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I saw my first shooting star when I was about thirty-five years old. I was attending a publishing institute at Stanford University, and it was the final evening event of the most exciting two weeks of my writing and publishing career. Getting to know writers, editors, and other professionals from around the world confirmed for me that I was on the right path. I felt motivated and was anxious to get back to Chicago to put pen to paper and get busy. So on that momentous last night in California when I just happened to look up into the heavens and see that diamond light arc against the velvet black sky, I felt that the windows of heaven had opened to a new and exciting chapter in my life. No one else saw it, so I knew that the star shot across the sky for me and me alone.
Frantically I tried to remember the purpose of shooting stars from myths and legends. A wish! I had to make a wish! The universe was giving me a present, and I felt the pressure to wish wisely. I couldn't fritter away a wish on something stupid. Who knew when, or if, I'd ever get to see another one?
All the magic and wonder of the universe at my disposal and what did I wish for? A million dollars? A big house? Fame? A personal trainer? No.
I begged the universe for a husband.
The Hidden Blessing
Lord knows I could never be a nun. Although I love the idea of daily communion with the Divine, I absolutely abhor the idea of a lifelong commitment to celibacy. No men? At all? Ever? Just the thought makes me want to reach for the Prozac. An entire life without sex would be like a menstrual cycle without brownies and ice cream.
I am an earthy one-man woman. When I'm in a relationship with a man who excites me mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically, I don't care how busy I am, I'll make time for him. I love my women friends, but only Man can jump-start my heart and body in that special way that makes the sun shine, the moon glow, and the birds sing their sweet songs. I love the harshness of Man's voice, the rough feel of his day-old beard growth on my cheek when he kisses me. I love his tender (or crushing) embrace.
As much trouble as men have caused me in the past, I still crave them. Men are so habit-forming, so delicious. That's why, in times past, when I experienced the breakup of a love relationship, the idea of becoming celibate would leave me feeling anxious and depressed, sometimes for months. There were times when I didn't know what I'd miss more the man or his you-know-what. Just like a character in a movie who's been hit with some devastating news, I'd look to heaven and scream, "No!" the word echoing throughout the city while the world, along with my hopes and dreams, spirals violently away into the cosmos. "Not again!" In times past, the onset of celibacy was, for me, like the flu; I'd feel the chills and the scratchy throat coming on, but not even a hefty dose of Nyquil (or feverish begging to please please stay) would prevent the listlessness and sadness. It was all I could do to hide under the covers and ride it through as best I could.
In times past, I haven't gone easily into that good night of celibacy. I've raged, raged against the dying light of wild and lovely sex and the energy of Man. Forget that the relationships themselves were often unfulfilling; at least I was having sex. At least I could feel romantic and in love. At least, in the harsh, judgmental eyes of society, I was a desirable woman, because I was with a man and we were having sex.
Prior to the 1960s, women were expected to stay virgins or practice celibacy if they were not married. Today, women are laughed at or pitied for choosing abstinence if they are not married, or at least in a committed, monogamous relationship. The present-day American obsession with sex has, I hate to admit, affected my beliefs about my womanhood, femininity, and celibacy. In times past, the presence of sex in my life meant that I was a full-fledged, card-carrying woman who could hold her head up high in society and among other women. The absence of sex meant no passion, no romance, no love in my life, and bowls of my father's chili to keep me company on lonely Saturday nights. Celibacy was a void empty and utterly useless.
During periods of celibacy, which I have experienced frequently and for long durations throughout my forty years, I would nourish the idea that "spinsterhood" was my destiny with tears and negative self-talk. In my soul grew a weight as heavy and destructive as a tumor. It sabotaged one relationship that had much potential and kept me from recognizing and choosing men who were good for me. I ended up having two children by different men and under traumatic circumstances.
Celibacy was like a prison, and all I could think of was escape. "Get back into a relationship and quick" was my mantra. My manhunt was tainted by desperation and humiliation and would usually lead to involvements with men who were great in bed but bad to the bone. Despite all the obvious signs, I would get involved just to take the edge off the loneliness. Since my moral code and psychological makeup dictate that I be in love before I make love, I would usually use my fertile imagination to convince myself that I had met my prince.
