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This week’s episode of The Baggage Reclaim Sessions is about waiting to have sex. When I said that I would do a series of episodes on sex in episode 202, by far the most requested topic was about abstaining. From waiting to have sex until, for example, a few months in, to waiting until marriage, to being a virgin. In this episode, I talk about what we need to consider when abstaining (or contemplating it), why some people aren’t going to be OK with it (even if they initially said they were), and how to use The Four Qualities, The Five Stages of Relationships or The Landmarks of Healthy Relationships to make more secure choices in partner and relationship. I also share tips for how we can support a friend, partner or family member who’s abstaining rather than being judgemental.

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Nuggets from the episode

  • While abstinence and celibacy refer to the same thing–not engaging in sexual activity–abstaining is typically for a set period of time and may include some forms of sexual activity.
  • People arrive at abstinence, so waiting to have sex or limiting their sexual activity, for all sorts of reasons, not just religious ones.
  • Waiting to have sex even if it is for what seems like a relatively short period of time in the context of an involvement is about owning your choice. You have to get behind it. You can’t keep putting it up for debate. So abstinence has to be a conscious, loving choice for you, so a preference, not programming. It can’t be about something you’re doing to obey someone else or primarily driven by fear and guilt. Otherwise, you will come unstuck and gradually come to resent your choice. You will also be deeply affected by shame.
  • Some of the decisions we’ve made around sex were not made from a conscious place of ownership. Part of evolving our relationship with sex is about shifting from passive responses and choices to active ones. It’s about differentiating between desire versus obligation. Even if decisions we’ve made originated from obligation, from programming, part of taking ownership of ourselves is about working out what we can turn into a choice and desire that reflects our core values.

News flash: Owning what we need and want doesn’t mean that we won’t wrestle with it at times. Professor Life will throw experiences our way that provide opportunities to vote for who we say we are and to recommit.

5 considerations if you’re abstaining (or contemplating it)

  1. Know your why. Explore hidden fears and motivations. What do you think will happen if you abstain? What do you think will happen if you do have sex? Who, if anyone, are you trying to please? Are you trying to be in control of something?
  2. Do your original reasons, including what you were taught about sex, relationships, life, etc., align with your actual values? This is where you get to recognise programming, including any shameful or controlling messages.
  3. Make it a positive choice. Even if this choice started from a place of obligation or trauma, it has to evolve to a choice that lovingly supports your life. Otherwise, you will be in conflict, internally and in your life experiences. You always know that it’s a positive choice, an owned choice, when you are not playing any form of role. By making the decision to abstain from a positive place, you can be far more intentional and be on your side as opposed to doing things with low awareness of your intentions.
  4. Don’t over-explain or justify. If you feel as if you have to take the courtroom floor and make a case for what you’re doing, you will continuously find yourself in situations where you’re seeking validation from others. It’s highly likely that you will be involved with people who keep trying to push your boundaries. Meditate on your decision, seek counsel from your inner circle, journal, get professional support. Do what you need to do to get in agreement with yourself.
  5. Have a Recruiter Mindset and practice discernment. The decision to abstain is a choice driven by your core values (hopefully) and a moralistic choice at that. It doesn’t make sense to make a choice that places a high value in character, in waiting, to then mess around with partners or prospective ones that cross boundaries and clearly are not in alignment with who you are and what you say you want. You have to be willing to step away rather than using the fact that you are waiting to have sex as a reason to give someone a pass on having boundaries.

Someone who focuses on intensity over intimacy is clearly showing that delaying gratification isn’t their strong suit. If you want to wait to have sex, this means that you are not on the same page as this person.

  • When we sense that something is off or we know it but we then ignore it, this is not avoiding being judgemental. If we’re ‘treating someone how we want to be treated’, ignoring ourselves and our boundaries is like saying ‘I want you to ignore your boundaries like I am.’
  • It is disappointing and painful when someone we thought was on board with us waiting to have sex turns out not to be. But it’s also OK for someone to change their mind. Just because someone said that they were OK with on the dating app or on date #whatever, or when you checked a while back, it doesn’t mean that they don’t have the scope to evolve their ‘OK-ness’. All humans are guilty of wanting to appear more OK with things than they are. Plenty of us are prone to telling people what we think they want to hear and not wanting to look like we’re someone who does or doesn’t do X.
  • If something is bothering us and we keep it to ourselves even though it directly affects our partner, we’re blocking intimacy.
  • Trust is a gamble in any relationship situation. In a relationship where, for example, one party is abstaining, one of the gambles is that there is enough there for the other party to postpone fulfilling sexual needs. And even if someone is really into us, they might not be able to do that. It might be too big an ask of themselves. And that’s OK. There is someone else who can and will.

How can we be more considerate of loved ones who are abstaining?

  • When someone reveals that they are abstaining, we need to hold off on jumping to judgement, shame or interrogation.
  • Don’t assume that it’s for religious reasons, but if it is, don’t impose your views on them.
  • Rather than assume, project or judge, empathise with the person. Be open to recognising what they’re going through. Show an interest. Ask questions (where appropriate), but do it from a place of the two of you are sharing as opposed to, My life choices are normal, and yours are not. Abstaining, celibacy, virginity, being sexually active are all normal states and valid actions and lifestyle choices. None of them are weird.
  • Don’t make someone who is abstaining the butt of jokes. Don’t make innuendos or sly jokes that you then tell them that it’s their imagination when they express their discomfort or hurt. That’s gaslighting.
  • Don’t chat out their business. It’s not because it’s something to be ashamed of; it’s because it’s their personal information.
  • Be respectful about matchmaking. The amount of stories I hear about people trying to palm the shadiest and most inappropriate of partners on people who are abstaining is shocking.
  • But also don’t assume that because someone is waiting to have sex that you can’t introduce them to someone. If they’re open to meeting people, don’t assume that them abstaining is a no-no for the other party.

How to make more confident decisions about romantic partners when abstaining?

  • Instead of primarily focusing on sex, focus on the four qualities of a loving partner. That’s embodying them and noticing whether your partner does too.
  • Not sure about the four qualities? Map your abstinence to the five stages of relationships. If you know that, for example, you are waiting until marriage to have sex or until you are very secure that in the knowledge that you are in a secure and loving relationship, you need to be at stage three. If you’re uncomfortable with sex being in the equation when you don’t know a person enough yet, you need to be at stage two. This means that if the other party is very focused on sex during stages 0-1, you need to fold. You’re not on the same page. It’s not about ‘judging’ them; it’s about judging the situation and acknowledging that it’s not a fit for your values.
  • Use recognition of the landmarks of healthy relationships–balance, commitment, consistency, intimacy and progression–to determine whether you want to increase sexual engagement. If the landmarks aren’t there, sex is not the answer!

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