Celibacy in a time of hook-up culture

Kanisa George  -
Kanisa George -

Kanisa George

WE ALL WANT that magical connection. That quintessential romance that makes us do silly things in the name of love. Or do we? Seasons come, seasons go, but the quest for undying love stays the same, or maybe that's what we were all led to believe.

In an era of dating apps and one-night stands, those genuinely seeking to establish lasting bonds of intimacy, connection and love are fighting a very steep, emotionally-taxing uphill battle. Call me a cynic, but most modern relationships can easily fit into two buckets; transient or transactional, which doesn't leave the average love-seeking individual with many viable options.

Even when hopeful singles are intentional and open-minded about the dating game in a time of hook-ups and transactional sex, the results often leave candidates with two options, either you join the rodeo or give up the act and banish all dreams of finding "the one."

Some who exist in the deep dark depths of the latter have reconciled their reality and live firmly in the life they've chosen for themselves without being too hung up on romantic pursuits. Others, on the flip side, have taken things to a whole new, arguably strange level.

In addition to avoiding the muddy world of dating, some singletons elect to embrace a life of celibacy, in some cases only temporarily.

Being physically connected to another is one of the main primal reasons people seek romantic connections. Even without commitment, people through dalliances, extra marital hooks-up or emotionally empty sexual exchanges, can satisfy their physical needs. Yet more and more people, according to an article by Emine Saner, are choosing to go without sex, and based on the research, they've never been happier.

When navigating the hook-up culture, we currently live in, sex is arguably an easily exchanged commodity, often without a vow of commitment.

Be that as it may, recent trends suggest that a large number of sexually-active adults are choosing the path of voluntary celibacy, with some claiming it has improved their focus, mental health and energy.

Research fellow and podcast host Dr Justin Lehmiller shared that humans are increasingly less sexually active, with some foregoing sex altogether. Strange right? In a time where sexual freedom and independence are praised, why are more and more people staying away from sex?

Typically associated with religious tenets, celibacy traditionally refers to a vow of long-term restraint from sexual intercourse, often until marriage. Today, the term has taken on a slightly different meaning, with some choosing celibacy for a specific duration of time.

While the reasons vary, research shows that some people choose celibacy simply because they would prefer to wait until they are in a mutually-committed relationship before engaging in sex. In other words, celibacy is used by adults who desire a serious relationship to reject what has now, unfortunately, become a hook-up culture.

Rather than engage in meaningless sex, people on a path of celibacy use it as a form of personal development by shifting focus from sex to other important aspects of their lives. Relationship coach Katie O'Donoghue found that people often use sex to measure their self-worth or prove they are desirable.

Celibacy provides a chance to interrogate these beliefs and helps us pay attention to clear warning signs that are only apparent when sex is taken off the table.

The power sex can have over our lives cannot be overstated, and celibacy can act as a shield, almost like a preventative measure for the possible fallout associated with noncommittal sex.

The author of the Case Against the Sexual Revolution wrote, "a number of young heterosexual women feel as if they have to run the gauntlet of hook-up culture if they want to have any kind of sexual relationship. As a result, many of them would rather not have any sexual relationship at all."

Of course, sexual freedom is liberating, but in many ways, celibacy can have similar practical benefits. Contrary to popular perception, sexual inactivity often does not cause dissatisfaction. One writer believes although celibacy is a test of restraint, it gives someone complete ownership over their body, the choices they make and their relationship to consent.

But celibacy has to be a positive choice.

Head of clinical practice for Relate, a charity specialising in relationships, Amanda Major, proffered that celibacy works when it works and it doesn't work when it doesn't.

What it comes down to, according to Major, is considering whether this is something you feel is important to you and you're doing it for yourself. Or is it something you feel is imposed on you for reasons that might be very difficult? If it hasn't been a positive choice, she says, it could "cause people to feel potentially unloved and uncared for."

Finding sustainable love can be quite a challenge, and living in a society whose influence dictates we should engage in sexual activity doesn't often help.

Whether you prefer open relationships, bed-buddy arrangements, or committed relationships, sexual freedom is a choice, but consider the words of O'Donoghue, "celibacy allows people to consider how they can connect and be intimate with someone before getting 'hot and heavy.' And that's one way to make sure the person you're dating is actually in alignment with you."

At the end of it all, the choice should always be yours.


"Celibacy in a time of hook-up culture"

More in this section