Sex is ubiquitous online, in advertisements, on TV, in films, in our everyday lexicon and here in this column. The subject that was strictly taboo mid-20th century is aggressively everywhere.
Which is why I want to write today about the sexiness of not having sex.
I read a fascinating article in the New York Times called Life Without Sex by the engaging French author and French Elle editor, Sophie Fontanel. The author took a twelve-year hiatus from sexual congress. My first thought when I read this was, “Can you do that? Is that allowed?”
I found it more perplexing that a woman, especially a French woman, could be celibate so long than I might at learning she were having sex with the ghosts of Christmas past.
She writes, “At the beginning, I kept the fact that I had given up sex a secret, and nobody around me could guess how untouched I was. I knew perfectly well that people accept all kinds of sexual behaviors, just so long as you are doing something with your body.”
This struck a chord. When I was single people wanted to know when I would have another relationship, and if not that, they wanted to know whether or not I was at least getting laid. And I’m loathe to admit being guilty of the same kind of badgering of my single friends today.
I’m a victim of the messages we get hundreds of times a day telling us subliminally and literally that sexual activity is the gold standard and if you’re not having any you’re missing out. You’re marginalized. Your life, stagnant.
How liberating would it be to just let that go?
“During the 12 years I didn’t have sex,” writes Fontanel, “I learned so much. About my body, the role of art in eroticism, the power of dreams, the softness of clothes, the refuge and the importance of elegance. That I can take more pleasure while watching Robert Redford shampooing Meryl Streep’s hair in Out of Africa than being in a bed with a man.”
“Heresy!” cries the advertising industry that will lose so much money if we’re not constantly on the prowl for sex and sexual desirability.
Fontanel’s is almost a radical notion. That we can live fully integrated sexual lives whilst celibate. We can become attuned to our own rhythms and not feel compelled by our culture of sexual braggadocio to abandon ourselves for copulatory achievement.
The author leaves us with this final thought, “Everywhere, the question of ‘Who are you?’ is answered with an explanation of sex. (married, single, gay, lesbian) This is silly. We’re more than that. We’re poetry, we are floating creatures, sometimes happy sexually, and sometimes in a desert, even as we share our lives with someone. I believe that a desert is sometimes necessary. Sometimes, it is what your soul and your body need. A rest. To dream instead of do.”
So this sex columnist admires a singular woman who gave herself permission to step off the treadmill, re-inhabit her body, engage her dreams and, like everything natural, to obey the unique seasons of her own life.