by: Lindsey Dietzler
About a year ago, I decided I wasn’t going to invest any more energy into having sex. It had been a pretty big year of life changes; my mother passed away the same day I broke up with an ex, I started taking testosterone, I was finally moving back into a place of my own after a year of unemployment, and my cat passed away.
With so much loss and change to process through, it was pretty clear that I needed to focus my energy inward. I have always been an extrovert and a giver, seeking my inspiration and happiness through others and through organizing, often neglecting my inner self and voice. I knew if I did not take the time for some serious self-care, I could find myself dealing with some emotional volcanic eruptions in the very near future.
Around this time, I started to recognize a pattern with myself and sex; I was using sex (much like alcohol and other substances) as an escape from my pain. Nothing made me feel better than having sex. It was as if all of the sorrow that I was carrying around with me everyday was instantly washed away.
But when the endorphins wore off, it felt like crashing from a bad coke binge. Not only did the grief I had been sedating return, but I found myself feeling lonelier and sadder than before. Sex was giving me a false sense of intimacy, an intimacy that I was incapable of sustaining, regardless of whether my sexual partners were or not. I was confusing lust for love, affection for dedication, attention for devotion.
Much like the withdrawal from any addictive substance, I struggled with wanting to use. I was desperate to feel anything but the sadness that would consume me, even though I knew walking directly into the darkness was the only way through my grief. And I was now dealing with compounded grief, my cat onto my mother, my mother onto my sister.
Through therapy, my journey to become more present, and my quest for spiritual enlightenment, I learned one of the most important tools of my life: I learned how to be an active participant in my healing process. By accepting that I am not just in fact always at war with myself, or confused about what I want, but that there are actually different parts of me that want different things at different times for different reasons, I was finally able to address my pain and grief in a profound way.
I was able to be the healer and the caretaker for myself, instead of relying on outside forces to help me navigate my pain. I learned that the parts of me that were strong could watch over the parts of me that were deeply wounded. Through this process, I could little by little allow myself to sit with and experience my pain without being consumed by it or spiraling into depression. And when I decided that I had had enough, I was able to neatly pack it away until I was ready to return to it again, each time resulting in a little more relief.
Over the last year I have for the first time in my entire life, actually gotten to know who I am. Not who I am in a relationship with another person or in relation to another person, place, job or neighborhood, but who I am in relationship to myself. I know how to make myself happy, how to take care of myself when I feel sad, how to calm myself down when I feel anxious.
My year of celibacy didn’t just help me work through my grief and get to know myself, it has allowed me the space to explore my past and current relationships without the filter of sex and all the feelings that come with it. It has given me the clarity to see why my past relationships did not work, why my current relationships are so important and how my future relationships will be the best to come.
I have learned to have compassion for myself and this has taught me to be more compassionate toward others. I have learned how to recognize when I am triggered and separate those emotions from the ones that I am actually experiencing in the moment. I have learned to have healthier, non-codependent relationships with those closest to me in my life.
As I approach my one year anniversary of not having sex, I sometimes feel this unconscious pressure or policing of myself (most likely instilled in me at some point by society) to have sex. I have to tell myself that it is okay to not have sex or want to, that there is nothing wrong with me if I don’t. I have to tell myself that I cannot let this societal pressure that also shames people for having “too much” sex shame me for not having enough sex.
When I think about having sex again, I think about it in the context of wanting to be more intimate with someone I like or desire, instead of thinking about it like having a drink. I think about how I am so less terrified of being close to other people than I was a year, two years ago and how I am actually capable of that intimacy now. I think about what it will be like to have sex again for the first time with this new perspective, with these new hormones, with this new life.
I now feel like I have the tools to navigate a space that is sex positive for myself. I do not have to have sex because I feel a personal and/or societal pressure to do so. I no longer want to have sex to mask my pain. I want to have sex because I want to have sex and for no other reason than that.
Lindsey Dietzler is a trans/queer rights activist and community organizer. He is a co-founder of Video Action League and founder of CAMP: A Queer Sports League. Dietzler received his Bachelor of Arts in Cultural Studies from Columbia College Chicago. He is currently working on organizing a new queer/philanthropic dance night in Logan Square. Dietzler enjoys dancing, riding his bike and snuggling with his cat.