Sex positivity is a great thing. In a time when we’re constantly working to undo decades of sexual guilt or shame, being sex positive can be an educational balm for many people and their partners.
But sex positivity isn’t about pushing everyone into the same bed. It’s about making sure the experience is healthy and consensual.
While there are many reasons people choose to have sex (pleasure, pleasing others, intimacy, stress relief, escape, or self-validation), there are plenty of other ways to meet these reasons without having sex.
Meaning, if you’re completely disinterested in sex, you don’t have to do it! Nothing will “break” or “get old” just because you aren’t having sex. More importantly, being purely and wholly disinterested in sexual activity is a choice that needs to be respected.
So, in a world that oversimplifies sex, it may be helpful to understand what never having sex really means and how to explain it to others.
Here’s everything you need to know.
First, it’s good to understand that there’s a lot of social shame around people who choose not to have sex, especially in a relationship. Mainstream media can say a lot of unfair things, from it’ll kill you and you’ll have cobwebs in your vagina to you’ll lose your ability to have an erection.
Talk about your experiences with a professional If you find that you feel significantly distressed by your lack of sexual desire, find a sex-positive therapist to validate your experience.
According to adolescent psychology research, an awareness of sexual interest and desire may develop during puberty, but that’s not the full story. An interest in sex might depend on when someone’s aware of their sexual interest and whether they are knowledgeable and willing to take what comes with it.
That can also mean, for some people, that an interest in sex just never develops, or they have an opportunity and decide it’s not for them.
A quick primer on asexuality vs. celibacy
In a hypersexual world, people who are asexual might come to believe they’re defective. Asexuality is not considered a sexual dysfunction, though.
Research on the body’s ability to respond to sexual stimuli found that there were no physiological differences between heterosexual or asexual women’s ability.
What makes celibacy different from asexuality is that celibacy is a decision to completely abstain from sexual activity, whereas asexual individuals may engage in solo or partnered sexual contact and not be sexually attracted.
Most importantly, there’s diversity in sexuality. Everyone is different. It’s best to ask the individual how they experience asexuality and not shame anyone.
Society might deem the way you bond as shameful and place unnecessary pressure on you to conform. It’s best to connect with other like-minded individuals or others who are able to support you. You can also find resources here.
But let’s reiterate: You won’t be unhappy for the rest of your life just because you’re not getting it on. Even if you constantly hear about the health benefits of sex, not having sex can also provide similar benefits.
All benefits, no sex
- Get a workout to give yourself an endorphin boost.
- Spend time with like-minded people who love and respect your choices.
- Immerse yourself in nature.
Purposely avoiding sex is a great time to have your own awakening Not having sex can be a time to let go of social pressures and engage in nonsexual activities that bring you pleasure and soothe you, just like sexual activities offer others. Not having sex can be a time to create a deeper relationship — but instead of doing that with another person, you’re prioritizing you.
While sex can offer feelings of warmth and connection, boost your immune system, and help you burn calories, it’s definitely not the only way to get these benefits.
If sex means you can express various sexual interests with a partner and enjoy another person’s body, a celibacy period could:
- give you space to discover new interests, whether through sexual fantasy and self-pleasure, or trying nonsexual activities that bring you joy
- help you focus and give love to your non-genital body parts
- build stronger emotional connections with a partner
If sex serves as a stress reliever for you, celibacy could:
- reconnect you with yourself, instead of using sex to avoid dealing with what is actually bothering you
- help you prioritize your sleep and self-care over your physical satisfaction
- teach you to practice emotional regulation, such as noting what you’re feeling instead of escaping
- encourage you to find a physical activity that lets you release tension
If sex is all about performance for you, a break could help you:
- practice mindful touching
- learn how to increase body awareness and pleasure without pressuring yourself to please someone else
- turn your attention to fitness to help maintain your cardiovascular health, or get you to compete in an athletic event to get your heart pumping
It could mean a time of renewal. A time to discover the world and have fun in new ways. Or a period of being honest with yourself. Perhaps it’s a time of increased stress or loss and you need a period to reset.
