My year of no sex (and, the surprising things it taught me)

My year of no sex (and, the surprising things it taught me): More than 12 months after lockdown enforced a sex drought on them, single writers reveal why living like a nun has its upsides too…

  • UK-based writers reveal what they learned from a year of accidental celibacy 
  • Among them is Hattie Sloggett who swapped London for Devon during lockdown
  • Previously, she had been indulging in casual hook-ups without commitment  
  • Has now decided she never wants to feel dependent on another human again

From lockdowns to anxiety about whether or not potential partners have been jabbed, it’s well-documented that the pandemic put a dampener on the sex lives of singletons.

Last week, a ‘sex recession’ was declared after research found 21 per cent of Americans under 35 have not had sex in 2021 thus far, according to the Institute for Family Studies. But what’s it really like to have your libido put on ice for so long? Here, three brave writers reveal what they learned from a year of accidental celibacy…

I’M SHUNNING CASUAL HOOK-UPS FOR GOOD

Hattie Sloggett

One whole year has passed since I last had sex — almost to the day. My dry spell may have been accidental — beginning as a result of having fled the city for deepest, darkest Devon, where the average age in my village is 50-plus — but over time it has become a lifestyle choice. An ongoing decision that has proved surprisingly empowering.

Three UK-based writers revealed what they learned from a year of accidental celibacy – including Hattie Sloggett (pictured), who has been single for three years following the breakdown of her her five-year marriage 

You might imagine a 32-year-old single lady like me would have launched myself back into the dating pool again at the earliest opportunity. But I found all those restrictions changed me in ways I could never have foreseen.

I’m not the only one — many of my friends have become far more selective about who they let into their bubble. We are shunning the roller coaster in favour of genuine interactions with the ones we love and cherish.

I’m seeing this in my work as a relationship coach, too: people are far more picky about how they spend their time and with whom.

Just as many are resigning from jobs they don’t enjoy — according to a recent report, we’re on the brink of a ‘great resignation’, prompted by a high number of vacancies and burnout caused by the pandemic — we millennials are choosing to level up in every area: work, social life and love.

During the first lockdown of 2020, holing yourself up in the countryside seemed like the only option.

I chose my parents’ granny annexe on the top of a hill, in a tiny hamlet on the border of Exmoor. I soon became rather lonely — missing not only interactions with people of my own age but the familiarity of another person, a lover, a friend, a confidant.

Single for three years — since the breakdown of my five-year marriage — I had taken to indulging in casual hook-ups without commitment.

At first I continued online dating — albeit via FaceTime or socially distanced walks.

I met someone in April 2020 and after many hours of video calls, he came to Devon from London to complete the lockdown with me.

As much as we tried to keep it going, things had petered out by September.

I was heartbroken at first, but quickly realised that something inside me had changed. Instead of seeking a human to hunker down with, I craved inner stability — a job to get me back on my feet and give me a reason to leave the house.

Hattie (pictured) said dating profiles mentioning vaccinations and the preference for video dating put her off 

When I returned — very briefly — to the safety net of internet dating, the fact that every profile mentioned vaccinations and their preference for video dating put me off. Where was the excitement in that?

After a week, I deleted the dating app from my phone.

Even though I could have returned to London, I chose to remain in Devon. I got a new, part-time job in a shop to get me out of the house.

I rediscovered nature by spending most of my time outside. I worked on my mental health — getting a new therapist. I reconnected with friends, but most importantly, I focused on my independence.

It didn’t come easily; I was so used to being co-dependent, especially in relationships. But I persevered and now I never want to feel dependent on another human again.

The most significant discovery was reconnecting with my own body. This summer, I had to undergo everything from spinal surgery to alleviate a compressed disc and nerves, to treatment for skin cancer on my breast. I was left pretty traumatised, with a couple of whopping great scars.

Yet my body didn’t give up on me — so I decided not to give up on it. I stopped punishing myself if I ate too much. I even learned, with the help of a wonderful app named Kama, how to pleasure myself. And I became grateful for what I had — at a time when others had lost so much.

Hattie (pictured) said her attitude to connection has changed, but she isn’t choosing to be single and celibate for the rest of her life 

The desire to love myself and my life became my raison d’etre. After months of shifting my focus, I’ve discovered I have no fear of being alone.

This isn’t to say that I am choosing to be single and celibate for the rest of my life — or even for the foreseeable future — but my attitude to connection has changed.

As much as I would love (and am craving at this very moment) a roll around in the sheets with a handsome man, it is more important to me what type of person I choose to spend my time with.

My mother still hopes that I will settle down happily with a man, but is coming to terms with the fact that I will not be pursuing this with quite as much vigour as she would like.

So no more dating apps: I want to meet someone organically. Someone who doesn’t need me but wants me — and vice versa.

Humans need connection, but do we need sex? Now I’m not so sure. I want it, but I don’t need it.

What I need is a relationship with balance, autonomy, respect for boundaries and support. If incredible hot, steamy sex comes in that package too, then great, but it’s not my priority.

CELIBACY TAUGHT ME TO LOVE MYSELF

Katie Glass

It wasn’t my masterplan to live like a nun for a year. If you’d told me last May, after I broke-up with my boyfriend during the first lockdown, that I wouldn’t get any action for 12 months, then I might have reconsidered leaving him.

I’ve always enjoyed a positive and healthy sex life. In my last relationship, our romantic life was good for the majority of the six years that we were together — not just in bed but in other ways. We were tactile; kissing, hugging, play fighting. We were one of those annoying couples who couldn’t keep their hands off each other.

