In 2018 Auzuree Johnson of Youngstown, Ohio, chose celibacy so she could focus on herself. “I was in a period of my life where spiritually and mentally I was wavering. I felt that I needed to keep to myself for a season or so,” she said.
Choosing celibacy was one of the best decisions she’s ever made. The 32-year-old entrepreneur and mother of three daughters said, “It helped me to get more in tune with myself spiritually, mentally and emotionally, and it really helped me to get my mind together and to focus on everything that I’m trying to do.”
She doesn’t have an end date set for her celibacy. “I’m not going to close myself off and say no, never, ever again. That’s the beauty of celibacy — you can make up your mind at any given time,” she said. “If that special person does come along, I have the option to be like, ‘Hey, we can do this.'"
What is celibacy?
Many people use the words “celibacy” and “abstinence” interchangeably. But abstinence usually refers to avoiding penetrative sex for a fixed period, such as before marriage.
“Celibacy may include abstaining from all sexual acts, or it may only refer to refraining from penetrative sex, allowing for other forms of sex to occur,” Candice Hargons, an associate professor at the University of Kentucky who studies relationships, intimacy and sexual enrichment and a member of the American Psychological Association, told TODAY. Celibacy can stem from religious or spiritual beliefs, but it doesn’t have to.
Why choose celibacy?
“Sexuality is very individualized. People come from all walks of life, and they have different stories and backgrounds, both cultural and personal. All of these things, along with their life experience, play into their experience of sexuality,” Petar Bajic, M.D., assistant professor of urology at Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine and a spokesperson for the American Urological Association, told TODAY.
People may choose to be celibate before marriage or a committed relationship, or they may refrain from sex for a period for mental or spiritual clarity.
Hargons said that celibacy could allow you to:
- Build a romantic relationship with someone without the pressure of sex.
- Focus on other important parts of life more readily.
- Grow spiritually in alignment with your religious values.
“As a sex researcher, I love talking about the benefits of a healthy sex life. However, people have sex for many reasons. Celibacy gives you an opportunity to discover what reasons apply to you. You can learn how you engage with yourself and romantic partners without sex, and you can also clarify how important sex may or may not be in your life,” Hargons said.
Riley Dyson, 20, of Perth, Australia, came across the voluntary celibacy, or “volcel,” community on Reddit when he was in high school. “I discovered there was a whole community online for people who are just not ready for a relationship, people who don’t want one or people who are more career-driven. Suddenly, my choices to be single and more solitary made a lot more sense, knowing some other people were making the same choice,” he told TODAY. “We’ve all got our own reasons for being voluntarily celibate, and some of them are more logical, others are personal and almost all are a mix of both.”
What are the downsides of celibacy?
Celibacy can have benefits, but there can be some drawbacks as well:
Loneliness. “People don’t talk about the loneliness,” Johnson said. She didn’t find much support among her friends and family when she decided to become celibate, and she felt alone. So, she started a Facebook group for women, The Celibacy Movement (Queen Edition). She later launched a group for both women and men, The Celibacy Movement 2.
Living a lifestyle that’s hard for many people to comprehend. “People never understand why you’re choosing to live this way, especially if you’re a guy,” Dyson said. “Having to explain it all the time is grating and draining, and it’s hard not to feel lonely when the bed is so cold at night. But I know I’ve made the right choice for me. It’s done some good for my health, physically and mentally.”
Sexual feelings. Many people who choose celibacy struggle with sexual urges, and some may feel guilt or shame when they give in and have sex, then return to celibacy.
Mental health issues. “There’s some evidence that that sexual activity can provide some relief of anxiety and depression,” Bajic said. “People who desire to be sexually active but are not might be more likely to struggle with some mental health issues.”
Choosing celibacy because of trauma. Some people with a history of sexual abuse or other trauma may find sexual thoughts or activity are triggering, so they may choose to avoid sexual activity. They may benefit from therapy to help them cope with the aftereffects of trauma.
How do you know when to end your celibate period?
Some people choose to be celibate for life. But others may want to reintroduce sexual activity into their lives. Hargons recommends journaling for people who have been celibate and are considering resuming sexual activity. You can write about how you will know it’s time to end your celibacy, and what you hope to receive through your future sexual experiences. “This helps set your intentions clearly, so you’re better able to enjoy sexual wellness,” she said.
Journaling can also help clarify which types of sexual experiences you want to have, which you want to avoid, and which you may be willing to consider. You can create three columns on a sheet of paper and title them “Yes,” “No,” and “Maybe So.” Then write which experiences or activities fall into those slots.
I’m not denying the magic of love, but for now, I’m me. Just me. And I’m OK with that.
Celibacy is about choosing what you want.
“Celibacy isn’t an inherently better or worse sexual option than other options. Sexual wellness, which can include celibacy as an option, is about deciding what works for you and your partner(s),” Hargons said.
For now, Dyson is satisfied with his choice. “I don’t have anyone to hug and say ‘I love you,’ but I don’t always need that. And I think it’s done me some good to go without it. Maybe one day I’ll find the man of my dreams, and I’ll finally say ‘I do,’ and I’ll live happily ever after. I might also get divorced or abused or both. I’m not denying the magic of love, but for now, I’m me. Just me. And I’m OK with that.”