Can I Lead a Full Life Without Sex?

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 trauma), as well as joining a support 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

This post has been updated. 


  1. 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.

  2. 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

  3. 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.

  4. 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. 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. 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 😀

  6. 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 that I’m generally comfortable in my own skin now, and considerably happier as a person.

    Here’s my question. I’ve come to the point where I would actually like to have sex. You know, with an actual living, breathing man. But there’s a hideous stigma attached to a) being a virgin, and b) being a victim. Maybe the guys I know are pretty much just dogs, but most of them don’t want anything to do with either. Hearing them talk, they don’t want to be with someone who has such a lack of experience, or who has “issues.” So how do I find someone who’ll be willing to take the kind of time I need? I can just see the dating ad now…”46 year old virgin seeks to lose virginity, only nice guys need apply…” Yeah, right.

    Any ideas? Thanks! 🙂

  7. 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 like this person but I don’t really want to have SEX with them!” Eek!

    So THEN I thought I was a lesbian… I’m most definitely more attracted to women than I am to men but still the idea of having sex with a woman is ALSO offputting. lol. As long as masturbation is still allowed I’m pretty sure I can live the rest of my life without ever having sex again.

  8. I think sex is just as important as air..without it one would slowly die..It’s very healthy if you have the right partner.

  9. I think you can live your life with out sex…
    but at the same time you are like a complete stranger to the world we live and therefore putting you in a situation that most people rather not consent with you.

  10. Hellow my dear i hope you doing well with your life but as the time goes on you should know this,in your life you have taken the right decision and i thank you for doing that 100 percent.Keep your body as smart as possible, have a splendiferous life bye.

  11. An amazing answer to this question, and I wouldn’t expect anything less from the two of you! I thoroughly enjoyed reading this.

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