Finding adults who aren’t having sex is not a daunting task. But finding adults who voluntarily don’t have sex is almost impossible. (One exception: Christian teens kicking it abstinence-style. There are a lot of those.)
We had heard rumors about these mysterious creatures, legends about those who identify as asexuals (some of whom claim they were born without the desire to have sex) and murmurings of so-called cuddlers (those who prefer snuggling to coitus). But no matter how hard we looked, these groups remained an enigma. Sure, we found people who were eager to complain about their lack of sex—but those dry spells were the opposite of self-imposed.
Then we found Karen, a pretty, intelligent, entertaining woman who, frankly, would have no trouble getting laid. Even she admits that “now that I’m 36, younger men try to talk to me…I don’t know why.” And Karen has friends, lots of friends, who also are celibate. “We tend to stick together,” she says, raising an eyebrow in a “shouldn’t that be obvious?” kind of way.
Karen introduced us to Joshua, another handsome, well-dressed, successful person. Karen and Joshua (whose names have been changed for this article) are no strangers to sex; they’ve abstained for only two and four years, respectively. But—in a case of logic that defies the reasoning behind teaching abstinence in schools—it’s precisely their broad sexual experiences that inspired them to give it up. Both stopped having sex after bad relationships (in Joshua’s case, a marriage that ended in divorce). The way Karen described it, having an ugly breakup served as a wake-up call. “It made me tone down a lot,” she says. “The Karen of three years ago would never wear a crew neck; it was always a V-neck.”
Joshua explains: “It’s not about anything other than trying to focus my attention on other fulfilling aspects of a relationship. It’s almost like you don’t pick up on the signs [of a bad relationship] well…your perception is dulled by the fact that sex is introduced.” Besides, he asks, “after the sex goes away, when you’re old and gray and can’t perform anymore, what do you have left?”
Joshua is waiting until marriage—or at least an engagement—before he gets back in the sack again. But Karen (who dated Joshua briefly in her early twenties) has less concrete reasons for abstaining. Her opinion of men—particularly how faithful they are—has been informed by past relationships, and she’s dubious that men can stay true. So she thinks waiting for marriage might be the key. “But I’m really not sure,” she says softly.
Part of her hesitation is probably tied to the fact that she’s not having any sex at all. While some celibate people simply abstain from intercourse, Joshua and Karen have ruled out groping, licking, kissing, hand holding and everything in between. They don’t even have sex with themselves.
“It gets harder every day,” Karen says. “Sometimes I have to call Joshua to talk me off the celibacy ledge.”
But Joshua has his own difficulties keeping his sex drive under control. “Just like anybody else, when your antenna’s up, it’s just up,” he says. “No cold shower, no good book is taking away that desire to get satisfied.”
Which is exactly why, though celibate, both Karen and Joshua are actively dating, looking for that loyal person they can connect with emotionally—and eventually lure into their beds.
“Believe it or not I’m still thinking about the buffet; the all-you-can-eat once you get married,” Joshua says. “There’s a definite benefit to having, you know, sex.”