‘I don’t even dream about sex … I don’t miss it at all’: readers on why they chose celibacy

Over the last few years more than 120 million posts have appeared on TikTok about the rise of an unexpected trend: self-imposed celibacy.

While some predicted a post-pandemic era of “sexual licentiousness”, readers from all walks of life and across generations told us that far from doubling down on hookup culture, they’ve found refreshing clarity in a more austere approach to physical intimacy.

While some readers’ forays into sexual abstinence predated Covid, common threads remained. Whether readers had decided to apply the breaks for a few months or the rest of their lives, they all agreed that celibacy had been a positive experience that offered some welcome perspective on not only their relationship with sex, but with themselves.

‘I didn’t have sex with anyone but myself for eight months’

I’ve always been a people pleaser and during sex this instinct made me focus on my partners having a good time, which included faking orgasms. I still enjoyed the sex and was never an unwilling partner but I felt ashamed that I was being deceitful. And of course I also wanted to orgasm during sex, but until recently I’d only ever orgasmed through masturbation.

When my last relationship ended I promised myself that I wouldn’t start another one or have sex with anyone until I’d worked on building my confidence and sense of self-worth to the point that I could value my own pleasure as much as that of my partner. And it worked!

I didn’t have sex with anyone but myself for about eight months. When I returned to sex with a partner, I was able to be honest with them about what I wanted and orgasming during sex has become the norm.

Celibacy gave me space to work on myself and break an unhelpful pattern and I’m so glad I did it.
Anonymous, Australia

‘It is liberating to be free of old ideas about intimacy’

I’ve been celibate for a few years now and love this lifestyle. I’m in my mid-50s and have found peace of mind, financial security and stress-free daily living from my choice. Staying solo (I don’t use the term “single”) is the best decision I’ve ever made.

After a divorce at 30 and a string of short-term relationships with men who were so immature, insecure and self-centred that I had to lose myself if I wanted the relationships to work, I came to realise that solo life was better on every level.

My sexual needs are addressed and enjoyed alone and my emotional life has expanded and is cherished through long-term friendships and my family. I highly recommend this lifestyle for women tired of catering to men.

It is liberating to be free of old ideas about intimacy and relationships and choose to live life on my terms of happiness. I plan on being celibate forever.
Anonymous, Australia

‘Celibacy affords absolute clarity of mind’

My experience of celibacy was not so much a choice as a natural consequence of the intense Zen training I was undergoing at the time. I am an ordained Zen Buddhist monk in my 50s. I am also married with children. I have been through two periods of celibacy: once pre-monastically in India and that was six months’ long. The second time was in the monastery and lasted just over a year.

I have always been very sexual and I still am, perhaps even more so now as a consequence of my experiences. But at the time celibacy was a natural progression from desire to quite literally no desire. True celibacy in my opinion is the inability to even conceptually experience desire. From this place, one person interacts with another as simply human rather than an object of desire.

When sexual thoughts are absent it is incredible to realise how much of our day-to-day life is usually taken up with conscious and subconscious sexual considerations and awareness. Celibacy affords absolute clarity of mind.

My master’s master once said: “The closest most people come to enlightenment is an orgasm.” I now practise Tantra and as long as I remain in a sexual relationship, this bridges the gaps between my sexual relationship and spiritual needs.
Venerable Daiju Zenji, Sydney

‘I was using sex and my appearance as a way to validate myself’

Nearly 10 years ago, a frank conversation with my best friend brought home some hard truths. With my best interests and safety at heart she told me she believed that after years in a nasty relationship that had chipped away at my self-esteem, I was using sex and my appearance as a way to validate myself.

I decided to take a year off from sex and dating. The best thing was being able to separate who I am at my core from how I look or what others think of me.

Getting back into dating after my celibacy ended was tough. It reminded me that there are a lot of duds out there that won’t see or appreciate the inner work you’ve done. Then I met my partner.

I’m glad I did the hard work when I did, because figuring out who I am and not seeking approval through sex has placed me well for a stable relationship.
Anonymous, Australia

‘Life is definitely less complicated’

In the gay scene which is now dominated by dating apps, sex is primarily a commodity that is used to put notches on the bedhead. I just got sick of the merry-go-round where you have to have sex in order to meet someone.

I’ve been celibate for three years now and life is definitely less complicated. I’ve found out that you don’t need to use sex to fill the voids in your life. I got myself a dog two years ago, and it’s awesome coming home to something alive in the house.
Ian, Sydney

‘I don’t miss the sexual urges of my fertile years’

Throughout my life I had the good fortune to enjoy sex without any detrimental physical or psychological interference that might have affected my desire to continue to stay sexually active. But now in my early 60s I’ve been happily celibate for two decades.

I have never worried about “the norm” and for me at least, being sexually active, or not, is simply dictated by biology. Just as I don’t miss my baby teeth, I don’t miss the sexual urges of my fertile years.

As a child I was aware that sex was something that older people seemed to be obsessed about, but I had no interest in it until I became a horny adolescent. Post menopause, I seem to have gone full circle back to feeling free of desire and seeing that sex is simply something younger people are interested in but holds no appeal to me. The desire to masturbate stopped, I don’t even dream about sex. It’s just gone and I don’t miss it at all.

I know many postmenopausal women are convinced to or wish to keep hormones at a level to ensure desire remains, but to me that is back-to-front thinking. Being celibate feels as natural to me now as it did when I was a child.

Living alone and celibate feels like freedom and like my life was always leading to this point where I would be free of complying to anybody’s needs but my own.
Anonymous, Australia

Quotes have been edited for structure, clarity and length.

The Guardian