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'I don't have sex to help my mental health'

Meet the young people choosing to be celibate

Harvey Day

“I think sex can cause a lot of pain,” Justin Bieber said in a glossy cover story for US Vogue earlier this year. He also revealed that before he married his now-wife, Hailey Bieber, he went through a period of celibacy. “Sometimes people have sex because they don’t feel good enough. Because they lack self-worth.” 

Celibacy - when someone decides to abstain from sex - has become a hot topic recently in the light of new reports suggesting that young people are having less sex. 

Earlier this year, the General Social Survey - which sees thousands of people interviewed - reported that 23% of US adults hadn’t had sex in the past year - a figure that has doubled in the past 10 years. What's more, “a much larger than expected” number of those people who hadn't had sex were men. 

The share of men under 30 who said they hadn’t had sex in the past year has tripled since 2008 to 28%, revealed the study, which has been conducted every two years since 1972.

Meanwhile, a large national survey of 34,000 adults - published in the British Medical Journal - has suggested that Brits are having less sex now than in recent years. The responses showed that less than half of men and women aged 16 to 44 have sex at least once a week.

And while some have argued that giving up sex could be the ‘answer to emotional wellness,’ research also suggests that sex is good for your heart and can be a stress buster. 

Here, four young people explain why they’ve tried quitting sex - and how it has affected them.

'I gave up sex to help my mental health'

Sarah, 23  

I chose to be celibate for two-and-a-half years, just after I moved back home from university. At the time, I was dealing with a lot of mental health issues and I didn’t want to face the stress that came with hooking up with someone or entering a relationship.

I stopped having sex completely but masturbation was still on the table because it didn't involve anyone else. The biggest benefit was the sense of self-control and self-awareness I got. I wasn't in a great place mentally, and I just needed to focus on myself.

Adding sex into the mix - even in a non-romantic capacity or as a casual, friends-with-benefits arrangement - would've just complicated my life too much. I also didn't really want to have sex again until I was in a relationship.

Being celibate allowed me to focus on myself, which I really needed. And, other than having no-one to cuddle up to in bed at night, I didn’t miss anything at all.

'I wondered if I was missing out'

Anaïs, 31

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I’m celibate by choice. I decided when I was younger that I wouldn’t have sex before marriage partly to protect my mental and emotional health, and since I’ve never been in a fully-fledged relationship I’ve never really been tested. 

When I hit 30, I started to wonder if I was missing out on something by not having sex or getting married - especially seeing so many of my friends around me getting hitched. But those feelings only lasted a few weeks when I reminded myself that abstaining from sex is the right thing for me.

I’m quite a tactile person and when I get into any kind of new relationship - whether that be a friendship or otherwise - I throw myself into it completely. So if I added in a sexual element with someone I wasn’t prepared to spend the rest of my life with, I know I’d struggle with that emotionally.

Most of the people in my life have been supportive of my choice, overall, because they understand why I do it. Others, though, assume it’s just because I’m a practising Christian but, in reality, it's a conscious decision that is about so much more than my faith.

I also know people who have found that they’re constantly comparing their current boyfriends to their exes in bed but, because I’m celibate, I don’t have to worry about carrying that sort of baggage into a future relationship.

Sex is something special that should be cherished. For me, it’s far more than just a physical act. It's a connection with another person and I don't take that lightly.

'I pour my energy into my career'

Dan, 29

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When I was younger, I definitely felt like a bit of a ‘lost millennial’ - putting all my faith in hook-up apps and not really knowing my purpose - that is, until I decided to give up on sex. After too many years of using shallow relationships as a distraction, I decided to take charge of my own life and to work on myself so that I could know, beyond doubt, that I'd be successful in my next relationship.

I’ve been celibate for five years and it’s been by far the best decision I ever made. I now feel like I’m a more fully-developed person with a plan and a purpose. Now, instead of masturbating or looking for a hookup, I pour all my energy into my career and into my personal improvement.

I’m currently dating someone who I’m planning to marry and even though we don’t have sex - or even kiss - we’re very happy together. We're just saving having sex until after we're committed to each other for a lifetime.

'I had regrets about sex'

Elena, 21

I started having sex when I was 17 - but sex, back when I used to have it, always left me feeling used. When I was chatting to other people, I’d start to overthink everything and wonder: ‘Are they just messaging me because they want to have sex? Do they really like me for me?’

And, as all these thoughts whirled around in my head, I’d find myself becoming more and more distant from the other person.

I definitely have regrets about some of the people I’ve slept with.

But once I realised I didn’t have to sleep with someone just to please them - when I didn’t really want to - my attitude towards sex started to change dramatically. I began to turn down more and more people until it eventually snowballed into total celibacy.

Since giving up sex, I have much more time to focus on myself and that is an empowering feeling. Now when I speak to people I fancy, I feel like I can build up a friendship more easily - rather than being seen as a sexual object.

Some names have been changed to protect individuals' identity