An ode to "this here celibacy thing"

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I’ve said a bad word in the presence of good people. This faux pas is unintentional. The eight-letter word tumbles out of my mouth and hangs heavily in the suddenly silent space being shared by a group of friends. I’m oblivious to the effect the word is having on my audience until I stop fiddling absent-mindedly with my phone, seconds after uttering it. But by then, it’s much too late, and I’m not in the habit of crying over spilled milk. A courageous and curious soul volunteers her thoughts:

“Say what?” she asks, trying and failing to mask the surprise in her voice. This -- bless her heart -- is also a veiled attempt to reignite the stalled conversation in the now eerily quiet room. “You’re what?”

“I’m” -- here’s the word -- “celibate.” Crickets chirp and tumbleweed rolls by.

A clarifying question is finally presented by another friend: “Celibate, as in you’re not having sex? Like, even a little sex? Like, a tiny little?”

What in the Sam hell is “a tiny little” sex? I wonder in irritation, as sweat beads form on the pulsating muscle in the middle of my forehead. An otherwise inviting living room is evolving into the setting for a modern-day Inquisition. “Uh-huh,” I reply.

“So, my love,” comes a third, charmingly patronizing inquiry, “how’s that working for you?” The room erupts in raucous laughter, and even I can’t help but smile through my clenched teeth.

I’ll let Jilly from Philly preach for a moment:

This here celibacy thing
Lawd, just got something over me
Like an addict,I could really use a thing
You know what I’m talking about

It’s been hard to sleep at night
I’m ying ying ying ying it
Scratching it right
I get some new batteries almost every night
Lawd,this here celibacy thing

The stresses of this world
You know how they come down on a girl
I’m trying to clear my mind
But all I seem to find
Is this gangsta,gangsta,type of need

People say mind over matter
But,I don’t mind what they say
And it don’t matter
This here celibacy thing
Is working on me.

-Jill Scott, “Celibacy Blues

Le sigh. Considering the physical and mental pressure that celibacy induces and suppresses, I imagine that the unspoken question -- in that living room, and here -- is, “Why in the Sam hell are you doing this?” Here is my feeble attempt at an explanation.

My choice is not an exercise in self-control -- I’m inclined, because of my Leo nature, to appreciate certain hedonistic indulgences. It’s also not because I don’t love -- like, really, really love -- the physicality of sex. (See previous reference to hedonism.) Sexual escapades are, after all, the few times during which feats of athleticism feel natural to me. As a wordsmith, I’m prone to easy engagement with imagination and creativity. As -- again -- a Leo, I’m predisposed to playfulness and dramatics, which manifest in different ways and to varying degrees, depending on the context and the company, but always with an intensity that’s characteristic of my Fire sign. The intersectionality of these things -- indulgence, imagination, creativity, playfulness, dramatics, intensity -- materializes nicely alongside kinesthetics and propioception in the bedroom -- or wherever the precise setting of a particular sexual rendezvous happens to be.

And yet, I’m not a card-carrying member of the hippie-esque free love movement, bent on altering acceptable societal norms and mores for women and sex. Casual sex just isn’t my cup of ginger tea -- the body is willing, but the spirit and the mind just won’t cooperate. The result is that in my dictionary, that phrase appears as an example of an oxymoron. I can count my (mostly) carefully selected partners on one hand, give or take a finger or three, depending on how liberal one is with one’s definition of sex. These numbers -- and my resulting outlook, more generally -- aren’t emblematic of a prudish approach to sex. Au contrair, mon ami. They are, however, representative of a thought that has recently crystalized: Perhaps there’s something more to life as a healthy sexual being than an increased quantity of partners, and/or quality in experience. Admittedly, there’s a chance that my sentiment is misguided, but I’m willing to gamble. I’m inhaling deeply, and exhaling slowly, wiser -- I hope -- stronger, and more confident in my related decisions.

It remains a mystery to me as to when the dusk of this latent period of my sexual life will arrive -- the dawn wasn’t exactly involuntary, given that I’m not sequestered in an Indian ashram -- but it also wasn’t quite planned, at least not consciously. It was, however, shaped by a few things: I’m picky, a disciple in the whole ‘the body is a temple’ church. Then there’s the whole unintended emotional consequences that flare up like a persistent rash when boundaries are crossed or ignored altogether and sex just sorta happens thing. Getting trapped in that ‘are we lovers or are we friends and exactly who is that calling you at 3 a.m?’ spiderweb can be a doozy. The primary reason that I’m celibate, however, is the whole ‘how in the Sam hell do I keep ending up with my muhcluckin father’ thing. “Her daddy was a hustla, so she love them,” raps Common. Yessir -- guilty as charged. Talk about a sobering verdict. I’m tired -- like, très tired -- of walking blindly into encounters of varying lengths and depths with younger embodiments of my father, who, in my life, has contributed both antidote and poison, in unequal amounts.

Celibacy is allowing me to grow the gumption necessary for a retrial.

Sex, in my last relationship, accelerated the development of an inevitable emotional bond but also delayed the severing of that bond. As the relationship disintegrated for reasons ultimately beyond either involved party’s control, sex became a weapon and a magic wand, a punishment and a reward. In the end, sex was symbolic of something that was right in the relationship and everything that was wrong.

Sex, in my next relationship, will mean something. It will symbolize and gradually cement the formation of an emotional, intellectual, and physical connection. But it will also mean nothing. Soaked sheets intertwined with sweaty bodies will be little more than indisputable concrete proof of two abstract concepts: mutual attraction, and marinated then slow-cooked and deepening intimacy. Soaked sheets intertwined with sweaty bodies will not, so help me sweet Lawd, serve double duty as incriminating evidence of decay and dysfunction.

“How’s that working for you?” she asks. Well, my love, my nights are sometimes long and lonely. Truth be told, even a good sex toy and an unending supply of rechargable batteries are no substitute for good ol’ fashioned “Knockin’ the Boots.”

But my vision is restored, which means my rejuvenation is occuring in healthy and fertile surroundings. My body, although resistant, is a patient accomplice in this not-so clandestine affair. It’s working just fine, thank you very much.