In my love relationships, however, Truth takes no prisoners. Truth always wins out and destroys the fantasies, the lies. I might not have always known it, but breakups have been a blessing. While I may have been willing to settle for men who were no good for me, my God wanted the best for me. Breakups that I thought were divine punishment for having sex outside of marriage in the first place (that old Christian programming dies hard) were really opportunities to heal negative subconscious psychological patterns, destructive behaviors, and my dysfunctional approach to relationships. Breakups, and ultimately celibacy, gained me a greater understanding of my life purpose and an unconditional love for myself.
Throughout my adult life I have returned to celibacy time and again. In fact, I have been celibate more than I have been sexually active which isn't easy for a romantic, passionate woman like me. When a woman finds herself alone in this society, too often her feminine soul suffers in shame, loneliness, and despair. When we vent with our sister-friends, we lament about how that man done did us wrong, but deep down, what we're really feeling is a profound lack of self-worth. We, in our solitude, feel totally alone in the world. We may imagine the whole world as a married couple having sex. During some of my worst moments, I felt as if my naked ring finger revealed all my fears and insecurities to the world. I felt I was on public display. "Look at her," I imagined people were saying, "no ring! She can't even keep a man. She's an incompetent woman. She's not pretty. She's not desirable." And the worst blow of all, "She's not lovable."
Late bloomer that I am, I was about thirty-four years old and just had Baby #2 outside of marriage when I became conscious of that last fear. I was forced to rethink all my beliefs and values. I discovered that I had made the classic mistake so many women, young and old, make: I equated sex with love, so whenever I wasn't in a relationship, I didn't feel lovable. Even though I knew I was a good woman with a lot of heart, I doubted my worth. The problem was that my womanhood and femininity were firmly entrenched within the context of relationships with men. I had no identity or sense of worth outside my male-female relationships. Looking back, the story of my life makes sense. I never could have developed identity and self-worth within a relationship. I needed the time alone. Although I perceived celibacy as sexual famine and karmic punishment, the times alone were gold mines of opportunities to discover the real me.
I rebelled, of course, and often. Sometimes daily. I prayed, I begged, I bargained with my God to please give me a husband. I was so dependent on Man to define me that having to rely on myself was scary. At the time I didn't realize that my prayers were being answered. I couldn't see beyond the emptiness of my life and the dark, lonely void. I felt as if no man would ever love me again. Sometimes I didn't even care if I loved me or not.
Motherhood proved to be the blessing that set me firmly on the path of my sensual, self-loving approach to celibacy. Although I did not set out to get pregnant with either of my children, I take my maternal responsibilities seriously. Whether my son and daughter were planned or not, whether they have the benefit of one full-time father or not, at the very least they deserve a good, devoted mother. As long as I'm not in a bad, emotionally draining relationship, I can be that for them.
Roller-coaster emotional entanglements negatively affect my ability to be a good mother. They leave me feeling depressed, disoriented, irritable, and tense, which, of course, taints my interaction with my children. My children are so sensitive, they often internalize my moods, which only adds to my guilt. It's not fair to my children or to me to constantly live life in a state of anxiety. We need peace. I need peace.
Being a new mother taught me this: The types of relationships I had settled for in the past would not serve me in my role as mother. That was a start. I wanted to be a positive role model for my children. I couldn't just have sex, hoping that the man might, maybe one day, want to possibly marry me, hopefully. I wanted my children to either see me alone, sovereign, and reasonably happy, or in a healthy, committed, loving, monogamous relationship that had marriage as a goal. I was no longer interested in trying out a guy to see if he worked. I have never, and will never, allow a parade of men into my children's lives. That would perpetuate the madness into the next generation.
We should be very selective about the men our children get to meet. Children form deep attachments to people, and when your relationship doesn't work out and the man leaves and never comes back, they experience abandonment and rejection just like you do. I've gone through enough of that, and I don't want my children to experience it unnecessarily.
