Cal: You’re gay, now?
David: No, I’m not gay. I’m just celibate.
–40 Year-Old Virgin
From classic comedies to the hottest pop stars (Lady Gaga) to the daughters of our favorite (or not-so favorite) political mockeries (oh hey, Sarah Palin), celibacy is officially the new sex. In a society where nearly half (46-percent) of all 15 to 19 year-olds in the United States have had sex at least once, it appears the tides of change are slowly turning. More frequently than ever, young women are standing up and hopping on the celibacy bandwagon, although something tells me this is more than just a passing fad or a new-fangled Hollywood trend. We love to talk about sex, but what happens when there’s no sex to talk about?
According the Guttmacher Institute, teens are waiting longer to have sex than they did in the past. About 13-percent of never-married females and 15-percent of never-married males aged 15 to 19 in 2002 had had sex before age 15, compared with 19-percent and 21-percent in 1995. Although the percentage difference may seem small, it also seems to be equally as revealing in a culture where being the last virgin standing is thought to be just as embarrassing as Snooki after one too many Jell-O shots at the bar (cringe).
“I think many people who don’t have an intimate partner, or even any sex in their life, feel bad because they judge themselves and their life by society’s definition of happiness—a definition that often includes being part of a couple,” says Dennis Sugrue, PhD, clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan Medical School and past president of the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists.
Although it’s as rare as finding Ke$ha not singing about her bottle of Jack, there have been a few celebs in Tinseltown that have openly pledged to no sex. From Jessica Simpson (or better known as a “sexual napalm” to John Mayer—who knew?) to the Jonas Brothers (who have purity rings), these celebrities have embraced their V-cards with pride.
But celibacy can get complicated—especially when it involves losing your virginity and then announcing that you want to be celibate. One of the most infamous and intriguing examples can be found with Lady Gaga—an international sex symbol—who announced in April, “I can’t believe I’m saying this—don’t have sex. I’m single right now and I’ve chosen to be single because I don’t have the time to get to know anybody. So it’s okay not to have sex, it’s okay to get to know people. I’m celibate, celibacy’s fine.”
Two months before Gaga, Bristol Palin openly reclaimed her virginity saying that she would remain abstinent until she marries, telling Oprah Winfrey, “I can guarantee it. I just think it’s a goal to have and that other young women should have that goal.”
So why are young women choosing to take vows of celibacy? “People choose to be celibate for many different reasons: morality, religious reasons, a way of centering themselves, as punishment for being sexual, and some women choose to disclose they are celibate to shake a ‘bad girl’ image they hold on their shoulders,” says HC Sexpert, Megan Andelloux. Cough *BristolPalin* cough.
“I have never had sex simply because I’m waiting for someone who is 100-percent committed to me, and I haven’t yet found that guy,” says Jen*, a junior at Rhodes College. “It’s not for religious reasons, but rather what I like to think of as a rational, smart, personal decision. I respect myself too much to go f*** random dudes when I’m blitzed out of my mind on the weekend.”
Like Jen, Chelsea*, a Penn State student, is holding out for the right guy too.
“I’m not ‘remaining’ celibate in the sense that I refuse to sleep with a guy. I’m more celibate out of a lack of a guy I’d like to sleep with,” explains Chelsea. “I love to flirt, but when it comes to taking someone home for the night, I’d like it to be someone I know won’t leave the next day and never come back. Because I’m a virgin, I’m waiting for someone I can trust.”
On the other hand, one anonymous source is celibate seven months strong because she’s well, sick of having bad sex.
“I started having sex when I turned 17 and hit the ground running from then. I love, love, love sex, and when I came to college it got even more intense, because now there was no sneaking around, no curfews—just me and what I wanted to do,” she says.
However, after her first year of college, the “quality” of her sex life quickly took a downturn including a time when one boy didn’t know how to put a condom on (they didn’t end up having sex).
“While I don’t think I’m going to be abstinent for much longer, I do plan on being more selective and time-conscious in my future sexcapades,” she says.
Other reasons for taking vows of celibacy are more health-related, including preventing an unwanted pregnancy and avoiding STDs.
But whether it’s the Princess of Pop or the most famous daughter in politics, it would be difficult to ignore the cultural phenomenon that is Twilight, because let’s face it, the sexual chemistry between Edward and Bella that wasn’t actually sex, made Gossip Girl look juvenile. There’s a reason why these books have gotten those Twilight Moms all hot and bothered: the books and movies ooze sexual tension, but are innocent enough where both moms and their daughters can equally enjoy them, earning the official seal of approval.
Even R-Patz himself said he believes that the Twilight series has become a metaphor for sexual abstinence. He said, “The success of the Twilight books comes from the fact that fans can lust after Edward and yet, certainly in the first book, there’s no actual sexual contact between him and the series heroine.” Though Twilight lacks Edward and Bella doing the deed, “it’s erotic underneath…There are so many elements in the story which are sexy.” A-men.
It’s true: not having sex can in fact be sexy. But before pre-teens were obsessed with vampires and Lady Gaga was taking a ride on her disco stick, it seemed no one made a big deal about celibacy. So why now?
“I think celibacy has always been a cultural obsession; I don’t think it has become more popular. I just think more women who have a societal influence in America are talking about it,” says Andelloux. “With Gaga and Palin, we are seeing two different representations of women here. One of whom is very forthright with her body and the sexual images she is putting out saying ‘I’m not having sex with anyone.’ This confuses many people because she puts herself out as being a highly sexualized woman, perhaps even a ‘slut’ and then she says she doesn’t even get it on with others. It distorts what we typically think of woman who act sexual.”
But Andelloux is clear to point out that unlike UGG boots and jeggings, she doesn’t think celibacy is a trend. Instead, the question she would pose to ladies like Gaga and Palin is: are they sexual with themselves?
“Human beings are sexual creatures, so even if they aren’t being that way with others, I highly doubt that they are being celibate with themselves,” says Andelloux.
Which brings up the topic of masturbation—a perfectly normal and healthy alternative to giving yourself a little lovin’ without actually having intercourse. However, because you’re still being “sexual,” some may view the act of masturbation as breaking their vow of celibacy. Nevertheless, if you’ve made a promise to remain celibate but change your mind, Andelloux simply suggests to just “decide that your vow has ended. Just because you’re going to be celibate doesn’t mean that you have to be that way ‘til marriage. You could put a time limit on it like, ‘I’m going to be celibate for three months.’ Make it more realistic and attainable so you’re less likely to break the vow.”
“I don’t judge any friends who have a lot of sex, or even friends who have had sex with anything with a pulse and facial hair on campus,” says Jen. “That’s their personal decision, and if they want to have sex with whoever, that’s great! I just personally choose to wait until a guy worth giving it up to comes along.”
Here’s the bottom line: sex is defined differently for everyone and consequently, celibacy is too. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who’s doing it (and who’s not), but rather doing what’s comfortable for you.
*Names have been changed
Megan Andelloux, HC sexpert
Chelsea*, Penn State student
Jen*, Rhodes College student