After years of disappointing relationships and unfulfilling casual sex, Hephzibah Anderson decided to give up sex for one year. The experience expanded her notion of what it means to be sensual, and helped her realize that being a "liberated" woman includes being honest about what you want from sex. I chatted with Hephzibah about her chaste year, which she writes about in her new book Chastened: The Unexpected Story of My Year Without Sex, and she provided some life lessons we can all consider without having to give up sex ourselves.
TrèsSugar: Why do you think the sex you were having disappointed you?
Hephzibah Anderson: It was unsatisfying because these guys weren't looking for what I was looking for. They weren't looking for any serious relationship, which meant that they were withholding on an emotional level. And I didn't feel secure enough to let on what I needed and I didn't feel confident enough to say that there needed to be an emotional component. I felt that the kind of sex I should be having was sex without intimacy and that's what seemed to be the hip, young liberated choice.
TS: Did you change your view of people who abstain from sex for religious reasons?
HA: It made me reexamine that position and I really appreciate people who make that choice for all sorts of reasons. I think it was hard enough for me — a supposedly not-completely-dimwitted 20-something — to figure out what I wanted and to voice it, and if you're a 15- or 16-year-old-girl or boy for that matter, the pressure must be immense. I can see the easiest way of figuring it out is to retreat into a "nothing goes" stance and take up a relatively unprogressive standpoint.
It also made me rethink cultures that build in periods of abstinence, that ritualize a way for women to stand back from it all and reconnect with themselves, which might be more fitting for the way women experience desire. I think it's more complex than male desire and it's much less understood. It made me revisit some of those rights and rituals that we think to be repressive, but it made me think maybe there was something in that for women. And maybe they chose to embrace those things rather than have them forced upon them as we imagine to be the case.
TS: Did men treat you differently because you withheld sex?
To find out the answer,
HA: I was really wary about using the word "withholding" because that wasn't what the journey was about. I didn't want to find myself being courted and wooed and romanced just because I had taken sex off the table — but that was indeed what happened! That was . . . interesting.
It probably is healthy to be suspicious of a guy who wants to hop right in bed with you. You have to conclude they maybe figure they have somewhere else to be in the long term, so they don't have much time to spend on you. Or they don't think that you're going to find them interesting enough.
TS: So no sex on the first date?
HA: If you really feel you have a connection with someone you want to savor the journey. If what you want is just sex and you're sure that's what you want and you're sure that's what the person you're about to go to bed with wants, then that's great, but I think as women we've been so taken in by the idea that equality is the right to behave exactly as we perceive men to be behaving and men are trapped in a gender mold as much as we are. While it's hard enough for women to slow the pace, if a guy does that, my girlfriends will say "what is wrong with this guy, we haven't done the deed?" It's really socially unacceptable for men to want to hold back a bit.
We've lost a sense of healthy emotional entitlement; if you're clear what you want is a relationship and some sort of multidimensional physical connection, then you're in your right to expect that if you open up your body to somebody.