And then there's my own sanity to consider. Putting my children aside for a moment, having sex with men who talk commitment but do not behave in a committed fashion (marriage) is dangerous. AIDS and STDs notwithstanding, the constant breakups take a toll on the heart. I don't have a study to back me up, but I believe depression resulting from relationship fallout is the number one health problem in this country.
Yet we keep doing the same things over and over. Our vaginas hold much power, so many of us use sex to attempt to control a man. That scheme may work temporarily, but sexual manipulation can only go so far in holding a man. In fact, the sex that we whip on a man can backfire in ways that are most unpleasant.
The spiritual mechanics of sex is a powerful process that should be taught along with the physical mechanics to every girl and boy. The womb of a woman is like a bowl; its design allows a woman to not only receive a man's sperm, but his energy, his essence into her bowl.
A man projects outward, so it takes a lot more than your good sex to keep him interested. He must receive your essence in other ways. The self-help literature does women a disservice by focusing so much on sexual technique to snare a man. According to the men I've talked to, bedroom gymnastics alone will not keep a man interested. Self-confidence, independence, good humor, and a good heart are what will keep a man's attention in the long-term.
Try this experiment: Close your eyes and focus on your pelvic area. Now do a Kegel (squeeze your vaginal muscles as if holding back urine) as deeply as you can. Hold a few seconds. If you're like me, a bolt of lightning energy will shoot straight from your womb up to your heart. When a man's penis is inside of you and you're Kegeling like crazy, simultaneously your heart is being electrically massaged and stimulated, and it's ecstasy. I don't know if that womb-heart electric connection is due to conditioning or biology, but I've learned the hard way that it's Heartbreak Hotel to mess around with it.
If I were made of stone, casual sex wouldn't be such a problem. I'm not made of stone, and you probably aren't either. When I'm turned on and my heart gets that jolt, it feels like love. A mere memory of an erotic experience can jolt my heart into waves of ecstasy. This feeling confused me in the past. I thought the good sex feeling was love. I'm one of those women (and I know I'm not alone) who has a hard time distinguishing between good sex and love. They both feel the same to me. When I first learned this about myself, I decided to become like men and learn to have sex for sex's sake. Thank goodness that foolishness was short-lived and did not lead to any sexual involvements. I have learned to accept and love my ability to receive male energy. I honor it and protect it. I now know that it's important for me to keep my queenly jewels under a lock and key of my own design until Mr. Right is doing more than just talking a good game. He's got to be willing to put in some celibacy time with me. Then he'd better get himself to the church on time because we'll have a lot of catching up to do!
Our bowl design our feminine ability to receive and embrace, both physically and spiritually causes us to retain a man's energy for a long time. I have a long memory for men with whom I've been sexually involved. I still have dreams about men I broke up with years ago. I don't know if this is true for men, but I believe it is true for many of us women. Unless a woman makes the conscious decision to emotionally and psychologically heal from a broken affair, the man's lingering energy will continue to cause painful memories, which, on a downward spiral, can lead to destructive behaviors and low self-worth. I have gone through the hard healing work, and although I'll always remember incidents I wish I could forget, I've come a long way. There is absolutely no way I want to start at square one again. Thank goodness for celibacy. The horniness (to be quite blunt) I experience from time to time is a small price to pay for sanity, contentment, and peace of mind. I can handle the occasional bouts of loneliness knowing that the sun will rise and the morning will come. Until then, there's so much living to do! There's not enough time in the day to get it all done.
So I've been forced to become much more selective about men. After the birth of my daughter, my second (and last) child born outside of marriage, I knew I'd have to make some big changes in my life. My daughter's father and I tried to make it work during the first few months of her life, but the relationship was doomed from the start. Inevitably, we broke up. I just couldn't keep going on like this, making babies with (1) men I was not married to and (2) men who did not love me.
