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For the last four months, I’ve been totally abstinent. I’ve not even thought about having sex with someone. This isn’t totally of my own doing, I should say – at the start of the summer, I left the UK for my dad’s house in Zimbabwe where I’m staying before starting my post-graduate studies in Cape Town in January.
Prior to moving, I had been living in Leeds for 15 years. I spent my teenage years in the city, then did my undergraduate degree there, too. I lived in house shares, sometimes with colleagues, sometimes with people from university. I was free to do whatever I wanted and make my own decisions.
I’ve been single for a really long time and have always been very sexually liberated. I don’t mean lots of one night stands, though I’ve had a couple. The people I meet have been on dating apps or friends of friends and I’ve enjoyed the casual sex with them. We see each other for a bit and then move on.
This is all in stark contrast to my childhood home which was very religious, very Christian – I didn’t feel able to explore my sexuality until I left home. It was when I went to university for the first time that I broke out of all that and embraced being an atheist, as well as university culture. That meant dating.
Deciding to move back to my dad’s was about pursuing the next stage of my life, but would it mean leaving other freedoms behind? Knowing I was worried, my friends starting joked about my ‘countdown’ to abstinence. The last time I had sex was the morning I actually caught my flight to Zimbabwe – I needed to make the most of it because things were about to change.
“It’s not that I didn’t enjoy promiscuous sex – not all of it was ‘good’ sex, but it was healthy.”
And so they have. Friends’ jokes aside, I knew I wouldn’t get away with anything at my dad’s. We go to church every Sunday. I’m not allowed out by myself. Last week I went to a barbecue and my dad was calling by 6pm to ask where I was and when I was coming home. My family are super protective over my safety when I’m here.
And at first, I missed the intimacy having sex with people brought – the kissing, the compliments, people telling me I looked beautiful. But after a couple of weeks I realised that, actually, I don’t miss the sex at all. I was so surprised.
It’s not that I didn’t enjoy promiscuous sex in the UK – I mean, not all of it was ‘good’ sex, but it was healthy and those people understood me, my body, and my needs. But now, four months later, I’m not looking for it in the same way. I’m investing my energy on other things like eating well, exercising, practising mindfulness, writing a lot more. I’m getting my gratification elsewhere.
I find it hard to put into words the change in perspective but I feel more centred – I think I’ve realised I was partly using sex as a way to get validation and wasn’t loving myself as much as I thought I was. I feel like being forced to be by myself has given me a different outlook – like someone going to the desert and living without food and water, and finding themselves. All that eat, pray, love stuff.
This would never have happened naturally if I was in Leeds. I’d be carrying on with my bad habits. Here, I’ve had my hand forced. I know some people might say “oh, it’s the religion rubbing off on her now she’s living at home”, but that could not be further from the truth. I’m just looking at things a little differently. It doesn’t mean it’s anything to do with God.
I don’t regret anything. And I’m still masturbating – in fact, I think I’ve found I prefer masturbation to sex. I’m getting to know my body and getting more out of that interaction in two minutes than having full sex. And trust me, I’m not missing orgasms, because they’re still happening.
When I leave for South Africa in January I’m going to try my hardest to keep up the good work and maintain this streak of abstinence. I like the progress I’m making and the changes I’m seeing in myself. Right now, I don’t think I’m going to meet anyone who makes me change my mind – but I guess you never know?