had helped me clarify my sexual tastes and develop the self-acceptance to worry less about whether other people thought they were wrong. That was just the start of my journey though. My descent into anorexia forced me to examine my relationship with my body and twice weekly therapy helped me gain insight. Had I be using sex to self-destruct or run away from feelings, there is no way I could have made such great progress in therapy. The result was that I was able to begin to once again have fulfilling, pleasurable sexual experiences.
That isn’t the end of the story, but the seeds of confidence and self-acceptance were planted. Abstinence and celibacy aren’t always about denial. For me, abstinence made my heart grow stronger.