The birth of my first child left me feeling devastated and terrified. The birth of my second child woke me up. I began to realize that my approach to relationships was completely dysfunctional. It took one more failed relationship (after the one with my daughter's father) to convince me that I needed to take a break not only from sex, but from men in general. I couldn't just be with a man because he made me feel good, hoping against hope that love and marriage would come later. I had to develop some long-term goals and objectives apart from my desire for a mate. I would have to become a whole person, despite our society's belief that a woman is nothing without a man. I would have to get a life.
I would also have to raise my expectations of men. This was a new and frightening exercise. If men were scarce before I began to insist on character, sterling treatment, and commitment, my chances would plunge to zero if I tried to expect more from them. I had always experienced long "dry" spells between relationships, but after the birth of my children, they became longer and drier. Would I ever find love and happiness?
Wrong question. I learned to ask a better one: How do I turn the famine times into feast times? Deep down, I knew my focus had to change from men to my own healing. The exciting journey of self-discovery was what life was all about. I decided to be honest with myself about what I wanted and needed in a man, then I surrendered my search and let the helpful forces in the Universe take care of the rest. In the meantime, I had work to do. I had to switch on my internal light to find the Me I had lost in the years of bad relationships and rough periods of celibacy. I had to find the treasure that was hidden in this wilderness called celibacy, lest I go crazy. Hence, the Sensual Celibacy Program.
When my first unconscious forays into celibacy began, I was twenty-four years old, scared, newly divorced, and desperately unhappy. Apart from church teachings and Xaviera Hollander's racy books, I had little to guide me in the arena of women's sexuality. I began to rely on myself to answer questions such as: What is celibacy? What is sexuality? What is womanhood and femininity? What is passion? What is sin?
Ten years later, during my first conscious, tentative steps in this uncharted territory, I still had no clue but at least I was awake and willing to do the hard heart work. I prayed and felt my way through the process. There was no map. There were no hip, modern, feminine, sexy role models. I don't participate in any organized religion, so there was no support group of women practicing celibacy. I could always depend on the love of my sisters and best friend, and they talked me through many a lonely, sleepless night, but as for sharing experiences with other single women, I was on my own.
I had been practicing the self-loving, productive style of celibacy for a couple of years when the term "sensual celibacy" hit me like a bolt of lightning. This is what I had been doing all along! I had been so blessed by this particular style of celibacy that I just knew I had to share it with single women who were struggling with the same issues I had been.
Why not "sensual abstinence"? According to most definitions, the word "abstinence" is a catchall for the act of self-denial. You can abstain from anything eating red meat, drinking alcohol, and having sex. "Celibacy," on the other hand, specifically refers to abstention from sexual intercourse. The phrase "sensual celibacy" means a sexual abstention that is (1) empowering, (2) nonjudgmental, (3) healing, (4) loving, and (5) fun. The Sensual Celibacy Program is a 10-step guide that offers skill-building exercises, self-esteem boosting affirmations, guided imagery, meditations, and self-assessments to help women make the most out of their vacations from sex.
Celibacy is distinguished from virginity in that celibates have sampled the delights of the apple. We know what we are missing; virgins do not (more or less). In bygone eras, the term "virgin" used to refer to an individual who was pure and innocent in spirit, but today that concept has been narrowed to refer to an individual who has not had sexual intercourse. I like the former definition. It is more expansive, allowing for more possibilities for self-love, self-discovery, and personal growth. In response to high teen pregnancy rates and sexually transmitted diseases among young people, the virginity movement appears to be gaining acceptance as a "hip" lifestyle choice. (More on the virginity movement in chapter 11.)
In addition to abstaining from sexual intercourse, this book adds the dimensions of decision and sensuality to today's enlightened approach to celibacy. Realistically, I know that women will continue to have sex without the benefit of marriage, so I add this caveat: Celibacy is about making the decision to abstain from sexual intercourse when there is no healthy, loving, monogamous, committed relationship present in your life. Monogamy and commitment are our base-level criteria for entering into the sexual phase of a relationship; otherwise, it will amount to nothing more than a casual affair. We need to get away from casual affairs because they do not serve the goals of women who desire marriage or a committed, monogamous relationship. Nor do they serve the holy grail of holistic health mind, body, emotions, and spirit. Ultimately, I believe that in the new millennium we will see increasing numbers of women (and men) choosing premarital celibacy as a way of reclaiming and healing their bodies, minds, and souls.
