Celibacy Can Be Erotic — and Radical

Pandemic isolation may be beneficial in helping us get in touch with our truest sexual desires

Photo: Emmanuel Faure/Getty Images

Remember sex?

We went from hot-girl summer to celibate-girl winter in the blink of an eye. Covid-19 put an abrupt end to barhopping — and bed-hopping — shuttering us indoors to be alone with our thoughts and our most instinctive cravings. But these days, women are less likely to view celibacy as a sentence and more as a form of self-care, especially at a time when protecting your energy and prioritizing mental health are tantamount.

It’s hard to even have a conversation about female celibacy that isn’t connected to religion, relationships, or respectability. Celibacy so often entails taking a vow of chastity for the love of a father, the Father, or a future husband. This is why purity balls, where teenage girls promise their fathers and God to remain chaste until marriage, are still a thing. For so long, sexual abstinence was less about a pause and more about the wait for the one — or anyone. Celibacy was either an act of devotion or the maligned mark of spinsterhood. But it’s time to change the conversation altogether.

Celibacy can be radical, self-indulgent, and, dare I say it, sexy. It can give us the space and time to take command of our sexual desires and prioritize pleasure in our everyday life. Celibacy can be the catalyst that we as women occasionally need to switch our focus from pleasing others to pleasing ourselves. And in a culture of no-strings-attached love, taking sex off the table can clear the path to deeper, more gratifying relationships.

Rarely do we enter the bedroom solely seeking sex, anyway.

An orgasm is easy to come by, even if we get there alone. (Did I mention sex toy sales are booming?) Often, we approach sex looking to satisfy a subtler hunger — like a yen for companionship, the feeling of security, or the comfort of touch. Sex injects our life with drama, a thrilling plotline of tension and release that offers escape from the tedium of our ordinary existence. It satisfies our desire to feel desired, awakens our playful imagination, and provides the rare opportunity to be totally seen. At its best, sex can affirm our very being — and that means a lot in the distanced digital age.

Celibacy can be the catalyst that we as women occasionally need to switch our focus from pleasing others to pleasing ourselves.

But sometimes stepping away from the substance of sex can bring us closer to its essence, leading us to discover the erotic in everyday life. Several years ago, for example, I walked into a salsa studio expecting to learn a new style of dance, only to find a new form of intimacy rife with playful flirtation and friendly touch. There are so many ways that we make love.

Abstaining from sex, for however long a period you choose, doesn’t have to mean repressing your sexuality and denying this fundamental aspect of your humanity. It doesn’t have to entail defensive avoidance, a moral high ground, or even shame about self-pleasure. Quite the opposite: Celibacy can be a vital expression of our sexuality. It can, at minimum, serve as a reset to break the pattern of unfulfilling encounters. At best, it’s an opportunity to become acquainted with our own sexual energy, attuned to our desire, and tapped into the erotic current pulsating throughout the natural world.

That’s what makes celibacy radical—and healing in particular—for Black women.

Our sexuality is so often tethered to the racist myth of Black female promiscuity that there’s little space for us to develop a healthy connection to our sexuality. From girlhood, Black women are adultified and tasked with proving to our elders and the rest of the world that we aren’t “fast.” But the chastity culture derived from this preoccupation with the sexual impulses of Black women doesn’t serve us. It never has. Abstinence must not be viewed as a pathway to respectability or making ourselves worthy of love. It has to be totally and completely for us.

Traditional beliefs surrounding female purity reinforce the notion that we are sex objects, rather than sex agents. It makes it harder for women who’ve been indoctrinated in this belief system to assert their boundaries and negotiate the terms of their consent. It comes as little surprise that purity pledges do little to actually deter premarital sex, but instead increase the chances that a young woman may engage in unprotected sexual activity.

We are realizing that our sexual liberation is tied to neither purity nor promiscuity, but to the ability to take command of our bodies. Yes, women are waiting, but not necessarily on a husband or a hero. Women are waiting for our own readiness and a partner with good intentions and a willingness to respond to our deepest needs. As we embrace everything from rose quartz yoni eggs to sensual dance, we are normalizing a new kind of radical celibacy that finally centers female pleasure. And in the dwindling days of pandemic life, we have plenty of time to do just that.

I’m a columnist for Zora 🍯, founder of Women Love Power, talking head & salsera 💃🏾! WomenLovePower.com | IG & Twitter @ayeshakfaines.

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