Life without sex – it's better than you think
After I was diagnosed with a neurological condition, my partner left me and I decided to try celibacy. It has improved my friendships with women no end
I am celibate. I am a single, heterosexual, early-middle-aged male. I have all the appendages that nature intended and, although modesty forbids that I class myself as good-looking, attractive women still make me interesting offers of intimate entanglements – and, yes, some of them are even sober at the time. (Of course, being a Guardian reader also helps to make one irresistibly attractive to the opposite sex.)
So why am I celibate? More than a decade ago I was in a relationship when I discovered that I had a neurological condition that is likely, in time (I know not when), to deteriorate. That was the end of the relationship – a decision that my partner made and which, although I took it badly at the time, I now appreciate a lot better. After all, it is one thing to think that illness or death may happen to one or other of you half a century hence, another altogether when it may be only five years down the road.
Despite this, if you met me in the street you probably wouldn't even know that there was anything wrong with me. Certainly nothing off-putting to any potential mate. So why celibacy? At first, after the break-up, I could have gone one of two ways. I could have dived head-first into a flurry of empty, hedonistic sex in a quest for revenge against all women for my ex-partner's abandonment of me. I didn't; although it crossed my mind. Instead, at first, I took some time out to grieve for the loss of a relationship that had meant a lot to me and, to be honest, to feel bloody sorry for myself.
But what to do after that? After I had spent some time in thought, both consciously and sub-consciously, I slowly came to the conclusion that celibacy was the way forward. I know within that I could live a life of permanent isolation like an anchorite, yet I know also that I would not want to. Frankly, I love women. I love their company, the sound of their voices, the way that although they occupy the same physical space as us blokes yet they seem to inhabit it so totally differently. The thought of not sharing their company was, and is, unthinkable to me. I have always preferred sex within a relationship to one-night stands. I am not a puritan, but I prefer the greater intimacy that you can achieve through a shared exploration of each other's body and desires. Yet I could not, in conscience, enter into a relationship bringing the baggage of my illness; it would not be fair to do so. Neither to a partner or, conceivably, any potential children who might inherit my illness. (Before anybody suggests seeking "relief" with a prostitute – I am a Guardian reader, we don't do that sort of thing). Such was my final decision, and it is one that I have stuck to.
Do I miss sex? Yes, but not as much as I thought that I would. Arguably, sex is an addiction. Break the cycle and, over time, the physical and psychological "need" for sex lessens – you can do without it, hard as that may be to believe. Yes, you still think about it, but over time those thoughts lose their power. I have read assiduously about the various techniques employed by monks and other religious adherents of various faiths, and the supposed benefits that they derive from abstinence. I have, however, yet to be convinced that there is any spiritual or physical gain to be had.
However, being celibate has actually improved my relationships with women – at least those that I already know (getting to know new people of the opposite sex is still no easier, although you can be seen as a "challenge" by some, which can be … interesting). Once you remove the potential for sex from the relationship, and both parties are aware of that, it changes the dynamic of the friendship. You can both be relaxed in each other's company in a way that is not possible otherwise. Daft, but seemingly true. Look, for example, at the similarly close relationships that some women have with gay men.
So would I recommend celibacy to my fellow men? I appreciate that my circumstances are not normal – and anybody finding themselves in my position would have to make up their own mind on the matter. However, people consider celibacy for many and varied reasons; so if you are considering it, I would say that it is not something to fear and can indeed be a positive choice (and, let's face it, if you try it and don't like it then you can always change your mind). Even taking a break from sex, or at least taking a break from the obsessional quest for it, can often be incredibly rewarding.