Sexless in the City

Sometimes reading romance novels doesn’t quite prepare you for a love life...

For this 30-year-old urbanite, love is always a misadventure: The Harvard Lickwit, Hippie the Groper, the 5% Man, and the Ad Weasel. These and many other men wander in and out of her life — but never her bed.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Interview in the Chronicle

For those of you who didn’t see it, my interview with the San Francisco Chronicle’s Heidi Benson ran in the Style section today. While on the whole it’s very accurate, a couple minor clarifications are called for.
  1. Celibacy vs. chastity. I generally dislike calling myself celibate, since that implies the vow of lifelong abstention from sex taken by Catholic priests (though not by Anglicans, as one friend hastened to inform me). To be celibate technically can refer merely to the state of being unmarried or refraining from sexual relations — both of which are accurate in my case — but I prefer the broader and more specific term chaste, defined as “refraining from sexual intercourse that is regarded as contrary to morality or religion.”
  2. Literary agents. While I was indeed brushed off by the first one I spoke with, I was signed a couple months later by the marvelous Jane Dystel. Having wondered at first if it was worth trying to get an agent (when there was already some publisher interest in the book), I cannot stress enough how worthwhile it’s been to have Jane as my champion and adviser. As much as it can somewhat lengthen the process of selling a book, getting that expertise and representation is invaluable. You don’t know how much you don’t know until you have an agent.
Choices like mine can often be perceived as repression, disinterest in sex or lack of opportunity, but as I try to explain in the book, it’s none of those things in my case. Choosing to be abstinent until marriage doesn’t take sex off the table, but it certainly reduces the circumstances necessary for sex — finding someone I’d like to grow old with, and he with me — to something largely beyond my control. When you find yourself making a choice like that, it raises questions about both your identity and the character of the God who asks that of you.

As I’ve reckoned with these questions, I’ve realized that if who I am is fundamentally and principally a sexual being, then yes, I do risk living an unfulfilled life if I wind up dying a virgin. But if I who am is more than just a sexual being, my life’s fulfillment doesn’t depend on how many lovers or great sexual experiences I have (and no, I’m not naive enough to think they’ll all be fantastic).

While I do hope to someday marry — and certainly sooner rather later — I like to think the lesson I’m learning through this prolonged abstinence will actually give me a healthier, better sex life down the road. A few years ago, sex would have been the earth, moon and sky and probably several planets for me, and therefore a major letdown at some point. With this new perspective, however, I’m free to enjoy it just as what it is: a uniquely unitive, procreative way of sharing my whole self with someone — a good thing, but not an ultimate one.

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