For Erin Giroux, celibacy is spiritual.
Giroux, a 35-year-old singer-songwriter from Toronto, has been celibate for four years, partly so she can focus on herself and her 10-year-old daughter.
“I’m a single mom and my little girl is my entire universe,” Giroux told HuffPost Canada. “I feel like she needed the best role model that she could ever have in a lifetime.”
A 2016 study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior found a spike in the number of people in their early 20s who are embracing celibacy: 15 per cent of 20 to 24-year-olds reported that they had not had sex since they were 18.
Prof. Jean Twenge, a psychologist at San Diego State University, and one of the researchers from the study, said via the Independent that while in theory, online dating apps should be helping millennials find sexual partners more easily, technology could have the opposite effect, “if young people are spending so much time online that they interact less in person, and thus don’t have sex.”
The study’s researchers gave other possible reasons for this trend, including the abundance of pornography that’s readily available, the high number of millennials living with their parents, and a fear of being sexually assaulted.
“This generation appears to be waiting longer to have sex, with an increasing minority apparently waiting until their early twenties or later,” said Twenge. “It’s good news for sexual and emotional health if teens are waiting until they are ready.”
What is celibacy?
Celibacy can take on different meanings depending on the individual, said Carling Mashinter, a registered psychotherapist based in Guelph, Ont.
Traditionally, voluntary celibacy is the choice to refrain from sexual intercourse, Mashinter told HuffPost Canada.
However for some people, celibacy can mean no sexual activity at all. “So things like kissing, oral sex, manual sex, and even abstaining from flirting, if someone chooses to go that route,” Mashinter explained.
As the Healthline website points out, celibacy is different from abstinence, which is typically limited to a specific period of time, such as until marriage, and specifically involves not having penetrative sex.
To break it down further, someone who has taken a vow of celibacy is practicing abstinence, but it’s usually for a longer period of time.
Celibacy is a ‘valid decision’
“Celibacy is absolutely a valid decision,” said Rhea, whether it’s for religious reasons, experience with sexual trauma, the birth of a baby and the realization that sex is not a priority, or the desire to understand their sexuality a little bit better.
Mashinter said many practicing Christians and Catholics will choose celibacy before marriage, although there are no recent statistics that show how many people abstain from sex due to their religious beliefs.
Some other reasons for celibacy, Bustle reports, could be that their religion doesn’t mesh with their sexuality; they’re waiting for marriage; they want to focus on other things, such as their career or friendships; or they’re getting over a breakup.
WATCH: What exactly is asexuality? Story continues below.
According to Healthline, people who identify as greysexual experience limited sexual attraction. In other words, they experience sexual attraction very rarely, or with very low intensity.
“People tend to judge others or judge themselves”
While North American society’s view on sexuality is becoming more progressive (unless you’re the man who wants to sue the NFL over the halftime show), there is still a stigma when it comes to celibacy, said Rhea, who goes by they/them pronouns.
“There’s this underlying assumption [that] we must want to have sex all the time,” said Rhea. “And that if we don’t there’s something wrong with us.”
“There’s this underlying assumption [that] we must want to have sex all the time, and that if we don’t there’s something wrong with us.”
Rhea said they believe a lot of the hypocrisy around celibacy comes from within North American society. “Our culture is very pro-sex and sex-negative. Pro-sex, in the sense of we should be having sex all the time with lots of partners or if we’re in a relationship, having it every day,” they explained.
“Then at the same time, we’re quite sex-negative in that we have very little compassion and understanding and openness to different expressions of sexuality, including celibacy,” said Rhea. “As well as including celibacy as an expression of sexuality.”
Mashinter gets right to the point: “People tend to judge others or judge themselves for [being celibate].”
In an attempt to remove some of the stigma surrounding celibacy, we talked to three individuals who identify as celibate or abstinent about their experiences, and what they want people to know about celibacy.
Note: answers have been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
Why are you celibate?
Erin Giroux, 35, Toronto, has been celibate for four years:
I wanted to do it for my spirituality, my truth, for everything. I wanted people to take me seriously and I believe that when you sacrifice something that isn’t a necessity — [even though] a lot of people think it is — people start to see who you really are.
I realize now that before, all of my control was going to different places. Drinking was controlling me, smoking was controlling me, sex was controlling me, and men were controlling me.