The dimension of sensuality makes this decision a pleasure, as all of the physical and spiritual senses are celebrated rather than suppressed. How long does a woman have to abstain from sex before she can say she is officially practicing celibacy? Shere Hite says six months, and we will also use that time frame as a guide.
Give Yourself a Gift
Our popular ideas and feelings about celibacy were bequeathed to us from a harsh, judgmental, intolerant era. Celibacy was a grit-your-teeth, humorless experience. The poster child for celibacy was a pale woman who wore spectacles, her hair was pulled back in a respectable bun, and her gray dress was high-necked and long-sleeved. In our age when sex is more or less a given in relationships, this image of celibacy as grim, prudish, determined, and humorless still shapes our ideas about the practice. It's just not very enticing. Sensual celibacy obliterates all those old, destructive ideas and gives us a new, more empowering way to think about celibacy.
The Sensual Celibacy Program is my gift to you. I know what women go through. I know how confused we are about love, sex, and relationships. The Program makes celibacy not only a bearable experience, but a healing, productive, and even joyous one. You'll learn that you do not have to sacrifice feelings of romance and passion just because there is no man in your life. You'll learn how to feel about yourself the way you might feel about a love interest, which means you won't have to give up the good feelings at all. You can love and romance yourself. Imagine, loving yourself as intensely as any man you've ever loved! That's hot!
My entire life and personal philosophy have changed because of my practice of celibacy. I now take myself out on dates, and I treat myself to sensual delights such as good, positive music, delicious foods, stimulating books and cultural events, and good friends. I hug and touch people more, which helps satisfy my skin's hunger and my need to connect with others. As much as possible I infuse sensuality into every aspect of my life, from the clothes I wear and the sheets I sleep in to the pictures I hang on my walls. Even my prayers are romantic and passionate. Day by day, I am learning to experience life through all my senses. Amazingly, celibacy becomes less the focal point of my existence. Life is the point.
The Program has taught me skills to strengthen my practice of celibacy, i.e., my ability to resist temptation and withstand pressure before I am fully ready to have sex. I have learned that a goal-oriented approach gives my periods of celibacy focus and purpose.
Idleness, the enemy of any celibacy practice, has no place in the Program. Idleness is different from stillness. Idleness is doing nothing; stillness is being centered and listening to your inner spirit. The Program balances activity and stillness. My days are filled with meaningful activities not busywork that have their source in what I currently understand is my life purpose. Many women, upon finding themselves celibate, will fill up their days with a flurry of activity. This busywork only temporarily lets them forget about their problems. Eventually, however, they will have to face the music. How to tell if you've been engaged in busywork or meaningful activity? If you can spend an entire day alone in the stillness, if you can spend quality, quiet time alone with yourself without feeling panicky, then you know the Program is working.
One of the biggest benefits of the Program is that by taking time for yourself, by honestly looking at your true desires about vocation, marriage, etc., you'll begin to get some inkling of your life purpose. Inside many a computer programmer or secretary or doctor beats the heart of an artist or educator. Some of us are supposed to be wives and mothers, but because of the stigma attached to that honorable profession, the calling has been denied. How can you know if you never take the time to find out?
Before I started the Program, I was bored all the time. Since I made my first conscious decision to practice celibacy, which was about two years after the birth of my second child, I can honestly say that I have not experienced one dull moment. Life has been full, rich, and meaningful because my activities are now grounded in life-mission work.
Another miracle has happened too: While I still need Man (after all, I am Woman), I need him in a different way. I need friendship, communication, and empathy from him. I will always crave intimacy with a man, but now I know I don't have to have sex to experience the feelings (although sex would be nice). I can be in a business meeting and satisfy my need for Man just by being in his company. This has freed me to experience men as human beings, not as penis machines. I have real friendships with men now, something I never had before.