Katie Glass (pictured) said it was freeing to go without any sex for the longest time in her adult life, after splitting with her ex at 40 

Perhaps that’s why when things faltered, with my ex blaming the fact that I’d gained weight, it hurt so much — because I’d never questioned that part of our relationship.

When we broke up, it was a shock to go from constant closeness to a whole year without so much as a snog.

Surprisingly, though, when I stopped having sex I realised how much of my life had revolved around it. Since I was a teenager, when my friends were lying about who had done what; through my 20s spent worrying about whether men found me attractive; into my 30s when sex became about the pressure to get pregnant.

At 40, after splitting from my ex, suddenly I had to go without any sex for the longest time in my adult life. It was freeing.

I indulged my body — reclaiming it for myself. Like that scene in Gone Girl where she drives off into the sunset scoffing junk food, I revelled in not having anyone to interrogate my body, or to complain about it being fat or not sexy enough.

When I stopped sleeping with anyone, I stopped shaving my legs or bothering to wear make-up — things that someone I once dated would ‘joke’ were ‘the minimum effort a woman should make’.

In place of buying mascara and booking waxing appointments — which must have cost me almost £100 a month — I saved a fortune and spent my time building myself a new life.

I stopped buying sexy clothes that made me feel uncomfortable and — having moved from the city to the countryside — embraced a practical wardrobe of dungarees and hiking boots.

Katie (pictured) said after a year of enjoying being on her own, she is in less of a hurry to commit to another relationship 

I loved not caring what anyone else thought about the way I looked. I went to bed early with a book, wearing flannel pyjamas, and loved it.

I admit, I avoided sex for that year not just because lockdown kept me isolated, but also because I felt lingering self-consciousness about the things my ex had said about my body.

I’d have been too nervous to show it to anyone else. Going through a ‘sex-drought’ gave me a chance to regroup.

Having spent most of my adult life worrying about whether men found me attractive, instead I started seeing my body as something to serve me.

I enjoyed focusing on my own needs for once. And in doing so I started to get fit — this time not losing weight because I didn’t feel good enough, but because feeling strong made me feel good.

In the rush of endorphins and adrenaline that came from exercising, I started thinking it might be nice to go to bed with someone again.

I joined a dating app around May and quickly discovered that everyone I chatted to on there was desperate for some action because they’d also spent most of the pandemic year alone.

I waited to meet someone I found really interesting, which took a few frustrating months. We had our first, chaste date in a hotel over coffee, but it was immediately obvious we fancied each other. We waited a little while before going to bed, not because I was nervous, but because I wanted to be sure it felt right.

When it happened, I felt the same excitement beforehand that I had when I lost my virginity: Finding the right moment, buying myself nice underwear, getting a wax. Except it was much better this time because I knew what I was doing — and better still, I’d taken a year to really get to like myself.

We had some fun but it didn’t turn into a relationship. After enjoying my year on my own so much, now I’m in far less of hurry to commit to another relationship.

WHAT I ENDED UP ACHIEVING IN LOCKDOWN WAS BETTER THAN ANY ORGASM  

By Lucy Holden

Last month I slept with a man for the first time in 14 months — the longest I’ve ever had off sex since I lost my virginity to my first boyfriend at 16.

My millennial generation has always been casual about sex, with hook-ups the norm, but when the chance to date was taken away during the pandemic, I was left high and dry. I questioned breaking up with an awful ex if it now meant I wouldn’t be touched for years, potentially.

Having left London for my parents’ house in Bath, dating, let alone sex, was suddenly impossible. Not only was touch effectively banned, but I didn’t want to bring anyone back to my teenage bedroom at home, even after the worst of the pandemic was over.

Lucy Holden (pictured) admits she often found herself in tears wondering if she would ever meet someone again, after leaving London for her parents’ house in Bath during lockdown 

At 31, I felt crushed in my new, empty world and thought only in extremities that were encouraged by the daily angst we were living through.

I sat alone, often in tears, wondering when I would ever meet someone again, imagining I’d be celibate for ever, never be able to have children and that I’d probably end up as a single fiftysomething who cared for her elderly parents, similar to a woman who lived up our road.

Not only was life on pause indefinitely, but I’d been so put off men that I couldn’t imagine a time I’d want to let one anywhere near me.

In my 20s, I thought of sex as fun and used it as a crutch, even a hangover cure. But I saw how much I’d relied on it as a way not to feel alone only once it was gone.

Instead, I turned the energy and ambition I was no longer wasting on talking to men, going on dates, crafting texts and worrying if that person would want to see me again, towards myself. I read a lot, ran away initial sexual frustration on my treadmill and really got to know my parents. I also wrote two plays, a sitcom and three books — the first of which is out in February.

Now my sex drought is over, I think of my year of celibacy as precious time, a moment that’s set me up for the next stage of my life. Far more satisfying than an orgasm is knowing my accomplishments in the past 14 months will be far more lasting and memorable than some of the flings I wasted my time on pre-pandemic.

That said, getting back into the game of lust still caused an identity crisis that made me uneasy. I’d previously been quite forward, quite sexual and found flirtation easy.

Yet on my first date in 14 months, I appeared to have become defensively shy. I’d felt ready to date, so had downloaded the dating app Bumble, but immediately told the teacher I met for a drink in town that I needed to go slow because it had been a while.

He was charming about it — but later texted to ask: ‘How slow is slow? Because let’s go at your pace but if slow means a year, I might need some warning.’

Three dates in, a week later, we were in bed, both happy for different reasons, but me, mainly just because I’d remembered what to do. Better than the sex itself, it turned out, was just being very close to someone.

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