What I've Learned From Four Years Without Sex - This American Girl

When people discover that I’ve been celibate for the past four years

they always ask me if it’s by choice.


They must be trying to figure out if I’m
a) totally repressed (by choice) or
b) totally undesirable (not by choice)


And I don’t exactly know how to answer, because I’m neither… and I’m also both.


Four years ago did I intend to lock on a chastity belt? No. Did I take on a challenge for bragging rights? No. Did I do this as a sort of tantric power practice? I wish. Have I wanted to have sex many times over the last four years? Hell yes.


So I guess the answer is… no I did not choose this.


But, at the same time, I have had plenty of opportunities to have sex in the last four years. Come on, I’m a young woman traveling the world alone, living in a Latin Caribbean surf town. I have said no to many invitations, covert and sometimes very overt, for sex. I’ve even turned down opportunities to have sex with amazing men who I really really liked.


So I guess the answer is… yes I did choose this.


While I may not have exactly chosen to be celibate for the last four years, I have decided to honor my innocence over my desires. To treasure my heart and my worthiness over my quest for external love. To treat myself the way I deserve to be treated. And to only be so vulnerable with someone when I actually feel safe enough to experience the full spectrum of both pleasure and pain with him inside and outside of me.


And that has not yet happened. So here I am, continuing to love and honor myself whether it happens for me or not.


To be completely honest, last year when I wrote my post What I’ve Learned From Three Years Without Sex, I kinda thought I was about to break my celibacy. I figured, ya know, I’ll just write this post now so I can get the lessons out, move on, and get laid already.


But every time the opportunity presented itself, I felt a deep sense of compromise. I didn’t feel loved, cherished, or sacred the way that I wanted to. Because I have learned how to love myself that way, emotionally and sexually, and I really can’t settle for less.


I mean, the thing is, I haven’t actually gone four years without sex. See, I’ve spent the last four years making love to myself in every possible way. Becoming a supportive stable father and an unconditionally loving mother for my inner child. Being the cheerleader and best friend that I already have so many of around me, all of the time. Touching and treasuring myself, my sweetness, my body, my beauty, like the mythical man my heart has ached for all my life.


Frankly, I have no idea when I’ll have sex with another human again. But I do know that I can make love in any moment, because I am love. This has been my greatest learning from four years without sex, becoming the love on the inside that I was always seeking on the outside. (Read more in my post: How to Love Yourself Like You’ve Never Been Loved.)


Not to say that I don’t sometimes forget, or it’s not at times hard, or I don’t fall into my shadows, and I don’t get insecure. Ohhhh, I do. I go through all of it ‘cause I’m all human. But I can say with one hundred percent certainty that after four years without sex, I am finally in a totally committed relationship with me. And that seems like a pretty huge accomplishment worth celebrating.


Here are some of the realizations that helped me get here…


Sex is Sacred

About two years ago I discovered the path of tantra, and it completely shifted my relationship with my sexuality. By understanding sex, with myself and also with others, as a practice that could help me become more embodied as my highest self, I began to see it as something deeply sacred. In the past my sexual experiences were typically in committed relationships, but they were always dissatisfying on some level.


Tantra showed me that when sacredness, or God, is excluded from anything, it will always feel lacking. Reading Enlightened Sex and Dear Lover by David Deida I began to experience sex (with myself) as more than arousal and orgasm, but as a practice for softening my armor and opening up my heart. Like my yoga, dance, or meditations, having sex with myself became a journey in exploring myself, releasing emotions, and opening to spontaneous insights.


Meeting couples who were on this path, and men who also desired it, showed me a far more beautiful possibility for my sexual experiences. I knew that when I did have sex again, I wouldn’t settle for less than making love to myself, my man, and the entire cosmos. I knew that I wanted sex that would melt and blossom me open to become the love I’ve always been.


My Needs are Mine

Like food, water, and sleep, sex is something most people think that they need. Fair enough, we have the innate desire for sex that can arise in intense urges. However what can often happen, is the same way we may justify emotional eating as a need for food, we may become addicted to certain kinds of sex or certain kinds of sexual partners. The same way we might think we need sugar or caffeine, we think we need sex with that one person who got us high on oxytocin that one (or one hundred) time(s).


