Is Abstinence Right for You? (Psst…It’s More Common Than You Think)



Have you ever found yourself fibbing to friends about the seriousness of a casual fling? Amping it up because you feel just a little bit uneasy about being single? What if you've taken a breather from dating or sex altogether, but find yourself gossiping about flirtations that happen in your daily life so you feel "with it" amongst your relationship-obsessed sidekicks? You can be honest. So many of us have been there. The question is, why? 

art-of-sleeping-aloneWhen I first heard of Sophie Fontanel's book "The Art of Sleeping Alone," I couldn't believe the memoir's premise. A senior fashion editor at French Elle bares a very personal history that includes 12 years of celibacy. For Sophie, even when she was happy in a relationship, she still felt as if sex was on someone else's terms, and she didn't like it. So she stopped. 

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this story is how Sophie was treated after the book came out. An instant celebrity in France, everyone wanted to interview her, everyone wanted to know how such a life anomaly could be justified. As time passed, she found that she was far from the only one who'd gone through a period of chosen abstinence as an adult. In interview after interview, she spoke of the untold letters and emails she received from people thanking her for "coming out" with her story because they'd experienced something similar. And Sophie isn't the only reputable woman to go on record about personal celibacy. During the most recent Olympic summer games, Lori "Lolo" Jones made headlines by admitting to being a 29-year-old virgin. 

So the question is, in today's confusing world of laissez-faire sexts and the subtle pressure from a media culture that can make you feel as if you're nobody until somebody loves you, is sex as important as we think? There's no easy answer. Studies have shown countless benefits for men and women for sexual activity. 

According to an article in Forbes, the benefits of sex are many. Better sleep, less stress, feel-good endorphins and even less frequent common illnesses like the cold and flu. Countless pro-abstinence websites and forums exist for teens, touting obvious benefits of remaining STD- and child-free. Yet public dialogue regarding abstinence in healthy adult women is virtually non-existent. Sophie Fontanel got a boost to her income by writing a best-selling book about it, and maintains it was the right choice for her. What other benefits can there be? What other drawbacks?

According to Toronto-based sexologist Jessica O'Reilly, her (adult) clients have claimed they learn to appreciate physical pleasure as opposed to sexual pleasure only. Interesting notion. If you have a partner and choose to abstain, you'll likely find other ways to show affection, touching in ways you haven't before. But touching another person isn't the only form of physical pleasure. Think about the last time you mused about the warm sun on your shoulders, the way a hot shower feels after a long day, or the release you get from taking long, measured breaths. 

For women, they can up the pleasure of self-love, finding what turns them on, on their own terms, which increases sexual pleasure after the break is over. In fact, women receive almost the same physical benefits from masturbation as they do from sexual intercourse. The calorie burn, the clear-headedness and ability to focus on other tasks, and a way to relieve stress and energy that feels good, for women can be even more pleasurable than sex. Women have claimed they're more orgasmic when pleasuring themselves. 

The National Institute of Health executed a study published in 2006 called "Characteristics of Adult Women Who Abstain From Sexual Intercourse." What did they find? The Conclusion states: 

"Prolonged sexual abstinence was not uncommon among adult women. Periodic, voluntary sexual abstinence was associated with positive health behaviours, implying that abstinence was not a random event. Future studies should address whether abstinence has a causal role in promoting healthy behaviors or whether women with a healthy lifestyle are more likely to choose abstinence."

I've said it before, I'm not a doctor, just a reporter. But my take? The next time you're feeling the need to justify to yourself, or anyone else, why you may have chosen—and there are countless reasons to make the choice—or are experiencing a sexual and/or dating drought, pat yourself on the back privately instead. Let your friends dish about their drama and enjoy not having to attend the alma mater homecoming game (10 years after he graduated) or coming up with yet another "fun" date night. Enjoy your alone time, whatever your reasons. And know that Sophie and countless other women have decided to own their sexuality, for a period of time, by keeping it to themselves.