Sex is great but so is choosing to not engage in it for whatever reason. One of the major elements of sexual liberation is accepting the various ways people manifest their agency over their bodies and this includes the decision to be celibate or abstinent. Although those words are often used interchangeably, they do not necessarily mean the same thing.
What is celibacy?
Celibacy is a voluntary decision to remain unmarried or to avoid all forms of sexual activity for an extended period of time. Celibacy has existed in nearly every culture in the world in one form or another throughout history. It’s a choice to abstain from sexual intercourse, as well as other non-penetrative forms of sex. It can last for a lifetime or as long as you want.
What is abstinence?
Abstinence is a self-imposed restriction from sex-related activities. It is usually temporary and limited to a specific time period, like until marriage or when you’re in a committed relationship that is heading somewhere. It is usually practiced on personal terms, meaning you decide what and what you want to avoid, what your boundaries are, when and how you want to resume engaging in bodily pleasures.
Celibacy is often rooted in religious beliefs.
In the strict sense, celibacy refers to abstaining on the basis of faith and its demands. For example, catholic priests and nuns, Buddhist monks, and practitioners of some other religions have been known to take a sacred vow of celibacy. By renouncing sex, they are able to remain pure and chaste in the eyes of their God and can devote all their energy to their religious calling.
There are no set boundaries when it comes to abstinence.
Sex means different things to different people. For some, abstaining from it means staying away from penetrative sex while still engaging in other activities like dry humping or outercourse, sex with toys, masturbation, oral sex, and even anal sex. It’s up to you to decide what works for you or best aligns with the outcomes you’re working towards.
Abstinence arises out of personal will and issues.
I have a friend who abstains from sex because she’s asexual and derived little to no pleasure from the act. One remained abstinent until after she got married. Another waited until she found a man she really loved and felt was worth sharing herself with like that. There are a thousand reasons why people choose abstinence. It could be a way of combating a sex addiction, sorting out the politics attached to the act, preventing unwanted pregnancies and STDs, or simply taking away sexual distractions to focus on building yourself and your relationships. It’s all up to you and what you want.
Celibacy and abstinence do not take away sexual desire.
The fact that you’re choosing to abstain from sex either for a short or long period of time does not mean that your ability to be aroused just goes away. You can still feel sexual arousal and tension, you just have to find some other healthy activity to redirect that energy if you don’t want to indulge it. When I began using antidepressants, my libido was all over the place, so I just stopped having sex altogether. Going to the gym and working out regularly became an effective outlet for all the pent up and frustrated desire I was feeling.
You can choose to be celibate or abstinent even after you’ve had sex.
Virginity is not a requirement for celibacy or abstinence. You can wake up one day and choose to never again have sex in your life. You can decide to take a year-long break to recoup and think about what you actually want from your intimate relationships. Do whatever feels right for you. It’s not going to be easy and you’re going to get tempted a lot, especially in the early stages, but stick to your guns.
Celibacy usually doesn’t include outercourse.
Unlike abstinence where you can choose to engage in other forms of sexual pleasure other than penetration, celibacy usually means giving it all up. Especially when the decision to be celibate is based on religious dictates, but an abstinent person can decide to engage in outercourse and it wouldn’t count as breaking the rules.
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