It seems as if more single black women are speaking out about sex outside marriage. Three sisters open up about the benefits and struggles of self-restraint.
After going through several unfulfilling relationships, Latrice Collins decided that she would stop having sex. The 38-year-old single mother of a 4-year-old has been celibate for a year and a half now.
"I was tired of sex and worrying if I had some disease or would get a yeast infection from the condom, and of being scared if I was pregnant because I didn't use protection," says Collins, a Dallas accountant. It was also the emotional aspects of sex that had her saying no. "I've had the booty calls and then you wake up with an emptiness of 'why did I do that?' I don't want to just have sex for the sake of having sex."
Collins joins thousands of women and men around the country who are waiting for a formal commitment before getting intimate. Celibacy is to refrain from having sex, while abstinence is to voluntarily restrain from sexual intercourse and usually all other sexual activity, including self-pleasure, according to celibrate.org.
The choice to wait until marriage to have sex has gotten mainstream attention in recent years with couples like Russell Wilson and Ciara and OWN stars Flex Alexander and Shanice sharing their decision to be celibate before exchanging vows. DeVon Franklin and Meagan Good even detailed their no-sex journey in their New York Times best-selling 2016 book, The Wait. About 3 percent of Americans are abstinent and 60 percent of those leading a chaste lifestyle are women, according to the website waitingtillmarriage.org.
Taking intercourse off the table while dating can be freeing. Collins says it helps her weed out men who may be only out for one thing. But there are times when she does get urges and when that happens she pulls out her vibrator.
"It's not every week. I might do it once a month," says Collins. "Sometimes you just need a relaxer." She bought her vibrator from Daphne Martin, a Pure Romance sales representative. "I've met women who are like, 'Hey, I'm going to use the toy to keep from making bad decisions,'"says Martin, an attorney who has been selling pleasure products for 12 years.
Celibacy can be tough to handle, says TaMara Griffin, Ph.D., a clinical sexologist in Flint, Michigan. "You have to remain intentional with your decision and remember why you made that vow," she says. "Desires aren't going anywhere. They're natural. We were created as sexual beings and will have desires from the time we're born until we die."
Griffin recommends finding alternative pursuits to avoid thinking about sex. "Keep your mind focused and busy," she says. "Some people journal or do physical activities like yoga to release tension. Others go out with girlfriends or family to stay engaged with life and not focused on their desires." Many women turn to their faith, which can also be a motivator for staying virtuous.
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Nakiya Whitaker goes for a run or takes a cold shower when her sexual desires arise. She chose celibacy nine years ago after becoming frustrated with the dating process.
"It's common to find yourself into someone and then you discover that you're not the only one that they're with. That's hurtful," says Whitaker, 39.
She realized her heart and body were worth protecting. "Why would I let someone into me who doesn't really know me doesn't care about me, my dreams or want to be a part of my life and put myself at risk for having to get over them?" Whitaker shares.
Of course intimacy is about much more than the physical. "Sex is emotional, mental, spiritual and biochemical. It's institutional and political. It's all these things," Griffin notes. Several hormones, including oxytocin and dopamine, are secreted when we engage in sexual activity and keep us bonded to an individual.
"Sex is energy exchanging," Griffin says. "When we exchange those energies, chemicals and hormones, it keeps us tied to that individual indefinitely. What we do about it makes the difference."
"Sex is emotional, mental, spiritual and biochemical. It's institutional and political. It's all these things." -- Tamara Griffin, Ph.D.
It hasn't been easy for Whitaker to meet men open to delaying gratification. Guys have said things like, "That's not how I do things" or "Let's be friends." But she has remained steadfast. "If someone isn't up for the journey, then that's not my person," she says. She admits that she has come close to breaking her vow, but always goes back to why she is abstaining in the first place. "I'm not willing to let that go, even for a fine man," says Whitaker.
However, celibacy can be easier when you've never had intercourse and don't know what you're missing, says Griffin.
Georgina Agyekum is a 42-year-old virgin. Growing up, she attended a Catholic school and learned "the context in which God created" sex. She decided in the sixth grade that she would save herself for marriage.
"Sex is not only for reproduction, but also pleasure and support between a husband and a wife," says Agyekum, a health educator in Hyattsville, Maryland.
Agyekum tells men up front that she's celibate, and has been in a committed relationship for two years. Her current beau was celibate two years before they started dating. She says they set boundaries early on: They see each other on weekends and don't go to each other's home.
"Not spending a lot of time in the house has been the biggest help. We hang out and do things we enjoy like going to the movies and taking walks," says Agyekum.
Removing sex from the equation can help you better evaluate relationships. "It allows me to see things for what they are. If I see red flags, I can address them. There's no pressure," says Agyekum. "It's allowed us to really trust each other." Last December her boyfriend asked her to marry him.
If you are considering celibacy, find support online such as the Single, Saved and Celibate Facebook group. No matter your choice, remember you get to make the rules when it comes to your body.
This feature originally appeared in the March 2017 Issue of ESSENCE Magazine.