Anything that had any kind of hold over my emotions or my thoughts got cut out. I just wanted to have a clear head and be able focus on what I love the most.
Tyler (asked that his last name not be published), 29, Hawaii, has been celibate for a year:
For me the why is following God’s will and trying to do my best to carry and live out celibacy.
I was living actively [as] part of the LGBT community and it came to a point where it was getting complex. There are gray areas and it’s so complex that I was starting to get drawn to celibacy even before tying religion into it.
Jeremiah Chase, 27, Philadelphia, Pa., is a virgin:
I don’t use celibacy, I use abstinence. [While it’s] kind of the same thing, it’s still different. I say I am abstaining from sex. So no masturbation, no pornography. It’s a mindset thing, too.
[I’m not having sex] because God says so, [but] I needed to find something in addition to that.
“I think I’m a dope young man and I love myself.”
My parents are a set example. My parents were virgins before they got married. I wanted to follow in their footsteps.
I think I’m a dope young man and I love myself. I’m a great person; if I’m saving myself then I want to save everything for my wife. I want people to treat me how I treat them.
Do people judge you when you tell them you’re celibate?
Jeremiah Chase: There are a lot of things that are ridiculous that people get offended by. People get offended because of your beliefs. There’s nothing you can do.
Nobody has heard of a 27-year-old male virgin like myself. That’s so shocking to people for some reason.
Women will be like, “Oh my gosh, that is so good.” [Whereas] guys will look at me a little weird, like, “Yo man, respect bro. I couldn’t do it man.”
Tyler: I have very liberal friends and they know my past. They know my dating [history and that] I used to hook up and all those different things, so sometimes when I tell friends that I’m celibate they almost think I’m joking.
But then when I reiterate that I’m not joking and that I’m actually serious about pursuing celibacy I think they accept my decision.
Erin Giroux: I haven’t really told anybody. My best friend knows and she’s kind of like, “Are you ever going to get some?” Yeah, maybe one day, I don’t know. I don’t have a lot of company that I keep that is too supportive of anything that I really do.
I have another friend, she’s like, “I’m going six months.” I’m like “I’ve got four years.” So, little conversations like that. There’s people that [because of my drinking days] can’t look past that [and can] never move on from that old Erin.
It’s hard to show them that kind of light sometimes.
Is being celibate difficult for you?
Tyler: Not going to lie, it is difficult at times. Especially because our society is so sexually charged that the message our society puts out is everyone saying that after a few dates you should be having sex with the person or you’re weird.
What makes it difficult is that society’s expectations make you feel kind of like you should be having sex, because that’s the norm in our culture.
“What makes it difficult is that society’s expectations make you feel kind of like you should be having sex, because that’s the norm in our culture.”
Erin Giroux: Because I haven’t had any physical connection to a man in a long time, it’s hard for me to be physical with anybody, including my daughter. As much as I love her with all of my heart, I am not touchy-feely. I hug her and I kiss her, but it’s not like, “Oh, come here and cuddle with me.”
At the same time, it’s not hard, because I feel like I have so much to offer and I’m not just going to give it to someone who’s not going to appreciate it. I don’t feel like in my whole entire life any man has ever really truly appreciated what I had to offer.
I feel like sometimes we sell ourselves out [because we’re] lonely ... Just do “your thing” (masturbate) by yourself and get over it — it will take what, 30 seconds? And then you’re good.
What do you want people to understand about celibacy?
Jeremiah Chase: There’s power in purity. It doesn’t just mean sex. It’s way more than that. It’s way more than the physical aspect of sex. There’s a lot of things that we overlook.
Tyler: It is possible. I know our society makes it sound like celibacy is impossible, even for straight people before marriage.
People make it sound like it’s so impossible to remain celibate in your life. But if you truly try and put effort into it, it is possible and it is a fulfilling thing.
“It makes life a little bit easier, because [when you’re having sex] you’re always out there searching for this perfect man. He [doesn’t] fucking exist!”
Erin Giroux: It makes you grow inside so much and it also makes everything about you that is real and true come shining through.
You’ll gain back all of your control and then you’ll get more guidance. It makes life a little bit easier, because [when you’re having sex] you’re always out there searching for this perfect man. He [doesn’t] fucking exist!
Cleanse yourself, go through a detox, figure out what you want, get your power back, and then go out and get whatever the fuck out want in this life.
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