A few days after Christmas 2016, I stopped having sex.
It wasn’t a grand statement or lifestyle choice. Nor was it an attempt to find the deeper meaning of life. It wasn’t even really a conscious choice. It came about due to circumstances during a breakup. Weeks turned into months, which turned into years. And here I am, six years later, a 37-year-old man not having sex.
And you know what? I’m happy.
That’s not to say the causes of my abstinence weren’t painful, and my reasons for giving up sex completely are deeply personal and not entirely easy to explain.
I remember the last time I had sex with absolute clarity. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was about to collapse my world. I was with my fiancé for seven years and was very much in love. We were engaged a few months earlier.
But that last time we had sex – or rather, tried to have sex before giving up, tired, irritable and with his heart and mind clearly elsewhere – I knew that somehow this would be the last time .
Of course, when we broke up a few months later, sex was the last thing on my mind. I did what most people do after they leave a partner, throwing myself into my career, social contacts and family. Everything but men – and certainly everything but sex.
If I’m honest, though, it goes deeper. I’ve never felt completely comfortable with sex and intimacy for a variety of reasons, and I think my reasons for giving up stem from long before that relationship, which was my first.
For starters, I’ve always suffered from body image issues to some degree. As a teenager, I was never quite comfortable with my physical appearance – especially not my naked appearance. Changing rooms at school were a nightmare and I became acutely self-conscious.
Being a gay man made things even more complicated. I lived my teenage years in the closet, and sex with men remained a mystery until my early 20s. I lost my virginity late, at the age of 23, and met my only long-term partner a few years later. The sex I got to know best was having sex with someone I loved.
But somewhere in that relationship I started to associate sex with stress. Myself and my partner both worked long hours in demanding jobs, so our moments together were often fleeting. The less sex we had, the more focus we put on it, and the more tension it caused when one or both of us felt like the other wasn’t enjoying it.
The moment finally came, in late 2016, when we both just stopped trying. I left that relationship and entered the single world with my negative view of sex cemented.
Of course, sex as a single man is very different from sex in a relationship, and the way dating had changed in the years I was with a partner came as a shock. Society’s approach to sex seemed to have changed. Many of my friends were in open relationships and were more than happy to satisfy their physical needs with a handsome stranger before returning home to the one they say they love.
Tinder, Grindr, Bumble and a host of other apps have transformed the dating world. Sex is more accessible than ever before – it’s almost become a transaction, without emotion, and I find myself instinctively revolting against it. Whenever a friend disappears in the evening and returns later and finds himself blocked by the man they had been intimate with just hours before, I find that depressing.
I know how this all sounds. I am routinely and relentlessly mocked by friends for my view of sex – and I totally understand that. Frankly, I’m surprised myself. After all, sex is the ultimate pleasure. Why deny yourself that? Am I just thinking too much about it?
Sex may be one of life’s most pleasurable experiences, but it’s also one of the most intimate. Wasting that intimacy with a stranger seems pointless. Sex is best when it’s an expression of love. Until I fall in love again, my abstinence will continue. And I’m happy about that.
Paul Duggan is a pseudonym
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