In my early 20s I made the radical decision to take a year of celibacy. My flatmate at the time, who was a year or so older than me and seemed considerably more worldly, told me it would help ‘sort my head out.’
My memory isn’t great but I think it followed a fairly turbulent rebound period after the break-up of a long-term relationship and it seemed like quite a radical yet progressive thing to do. This was pre-digital age so the main way you would meet someone was generally catching their eye at the bar, letting them buy you a drink (do men still do that in this post-feminist era?), having a little chat to see if they had anything about them then heading to the dance floor and gyrating against them or letting them gyrate against you if you liked the look of them. Or copping off with friends of friends.
My social life mainly centred around clubs in South West London - Infernos, Clapham Grand, Embargos, Crazy Larry’s or 151’s. If I ‘pulled’ that night there usually followed the inevitable question of whether, post-snog, you would share a cab or a bus home and the agonising internal debate of if and when you would go ‘all the way.’ Nice girls, my mother told me, absolutely did not have sex on the first date (let alone after a clandestine snog and fumble in a smoky club when you didn’t know their last, or sometimes even their first, name.) If you did ‘put out’ too early and you never heard from them again, you risked the subsequent stinging rejection of thinking that if you had managed to contain yourself, they might have called. That you were, quite possibly, a ‘slag’ with all the self-inflicted punishing angst that that contained. Even though it was post Spice Girls and the dawn of ‘Girl Power’ I think it took at least a decade or so for this to sink in or register with us Generation X’ers. If, that is, it actually ever has.
So, knowing unequivocally that I would not be going the whole hog for 12 months or so, did in many ways, make my life much easier and more simple. And there was still the ‘everything but’ option which left you feeling as if you had your dignity (though not always your knickers) fully intact.
After several months of this and focusing more on trying to cultivate some other interests (such as how long it could take me to work my way through an entire pack of Marlboro Lights and visiting the odd gallery) I remember feeling pretty good. I think I ‘dated’ a few people during that time and probably got to know them considerably better than I would have done if we’d done the whole shebang (how many more euphemisms can I think of?!) early on.
After around 12 months or so I genuinely worried that my hymen might actually grow back and broke my hiatus with a colleague of my flatmate who, is has to be said, bore more than a passing resemblance to Kryten from Red Dwarf. My recollection is somewhat hazy but I think we’d had a dinner party when I decided to ask him, much to my flatmate’s amusement, if he’d like to come and see my new CD collection (a considerably dated term no millennial will ever use.) I’d just bought one of those new funky racks (as in the shelf type thing rather than a buff chest) from IKEA and was quite chuffed with it. Once I’d got him into my room I shut the door and the rest, as they say, is (underwhelming) history.
The worst thing was I actually saw him and his beautiful wife at a wedding a few years ago and felt my cheeks burning crimson at the recollection of that night, all those years later.
So, looking back, what did I learn from my year of celibacy? It definitely showed me that sex and emotions are, unsurprisingly, inexplicably linked and that refraining from sex made me feel more in control. As a woman we inevitably feel that there is an element of submissiveness in sex, as if you are giving yourself to the other person which can, of course, evoke lots of mixed emotions. I’d like to say it made me more reflective and gave me the ability to be more subjective when it came to men.
In reality though, I think I just smoked a lot more and learned how to give better blow jobs.