When you’re addicted to something, you’re dependent on it. You become a victim of that thing outside of yourself by projecting your needs onto it. Completely abstaining from sex was like detoxing off of that sugar and caffeine. It gave me back the power to realize I didn’t need those men, I just needed love.


Without the quick love drug from outside sources, I became responsible for filling this need myself. This is truly my most helpful discovery in perhaps my entire lifetime: when I take responsibility for my own needs I’m no longer a victim of anyone or anything. When I take responsibility for my own needs, I am fully empowered to do something about them. So, when I take responsibility for my own needs, I am free. And freedom is an essential ingredient for true love.


You’re Not After a Person, But a Feeling

As a woman who tends towards romantic idealizing and intense infatuation, when I develop feelings for a man I can get tunnel vision. I don’t fall often, but when I do, I only have eyes for him. This can be a beautiful thing. It’s an aspect of true devotion, something I treasure. But, it can also be a trap, expecting that person to fill my needs. (See above.)


When I notice myself tiptoeing towards that edge, I take a pause and ask myself, “What is it that I’m hoping this man will make me feel? What does his presence ignite within me? What does he represent for me?” Usually there is some kind of particular feeling that I’m desiring in that moment. Once I realize the feeling, I have the power to choose experiences that will bring about that feeling. I’m no longer dependent on him to feel the thing that I want to feel.


For example, I was in a very tumultuous love affair for many years, feeling like a total victim, and had very little desire to let go. I was suffering a lot and knew that I needed to, but I wanted this man so badly that I was willing to stay in the drama. But a higher, healthier part of me knew I deserved better, so I did a lot of things to be my own therapist. One of which became asking myself every time I pined for him, “How do you hope he’s going to make you feel?”


I was able to identify that whenever I was with him I felt very alive and present in my body. I felt a wildfire that excited me. This told me that what I was really after, was the feeling of ALIVENESS. It didn’t resolve things overnight, but every time I got into the victim mentality, I would ask myself, “what can I do right now to feel more alive?”


Just like your needs, your desires are yours. Which means that once you understand what they are, you have the power to bring them about within yourself. No person has control over you being able to feel the way that you want to feel.


Walls Are a Good Thing

I can’t tell you how many times I heard people tell me I was too guarded. Not surprisingly that criticism often came from men who wanted to sleep with me. But it didn’t always. It also came from friends, from healers, and from intuitives. Many people told me that I had walls up, that I wasn’t emotionally available, and that’s why I hadn’t been with a man in so long.


This really confused me because I thought I was TOO vulnerable. TOO open. TOO available. So I doubted and questioned myself and tried to be even more vulnerable, open, and available. Which led to me attracting men who were not desiring what I desired.


Until a few months ago it dawned on me. From reflecting on my relationship patterns and childhood conditioning over the years, I suddenly had an epiphany. I was not afraid of intimacy. No, intimacy was in fact one of my deepest desires. I was actually afraid of codependency. I was afraid of relationships trapping me and keeping me from my own unique blissfulness.


I realized that the walls I had created were not keeping me from being intimate with others, but were actually there to help me stay as happy and free as I knew I could be alone. If I wanted to let my walls down and invite people in, I needed to become clearer with my boundaries so that I felt safe enough to do so. My loyalty belonged first and foremost to myself, so I promised my inner child that I would keep her safe, even if that meant having walls.


Honesty is Everything

When it comes to romance and sex there can be so many mind games. Let’s face it, on some level we’re all afraid of rejection and that’s what unconsciously drives us to withhold love from one another. The fear is completely understandable, but I now see that it’s the very thing that keeps us from true intimacy.

I learned this lesson through platonic friendship with a dear sister of mine. I was going through a very intense time (you can read about it in my post When the Jungle Burned Me) and so many of my insecurities and fears demanded my attention. As my friend tried to support me I noticed how guilty I felt in letting her. Facing this discomfort required I first be completely honest with myself. Which is certainly where intimacy begins: within you.

