It's become rare, or at least uncommon to practice abstaining from sex or staying celibate, either until marriage or until finding the right partner to be with.
We live in an hypersexualised society and this makes it hard to grasp that there are people who actually do without it. Sex is explicitly sold on magazine covers and popular shows, shared on social media and explored in the conversations we have, and there seems to be no avoiding it; but some women are choosing to abstain and practice celibacy.
Celebrities such as Meagan Good, Ciara, and Nicki Minaj are among a few celebs who've gone public about being celibate, and more and more young women, many South Africans included, have embraced this approach to sexual intercourse, for both personal and spiritual reasons.
We spoke to psychologist and sexologist, Dr. Marelize Swart about the various reasons why women choose to abstain from sex and practice celibacy. She says that "...sometimes women take a break because they don’t have a partner, and sometimes women take a break because they were in a relationship and they need to have an introspection of why the relationship didn’t work out. It all depends on the individual."
The decision is often not easy, though, depending on what the reason for it is, and women who chose to be celibate are interrogated and even shamed for their choices.
"There’s a lot of pressure for people to be sexual these days," Dr. Swart explains. "I see a lot of people before they’re thirty and they come to me and say ‘Dr Swart, I’m coming to see you because I’m still a virgin at twenty-nine years old’ and it’s almost as if they’re saying to me it’s a shame and they can’t tell any of their friends. It might even sound funny, but they even ask if there are professional sexual surrogates who can take their virginity away, and there are people like that that you go to if you’re having sexual problems. People feel ashamed if they are virgins at twenty-nine or older."
The choice of celibacy is one that is unique to everybody, and for this reason no one should be shamed, ridiculed, or undermined for it because - in case you didn't know this - people are entitled to do whatever they like with their bodies.
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One of the benefits of not having sex for a while, Dr. Swart explains, is that "...it might help you reflect on what it is you want from a partner or from a relationship. If you did jump from one partner to the next, to the next, to the next, you’re actually not reflecting on what you want and whether you’re in a relationship because you’re insecure or because everybody else is in one."
Sindisiwe* shares her celibacy story:
"In June 2014 I decided to go on a sort of sabbatical. I began to re-evaluate my life and having sex was one of the things I was re-evaluating. I wanted to figure my life out, what my next move was and what my career path would be. I basically stopped having sex, drinking or smoking. In 2015 I started drinking and smoking again but still didn’t have sex until mid 2015.
"Not having sex was the most liberating experience. For the first time in my life I didn’t feel attached to anyone. I didn’t feel the need to set up appointments for sex. Celibacy also allowed me to have sex differently. I no longer have sex for the sake of it. I have sex for my enjoyment in as much as it is for the other person’s. I value sexual compatibility more than I did before becoming celibate. In the beginning it was hard but looking back, that was the best decision of my life."
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Dolly is abstaining from sex for spiritual and personal reasons:
"I decided that I would withhold from any sexual acts until I was married. I have true and utter reverence for God and He’s so real and tangible to me, I felt that honouring Him with my body was the way to go. In turn, it taught me how to have self-respect and it taught me how full I am within myself that I don’t need anyone to entice me sexually apart from the man that I was designed to love for the rest of my life.
"I know that in today’s society, it seems like a dream; it seems like you’re crazy or missing out on so much fun; but what I usually tell people is that I can’t miss what I don’t know. I won’t say it hasn’t been without its challenges, especially in a society where sex is thrown out willy-nilly and guys will date you just to have sex with you. I also found that starting and maintaining a relationship without it is really difficult.
"But I have to consciously remind myself that if it was God-ordained then the man standing in front of me will respect my decision. So for me, choosing virginity was first and foremost reverence for God; second was honouring myself and my body; and third, was respecting myself and the husband I’m going to marry. That’s how I’ve remained celibate for 27 years now."
WARNING: THE FOLLOWING PERSONAL ACCOUNT CONTAINS SENSITIVE MATERIAL.
Zinhle* is celibate because of a traumatic experience:
"I think I'm somewhere between celibate and virgin. It's a weird, limbo-like place, but I always prefer leaning towards virgin because it wasn't my six or seven year-old self's choice to be a victim of a sexual crime. When that happened, I think it's safe to say that the spirit of the child I was at that time got murdered by the sexual crime. Now as an adult, her ghost (the child I was) still haunts me; especially when I try to explore my sexuality as an adult, it feels like she starts to suffocate me and it manifests as a panic attack about to happen.
"I get flashbacks, I can't breathe, and the ghost of my childhood constantly haunts me. It always seems to happen just when I decide that I'm ready to have sex. A lot goes on in my head and I go from super turned on to turned off because I get slightly triggered and I feel slightly insane until I remember the guy that I'm getting it on with and how awkward it must be for the guy that I now have to get rid of. At that time, he's probably confused, sexually frustrated, feeling sexually rejected, and probably thinking I'm the worst tease he's ever encountered.
"Meanwhile, all I can do is wish that I could make him understand that it's the childhood ghost who just appeared."
*Name has been changed.