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

boardwalk_sunsetphoto by Ingorr

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?"

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted

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.


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
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… Read more »
Lori, 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.… Read more »

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 😀

I’m 46, and in pretty much the same situation as the lady who wrote in initially. I was victimized by my own father at age 4, and raped by three teenage boys at 8. In my 46 years, I’ve only had two real boyfriends. The first, we just weren’t compatible, and stopped seeing one another. The other sexually assaulted me at 22, and I’ve not dated since. I’ve done alot of soul searching in that time, been to therapy (two different therapists), and bought several toys that I’m now in a close, continuing relationship with. 🙂 I’m happy to report… Read more »
Yes, you can totally live without sex! I’m a 23 year old female and I just never really had an interest in sex. I lost my virginity at 19. The experience was anti climatic so I wasn’t particularly motivated to keep it going. However just to make sure I wasn’t making a hasty decision I had sex with different guys whom I really respected but…eh.. still wasn’t into the sex thing. For I while I tried to put on the “Hey I’m really horny and sexual” act but in the back of my mind I was always thinking “Man, I… Read more »