I got honest with myself and named my shadows. Amazingly, once I did they weren’t so scary anymore. Telling her my insecurities was harder, but I did it. And she shared hers with me. The healing was profound and I felt closer to her than ever before. It was me withholding from myself and from our relationship that caused the illusion of separation that I had been suffering over. Honesty bridged that gap.


A couple of months later, I chose honesty in a very uncomfortable situation with a man I had a confusing relationship with. We had been playing this game for a couple of years, not naming what was going on, and I felt insecure. Honesty is such medicine for insecurity as it brings absolute clarity to confusion. I told him honestly how I felt, he told me honestly how he felt, and it instantly became clear: we were not wanting the same thing. Boom. Done. Easy!


While that realization was disappointing, it was also liberating. I didn’t have to figure it out anymore. It was clear. I could let it go. I could move on. I’ve come to understand that choosing honesty means honoring my worthiness over my desire for someone else to accept me and valuing intimacy over avoiding discomfort.


In short: all intimate relationships require honesty. Get honest with yourself and be brave enough to be honest with others. Graciously do this while taking full responsibility for your own needs instead of blaming others. This is the key to deepening your relationships and filtering out the ones that are not for your highest good.


Intimacy Goes Beyond Sex

This was a big realization for me: you can be intimate with someone without having sex with them! While I’ve had very few sexual partners and have always been extremely particular, I’ve also been totally addicted to sex. And I now understand why. In some of my relationships sex was the only time I felt a deeper connection. My constant need for sex was actually a need for intimacy with my partner that I didn’t know how to ask for, give, or receive otherwise.


By abstaining from sex all of these years, I’ve learned and practiced so many ways to experience intimacy with my family, my friends, my community, strangers, and yes even men I’m sexually attracted to. Compassionate listening, eye gazing, tantric breathing, cuddling, massages, sharing stories, having adventures, giving without holding back, and learning how to be a kind, loving human, have all shown me how to feel close and connected without taking any of my clothes off.


Intimacy is simple: fill yourself with the love you are, and offer that love without holding back. Paradoxically, the clearer your boundaries, the more freely you can do this.


I Am Enough

I really can’t tell you who it was that pointed out how much I tied up my self-worth with sex. But whomever it was, thank you.

Like with any addiction, it takes complete abstinence to break the unhealthy pattern. I had a lot of unhealthy patterns surrounding sex. Mostly, I used sex to get the love that I didn’t feel like I deserved. I used it to manipulate my boyfriends into giving me more attention. I used it to get men who were clearly unavailable to offer me whatever leftovers they could scrap together. I used it to continually hurt and abuse myself by accepting a lot less than what I deserved. I traded my honor for an hour of the closest thing I understood as love. Because see, I completely confused sex with love.

Now I understand that sex can be love or sex can be neediness pretending to be love.

When you’re feeling needy, nothing can ever be good enough, and so you feel separate from love. That is, until you begin to look at each of these needs and nourish them as the lover no one else was ever willing to be for you. Which has been my practice all of these years. Seeing my needs that arise, not having a man to fuck them away, and learning to fulfill them myself instead.

Naturally, the more I give love to these places inside of me that feel separate from love, the more I feel worthy of love. The more I feel like I am love. Which is to say, the more I remember that I am enough.


Some Things Are Worth Waiting For

Have you ever had that experience, where you’re really craving an avocado but all you can find is still slightly green and hard? I mean, you could probably use one now. They’re… close. You could cut one open. Slice it up into plasticky pieces. Chew on the semi hardness. And while it might be slightly tasty, you probably won’t satisfy the craving. You won’t get that sweet buttery creamy melt in your mouth deliciousness that only a perfectly ripe avocado can offer. You’ll likely be highly disappointed. 

So even if you really want an avocado right now, it is better to wait. Cause a ripe avocado is worth waiting for. Meanwhile, you can appreciate the mangos, papayas, and coconuts. There’s so much more to eat in this world than just avocados.

(Photos by my brother Devin Gabhart)


Tell me, what have been your greatest lessons through having, or not having, sex?


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