My Most Sexually Empowering Choice? Not Having Sex

November 5, 2019

You could sleep with 0 people or 100, and you can still possess sexual empowerment.

There’s nothing worse than taking a pregnancy test when you don’t want to be pregnant.

It’s especially bad when you don’t know who the father is.

Last year, this is the exact situation I found myself in: 23, single, not on contraception, and with a late period. I was nothing short of panicked.

After finding the least expensive test that CVS carried (by the way, can we talk about how expensive pregnancy tests are?!), I went home to find out my fate. After locking myself in the bathroom, I turned the shower on to drown out the noise of my thoughts. I waited five minutes and then peered at the stick, leaning as far away from the sink as possible in case it showed two lines.

I breathed a sigh of relief as I saw one clear line on the screen.

I quickly tossed the test in the trash, turned off the shower, and hopped in bed with a bottle of cabernet.

This pregnancy scare was my second of 2018. Sadly, these scares weren’t surprising to me, since these incidents were a consequence of my decision to not be on hormonal contraception.

I was first introduced to birth control when I was 17 and decided to go on the implant (the one that goes into your arm). It was great for the first year, but after that, I started to see a lot of changes in both my body and mind; my periods went from non-existent to two weeks long, I felt fatigued and low-energy, and battled many and various bouts of depression.

I did some research and discovered that many women who used the implant experienced the same thing; smooth sailing in year one (the implant is good for up to three years), then raging negative side effects in years two and three.

Since I didn’t want to go on another form of contraception, I was left with no choice but to suffer with my negative side effects. It wasn’t until I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder that I considered completely doing away with the implant, since I never wanted to be in a position where I could even reasonably get pregnant (the implant is over 99% effective).

It was at my initial session with the diagnosing psychiatrist that she brought up the subject of contraception. “It’s probably contributing to your depressive episodes; I would like to see you get off of it,” she advised.

At first, I was very resistant to the idea, but decided to take her advice. I got my implant removed, although it took a doctor’s appointment and trip to the hospital in order to get the job done (it turns out you need a special certification to deal with implant removal that my now OB didn’t have), as well as a battle with my insurance who tried to charge me $200 for its removal.

Once I stopped receiving hormones from the implant, I felt so much better. I had more energy and my cycle regulated.

The biggest negative side effect I’ve encountered being off of hormonal contraceptive methods has been the necessary negotiation that comes with each new sexual partner or encounter. Since I’m reliant on condoms for both STI and pregnancy prevention, I have to make sure everyone I’m sleeping with is also willing to use them.

I also have to make sure we’re using them properly since condoms are a method you have to use intentionally each and every time you have sex. As I am human, I have occasionally used condoms imperfectly. I experienced two pregnancy scares last year as a result of this imperfect use.

Some of this was my fault, which I must take responsibility for. I believe that regardless of what method of contraception you may or may not be using, there’s one common outcome that can’t be ignored: possible pregnancy. Plain and simple, if you have sex, no matter what methods of prevention you use, you can get pregnant.

Accepting this reality is part of being sexually active; if you’re not willing to face that possibility, you shouldn’t be having sex.

Seeing the high-risk consequences that were in front of me when I had sex with people I was casually dating, seeing, and the like, I started to question my choices. I wasn’t that into the sex I was having and felt that I was sleeping with people as I worked my way through the hell that is the NYC dating pool because I felt that this was what one does when they are an adult who is dating: they sleep with potential prospects along the way. When I really sat down and weighed the pros and cons of having sex in my current position, I saw without question how the cons outweigh the pros.

So, I decided to stop having sex with just anyone. I wasn’t declaring abstinence, but I wasn’t going to sleep with someone on a whim or because I thought they were cute. I was only going to have sex if it made sense for me, if I felt completely comfortable with the other person and had strong feelings for them that were reciprocated.

It was strange at first to approach dating this way, because I felt some internal discomfort around bowing out of casual sex.

Although we are bombarded with messages telling us it’s okay to have sex with who we want, when we want, and how we want to, we’re still not talking about how not having sex for any reason, purpose, or conviction can be just as powerful.

There is an idea that not having sex — whether it be for religious, health, or economic reasons — is viewed as only ever being a negative consequence of living under patriarchy, not a valid choice found in sexual autonomy.

As I allowed myself to lean into my discomfort, I realized how good I could feel! I didn’t need sex at all to feel physical pleasure, to connect to my body, to share intimacy.

There were so many other ways I could experience these emotions besides sex, which I actually found myself enjoying more than I usually enjoyed sex; I deepened my yoga practice, I started to weight lift, I boxed, I started enjoying food as sensual, I practiced meditation. Instead of chasing a momentary high, I started being present with myself each and every day. I had never felt better!

Moreover, I was also able to see how I truly didn’t ‘need’ a partner, in order to experience a happy, healthy life.

I could actually focus on the person in front of me when I went on dates or was swiping through apps, rather than chasing a feeling through sex or impulsively moving too quickly with someone due to an intense sexual chemistry.

It wasn’t as if sex didn’t interest me anymore — but I was filling my own cup, so to speak.

I wasn’t going into these interactions with need, but rather desire; I was dating and having sex because I wanted to, not because I felt I had something to prove.

I was no longer living in the story of being highly-sexual or sleeping with guys just because I was bored or longing for attention.

Instead, I was fulfilling my own needs for attention and affection, which caused me to realize that I’d been operating on a hedonic treadmill since I’d first become sexually active. Now that I was off of it, I was free to think and feel from a place of wholeness.

Our culture has a long way to go as far as recognizing that sexual empowerment is a philosophy of choice, of autonomy — rather than an attitude of sexual consumerism. How much sex you have has nothing to do with how sexually empowered you are. How many partners you’ve had has nothing to do with how sexually empowered you are.

You could sleep with 0 people or 100, and you can still possess sexual empowerment.

Just like having a lot of sex doesn’t make you a slut, not having sex doesn’t make you a prude.

For me — in my body, with my circumstances, attitudes, and goals — not having sex unless there’s an intention to commit has allowed me to live my most authentic truth.

It may change, it may not, but I’ve found so much confidence through this choice.

It’s time that we start expanding the conversation around sexual freedom and broaden the scope in which we examine what empowerment looks like.

As we know from thousands of years of fighting to expand the definitions of womanhood, of gender, of personhood, of labor, a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work. It’s time that we apply the same logic to sexual empowerment.

Featured image via unsplash.com. 


This story originally appeared on Ravishly, a feminist news+culture website.

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