Allie, a 22-year-old from North Carolina, is waiting until marriage to have sex. She’s totally comfortable with that decision, but it’s made dating a bit uncomfortable at times.
“I’ve been ghosted more times than I can count,” she said. “I had one guy who found out right before our first date and suddenly went from very interested to putting in no effort. It was the dealbreaker for I’d guess about 80% of prospective dates.”
She’s always been upfront about her choice, and her boyfriend of three years is fine with it.
“I never lied about my celibacy because it doesn’t end well for either person,” she said. “Celibacy is more common than most people think. Just hang in there and the right person will eventually come along.”
Allie is hardly the only person choosing to be celibate ― after all, we’re in a so-called millennial “sex recession.” And even couples who’ve gotten physical are starting to practice a kind of reverse celibacy, said Tammy Nelson, a sex therapist and the author of “Getting the Sex You Want.”
They’ll be sexually active, get engaged and then decide to stay pseudo-virginal until their wedding day.
“It’s almost like a kickback to an old-fashioned desire to marry without having sex first, even though they have had a fully sexually pre-approved relationship prior to their commitment,” she said. “They know they are compatible, and yet they are starting over, and holding out, hoping they’ll rekindle a spark and feel some anticipation before their wedding. It’s charming, really.”
Clearly, people choose to abstain from sex for all types of reasons. But how do you make your sexual status known when you’re single and celibate? Below, sex therapists share when and how to broach the topic.
Bring it up quickly after meeting — certainly by the third date — and consider putting it in your profile.
Generally speaking, it’s always a good policy to be clear and upfront about your sexuality, whether you’re gay, straight, poly, pro-kink or celibate.
“Do it fast and be honest,” Nelson said. “Why leave something so important to a later time when it might be too late for either of you to make a clear decision, or for the other person to understand why you waited so long to tell them?”
Should you state it explicitly in your profile ― or hint at it? (For instance, “Looking for something platonic or companionship.”) Maybe, said Vanessa Marin, a sex and relationship therapist and online course creator.
“It depends on how long you’re planning on being celibate for. If this is a temporary decision, you can tell a person fairly early in the dating process,” she said. “If it’s a lifelong decision, I would put it on your profile.”
Allie, the celibate woman mentioned above, recommends bringing it up by the third date.
“I feel that anything sooner is too… I don’t know, presumptive?” she said. “If a guy starts pushing for physical stuff sooner I will tell him earlier, but date three has always been my rule. Anything later than that feels like I am hiding it from the guy and not being honest.”
When you have the conversation, be as clear as possible.
There’s obviously no “right” way to broach the subject, but if you’re apprehensive about bringing it up, it helps to have a loose script in mind.
“It doesn’t have to be complicated,” said Janet Brito, a psychologist and sex therapist at the Center for Sexual and Reproductive Health in Honolulu. “Say something like, ’Before we get closer, I want to make sure that we are on the same page. I don’t want to mislead you. Currently, I am taking it slow and not interested in being sexual. If you are interested in dating without sex, let’s continue. If not, I wish you the best.“
Explain the reasons for your celibacy and how you expect it to affect any potential relationship.
People usually assume there’s a religious reason behind choosing celibacy. But is that the reason for you? Are you accidentally celibate (i.e., you just haven’t had sex for a while and don’t mind keeping it that way)? you waiting to find the right person? Are you getting over an ex? Your potential partner is probably curious (and maybe making a lot of assumptions), so you might as well be honest.
Explain the parameters of your celibacy, too, said Nelson: Are you abstaining until marriage? Down to do it after you’ve been together a certain amount of time? Are there other physical things you are willing to do?
“Before you share the intimate details of your sex life, or lack of a sex life, think deeply about what you want now and what you might want later,” she said. “Be clear about why you are choosing not to have sex right now and understand your motivation.”
If you’re struggling to find someone, consider looking for support online.
Don’t take other people’s reactions personally. Celibacy isn’t a teeny tiny thing for most people to wrap their heads around, even if you’re clear on your rationale and decision. Look to online forums for support and consider trying a dating app that caters to celibate people.
“I’d recommend singles looking for others who share similar views join an app for celibate and asexual people called Celibate Passions,” Brito said. “You’re all on the same page.” (If you are asexual, there’s another called Asexual Cupid.)
Own your decision.
You’re not the only person on the planet who’s not interested in getting physical for one reason or another. If you know that this is in your best interest, be confident in your decision and eventually, you’ll find the right person.
“I truly believe that we all get to decide what feels right for us in our own sex life,” Marin said. “Celibacy may not be super common, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a valid choice.”
And once you tell a potential partner, don’t feel the need to apologize.
“You’re not confessing to some horrible misdeed,” she said. “You’re just sharing something honest and truthful about who you are.”
Sex Ed for Grown-Ups is a series tackling everything you didn’t learn about sex in school — beyond the birds and the bees. Keep checking back for more expert-based articles and personal stories.