If at one point you felt sexual desire and made efforts to get your sexual needs met and now you’ve lost interest, that’s perfectly OK. You don’t always need to know why your interests have changed.
Not wanting to have sex isn’t a bad thing, unless your belief that it is starts to affect your mental or physical health. Although some people may judge or make assumptions based on your choices, trust yourself and don’t believe the negativity.
If you’re really interested in figuring it out, then remain open, curious, and nonjudgmental of yourself. You may discover more if you ask yourself kind questions about why you lost interest in sex in the first place.
If you’re feeling bad about your loss of interest, don’t try to numb the emotional pain. Instead, focus on letting yourself feel whatever arises. Work on compassionately discovering what transpired that led to the loss of interest.
Medical reasons for losing interest in sex
- Your libido can change over time — and that’s also perfectly normal. If you think your decreased interest is out of character, double-check any new medications or reflect on significant life changes. Everything from stress and birth control to menopause can affect your libido.
If you’re deciding, for any variety of reasons, to wait on having sex with someone, it doesn’t mean you need to avoid it completely. If you intend to have sex eventually, this is the time to learn about your body and experiment with self-pleasure. That way, when the right person comes, you’ll have a better idea of what you like and how to show them.
If you’ve waited and taken the time to experiment, you might also be in a better position than waiting for someone else to show you what sex is like. The trouble with waiting for someone else to show you the ropes is that they might enforce their desires onto you without engaging in what you need.
It’s also normal to choose to avoid sexual activity even after you’ve been sexually active. Choosing not to have partnered sex with someone (or at all) can be an intentional act of selfhood and falling in love with yourself; to pause, reflect, and learn what interests you.
It’s also a perfect time to deconstruct sexual norms and ideas that have been passed down in order to evaluate if they’re actually working for you.
It doesn’t mean an aversion to sex or intimacy, either. It’s a personal choice. A personal matter that’s normal and enough.
How to maintain optimal health below the belt
- Perform Kegel exercises (squeeze and release) to maintain muscle tone.
- Maintain regular medical and gynecological or urological appointments.
- Wear breathable undergarments to prevent yeast infections.
- Maintain good hygiene.
- Surround yourself around individuals who support your decisions.
- For people with a vagina: Practice the art of therapeutic touch by inserting two fingers into your vagina and wiggle them around to stretch your vaginal walls or squeeze your two fingers with your vagina until you can feel your fingers being held by your vagina. Or seek the care of a physical therapist who specializes in the pelvic floor to provide you with more specialized exercises.
Often, there’s a little whisper inside of you, warning you to be cautious of those folks who have trouble respecting your decisions. If someone doesn’t respect your decision, then give yourself permission to set boundaries — especially physical ones.
Behavioral red flags
- They talk over you, interrupt you, and don’t listen to you.
- They contradict themselves, meaning they say one thing but their behavior says another.
- You set a boundary and they ignore it.
Don’t ignore your instincts. Pay attention to their message. Don’t tell yourself that you could convince them to accept you or your decision.
The sex message that the media bombards us with is oversimplified. Sex is more than meets the eye, more than penis in vagina. Becoming sexually active is a personal act. And staying celibate can be an act of self-love. You can still go on dates and spend intimate nights without physical touching.
If you find that you’re not sexually attracted to anyone, that’s fine, too. Sexual diversity is the spice to life. To avoid feeling isolated, it’s best to find an affirming support system where you can be yourself without much explanation.
Instead of getting swept away from external messages, it’s better to be honest with yourself about what being sexually active means to you — or if you even need it. Don’t fall into peer pressure, but take the time to know yourself and understand your needs and how to communicate them to others.
Janet Brito is an AASECT-certified sex therapist who also has a license in clinical psychology and social work. She completed her postdoctoral fellowship from the University of Minnesota Medical School, one of only a few university programs in the world dedicated to sexuality training. Currently, she’s based in Hawaii and is the founder of the Center for Sexual and Reproductive Health. Brito has been featured on many outlets, including The Huffington Post, Thrive, and Healthline. Reach out to her through her website or on Twitter.