Dear Em & Lo: Can I Lead a Full Life Without Sex?

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Dear Em & Lo,

I’m 34 and I’ve never had a boyfriend. I was molested as a child and raped as an adult. I’ve never had consensual sex. Yet I have intensely sexual dreams. I’ve had years of counseling, but the fear of having a sexual relationship remains. I isolate myself from men.  The only ones I feel comfortable around are gay or married. I feel ostracized from a society which places such a high priority on sex, and I feel I am missing out on life because of my limitations. Am I really missing out? Is it possible to live a complete life without sex?

Not Feeling It

Dear NFI,

This may sound strange coming from two women who’ve made a career out of talking about sex, but you absolutely can live a complete life without sex! It’s really not that big a deal. Well, it certainly is for some people (Tantric sex practitioners and right wing republicans with secret gimp mask collections, for example). But for a lot of other people, sex is something they could simply take or leave — whether because of their body/brain chemistry, religious beliefs, or past experiences. And there are certainly many other things under the sun that can make for an interesting, fulfilling life. Orgasms are nice, but they don’t teach kids to read, or build Habitat for Humanity houses, or organize community activities, or run marathons…

We know it’s hard being constantly bombarded by sexual imagery in the media, but please understand that the majority of it is a fantasy, one that’s often orchestrated simply to get us to buy products (even stuff as mundane as instant rice!). The reality is that while sex can be fun and exhilarating and bonding, it can also be messy and stressful and unfulfilling. We’re certain our society’s obsession with sex, especially idealized sex, has led to an awful lot of disappointment in the sack. Add to that the sad fact that sex can be used as a weapon of violence and subjugation, and we see nothing wrong with people — especially people who’ve been through the kind of trauma you have — choosing celibacy, if that’s what’s right and works for them.

Now, you mention that you do have sexual dreams, but you don’t say anything about masturbation. Just because you may choose to forgo partner sex, doesn’t mean you can’t (or shouldn’t) have sex with yourself! The great thing about self-pleasure is that you are in total control — of the pace, the timing, the techniques, the mood — without having to worry about anyone else’s good time. If you haven’t already, we’d really recommend getting an empowering book on masturbation — Betty Dodson’s classic Sex for One or Jayme Waxman’s Getting Off — and giving yourself permission to try to start enjoying the nerve endings you have, on your own terms.

If deciding not to pursue romantic and sexual relationships doesn’t give you peace, and you still feel like you’re missing out on something, then we’d recommend getting a new therapist who might be able to make new headway with you (perhaps one specializing in post traumatic stress disorder and/or sexual issues), as well as joining a psychotherapy group for rape survivors (if you haven’t already), which according to the New York Times Health Guide, is one of the most effective treatments. While the world is full of horrible people (everyone from criminal monsters who commit unconscionable acts to little selfish assholes who have no qualms about casually breaking hearts), there are good guys out there who are kind, good, and giving — in life, in relationships, and in bed. But again, they’re not necessary for a rich life: some women really do need a man like a fish needs a bicycle.

More power to you,
Em & Lo

Say Something

11 Comments on "Dear Em & Lo: Can I Lead a Full Life Without Sex?"

5 years 7 months ago

married 43 years 30 of which have been sexless. Had a tuff time bringing up two kids. Worked off shifts so sex was pushed aside. We slept in the same bed but at different times of the day . After a time we became no longer interested in sex.
Were old, fat and unattractive but happy.

5 years 8 months ago

yus yus yus
one of my male friends who is a pansomethin sexual, been in some many bad sexual relshionships that he is off from it, and well if someone won’t respect it he breaks up with the, it can be hard, but in the end it’s worth it

Madamoiselle L
5 years 8 months ago

Being a survivor can wreak havoc on your entire life. But, the key word IS “Survivor.” I feel awful that these things happened to you. NO ONE has the right to sexually assault an other ever. I want to be honest with you, I was harmed by a pervert when I was a child. I was also raised in a pretty heavy sex negative environment. I have, however, managed to have a very good sex life since I was in my teens. Everyone is different and everyone’s Road to Health is different. As is the time it takes them to get there.

Until I got to about 13 or 14, I had decided I wasn’t “going to do it until my wedding night” (Like I was told my parents did, and they lied.) and realized that by NOT allowing myself to experience physical love, the molester WON! He not only took my innocence from me, he would be denying me every pleasure from sensual feeling for the rest of my life.

Needless, therapy and time healed the wounds, and I have been able to have a very lovely sex life since my teens. Everybody is different. You may be able to have a fulfilling life without sex. I have no idea. Do you feel like you are missing something? (I mean this with all empathy.)

There are so many GOOD therapists who could help you achieve a new level of living and pleasure. Avoid the ones who do nothing but harp on “Victim-hood” and try to keep you a victim. Therapy should focus on not only the trauma, but all other aspects of your life. If a therapist is only interested in the sexual trauma, it’s best to see someone else. You may relate to a therapist like this, in the beginning, but in the long run, one who doesn’t focus overwhelmingly on the sexual trauma (but deals with it matter of factually) is the best for people who have been sexually harmed.

I chose to refuse to see myself as a victim. What happened was not my fault and I had NO say in it, and I worked to make sure that pervert had NO ability to effect the REST of my life or deny me any further pleasures. He did enough. I refused to let him destroy my adulthood as well. As I said everyone is different, but we are all resilient.

My thoughts are with you.

Blessings to you.

5 years 8 months ago

Firstly yes, you obviously have been dealing with some ignorant and selfish men. What man or woman doesn’t have issues? Secondly, mayhap you can date for awhile and hold off on sex. I think discussing sex and exchanging your views on sex before you hit the sack, might be the best approach. It’s a good way to become comfortable with them and also a good way to find out ahead of time if you’re even roughly compatible. Like everything else concerning relationships, communication and mutual understanding is the cornerstone of success. Good luck!

Surviving rape is no easy task. Each woman takes a different path because each violation is very personal. Don’t become discouraged! There is help out there and it’s NEVER too late to stop coping and start healing.

I realize sex after rape can be difficult. No one ever knows just how difficult it is for another person because rape is a completely personal violation. Here are a few points I found/find helpful: Sex is not necessary for happiness. Sex is fantastic when it’s right for you and your partner, even for survivors of rape. Your healing progresses at your own pace. Counseling can give you the tools you need to help with that progression. What happens in your head concerning your past is your business, so YOU decided when you feel comfortable with disclosure. And finally, group sessions sound scary, but actually are really helpful and fulfilling. There is NO shame in being a survivor, because rape is NEVER the victim’s fault. (It doesn’t matter what the victim was or wasn’t doing, where they were or who they were with. No means no.–Well, except in certain sex play, but then there’s still a safe word for no or stop that must be respected and complied with.)
One final note: if you feel like you’ve progressed as far as you can with one counselor, then switch to someone else. You won’t hurt their feelings, and you’ll be taking steps to better your progress.

Rape Survivor
Volunteer Rape Victim’s Advocate

5 years 8 months ago

Well, this is a great advice, I wasn´t rape thank the Lord, or anything like this, but I almost had an abortion, the condom broke, and hearing stories about other girls make a pretty deep impact on me, I just can`t have sex again, besides I never really wanted to become a mother, but I certainly don`t want to kill my baby no matter what, so celibacy is my life and its the greatest, Im 22 and have a great life 😀