Being sex free is sexy. Yup, I said it. Formerly reduced to images of gray-haired spinsters past their prime, sitting in rocking chairs while listlessly stroking their cat’s back, abstinence (or the purposeful decision to forego sex outside of a covenant relationship) is on the rise. It’s also looking more attractive than it ever has.
Sultry actress Meagan Goode and her aptly paired Hollywood studio exec husband Devon Franklin are the most recent high-profile couple to publically share their abstinent pledge prior to marriage. They join Mariah and Nick Cannon, Angela Bassett and Courtney Vance, Reverend Run and Justine Simmons, as well as singletons like New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow, Olympic hurdler Lolo Jones, rocker sex god Lenny Kravitz (who as of 2009 maintained a celibacy pledge of four years), and apparently a growing number of you EBONY.com readers, according to responses from a recent call for anonymous confessions on the subject.
Motives vary. For some, being sex free for a reason or season is a way to heal from past relationships. For those more goal-oriented, it’s a way to eliminate distractions, especially those casual “friends with benefits” hookups which begin under the premise of fun and exciting old no-strings-attached sex, but all too often dissolve into emotional road kill, leaving one or both parties worse for the wear and even further derailed from the timely realization of deeply cherished personal and/or career plans.
Several are motivated by obedience to the dictates of their faith and/or as a way to develop stronger spiritual ties with a non-religious specific Creator. Still others see periods of celibacy as a way to gain a stronger sense of self.
“As a Black man, I realize that the world considers us as sexually deviant animals unable to control our carnal desires,” says one reader whose initial one-year abstinence pledge has extended to nearly three years when we encouraged readers’ confessions on the subject. “The world doesn’t understand that sex is often the only time we receive pleasure in a society that deplores our very existence. Those few minutes provide the power and control that we’re searching for outside the bedroom. However, we often allow our lust to control us and it almost always gets us into trouble in the long run.”
Trouble. How broadly defined yet amazingly specific does this word capture my own dating and relationship experiences prior to embarking on my sex free journey over seven years ago.
I was at a crossroads and I knew it. For nearly a decade prior, my weekends weren’t complete without Sunday fellowship with Carrie and the Sex and the City crew. And oh how I loved throwing my hands up in the club chanting in perfect sync (but far from perfect pitch) with Destiny Child’s “Independent Woman,” the definitive early 2000s single ladies anthem. “Only ring your celly when I’m feeling lonely/When it’s all over/Please get up and leave.” But the question wasn’t for anyone who may have been on the other side of my so-called non-emotionally committal sex; it was for the woman I looked at daily in the mirror.
For as much as I loved the rush of excitement, the smell of a man, the touch of his skin on mine, and the absolute refusal on my end to “catch feelings,” I realized I wasn’t nearly as fulfilled as I felt society, through music and images, was telling me I should be. It turned out I had to repress a great deal of my warmth and openness outside the bedroom to more freely express myself inside of it.
I wasn’t mean… exactly. But I also wasn’t all of who I could be. I was incredibly guarded, doing my best to mask my vulnerabilities under my “strong, independent, Black woman” cape. I dove deeper into my work, could always be counted on for community service, and partied with the girls while also making sure I had time to be there for family members and close friends. In short, I was accessible, warm and open to anyone who couldn’t hurt me.
See, even before Beyoncé and Carrie, I carried, unwittingly, the pain of failed relationships that I saw or heard tell as a young girl during Friday night after-work gatherings populated by my mom, grandma, aunts and many of their friends.
While R&B classics played and fish fried in surprising synchronicity, I hung on their every squeal, cackle, tear and proclamation of devastating love. I made a deep, unspoken promise to never allow myself to hurt like that, which they affirmed by openly cautioning me (even though I should’ve been long-gone sleep by the time they acknowledged my presence) to be more careful when love came for me.
I obliged, only to realize that my trepidation was as much of a stronghold around burgeoning love as their transgressions of “loving too much.” I was also growing to the point in my adulthood where I began seeing that, quiet as it was kept, many of them made mistakes that led to their relationships’ demise. Just as the men who hurt them were not all bad, their actions were not all good.
Ultimately, I knew it was time for a new paradigm—one free of my need to self protect or embrace what society had foolhardily promised as way to fun and freedom.
Thus began my sex free journey, an excursion not meant as a retreat from the world and any semblance of an active lifestyle, but as a way to experience enhanced intimacy.
Luckily, I am not alone. “Where has all the romance gone?” questioned another male EBONY.com reader, who has chosen to abstain because he believes he somehow lacks the “genetic predisposition most men have for meaningless sex.”
“I bemoan the demise of writing a simple love poem to your girlfriend, sending her flowers, calling her when you know she is asleep just to hear her speak as the voicemail catches the missed call, or any type of traditional romantic gesture,” he confessed.
Perhaps we need more confessions. Less hookups. And greater time and effort spent on developing deeper levels of intimacy.
What say you, EBONY fam? Do you think the world is ready to for more, good old fashioned romance, where sex serves, not as a prerequisite but as a reward for healthy, loving relationships? Sound off below!
Monique N. Matthews is a Harlem-born, L.A.-based writer and director. She is the author of Sex Free: A (Not So) Modern Approach to Dating and Relationships, and can be reached at sexfreebook.com. Follow her on Twitter @moniquematthews.