As most women know, sex is plentiful and easily available, if that's all that's desired. Since most of us want more than just an uncommitted, unfulfilling toss in the hay, today's celibate women and men are consciously deciding to abstain from sex for self-determined periods of time. Making the decision to forgo sex for a while is different from simply not having sex while waiting for the next lay. According to this definition, it might have been a year since you last had sex, but you are not celibate if you are in constant, hot pursuit of your next conquest. Decision makes the mechanics of celibacy (no intercourse) a much more empowering, disciplined, emotionally satisfying experience. If you've just become single, if you anticipate becoming single soon, or even if you've been resisting your celibate state for quite a while, take that first step and make the decision to become celibate. This step will be the first of many in your journey toward self-discovery. If you are single and alone, deciding to become celibate is one of the greatest acts of self-love you will ever make. A word of warning though: Don't be surprised if your entire life turns upside down!
Women need guidance on how to channel earthiness into areas other than sex. We don't need condemnation for having a vital and powerful life force. We don't need teachings that show us how to beat the flesh into submission. Throughout the Program, we will explore ways to reunite natural earthiness to spirituality, love for the environment, passion for work, health and fitness efforts, and more.
Quiet as it's kept, the church mothers and fathers talk a lot about the "sin" of "fornication," but they don't teach their single members how to matriculate through celibacy. The reality of a celibate's life is that you get horny. You get lonely. What do you do with the feelings? When I was in the church, married men and women would teach us single folks to read our Bible and just say no to sex, no to masturbation. We were taught to have faith that God would provide our mates. In fact, there was an obsessive focus on "believing in God for your mate." I recently heard of a church in which teenagers are being taught to pray to God for their mates! I love my faith, but some church teachings hurt more than help. How about teaching teens to pray to God for guidance on their life purpose and having a fulfilling, satisfying life with or without a mate? Even though most of us want to be in a relationship, when we obsess about it, we lose perspective. The Sensual Celibacy Program puts us on the right track. When friendship, love, romance, marriage, and sex occur (hopefully in that order), you'll enter that special relationship as a whole person, not as someone needing another for completion.
Fornication, chastity, promiscuity, and purity are words that smack of intolerance and judgment. The old view says that celibates are chaste and pure. Sex outside of marriage is not just sex, it's fornication and promiscuity. Some even go so far as to say that single women who are having sex are whores. Yet to say that sex outside of marriage is impure implies that sex within marriage is automatically holy, and that's not necessarily the case. Just ask any woman who is repeatedly beaten and raped by her husband, or a man whose sexual relations with his wife leave him feeling emasculated. On the other hand, singles who engage in unprotected sex with multiple partners are not only putting their own lives and the lives of others in danger, they are creating layer upon layer of spiritual, emotional, and psychological problems that are seething just beneath the surface, waiting to erupt. They may claim that they love sex, but as any sex addict will tell you, the obsessive compulsion to experience romantic feelings, have sex, and make conquests is usually masking other buried problems.
Our society is so crazed about the issue of sex, our language overflows with crude, lewd, and strange words to describe doing it and not doing it. It's like the Eskimos and their many words for snow. Language is the carrier of culture, and we can learn a lot about our attitudes and beliefs by studying the words we use to talk about and describe celibacy and sex.
Not to mention all the names we give to our body parts!
If you're not in a committed, monogamous, satisfying love relationship, there are lots of good reasons to practice celibacy.
HORMONAL PEACE. Remember PMS? The cramps, bloating, irritation, and general craziness? When our hormones are out of whack, we feel miserable.
One of the most common arguments against celibacy is that it's unnatural to deny the sex drive. Believe it or not, the physical feelings of sexual urgency calm down after a few months of no sex, though there may still be mental and emotional issues to work through. Dr. Winnifred Cutler, author of Love Cycles: The Science of Intimacy, says that unless a woman is having regular sex at least once a week, it's best for her to remain celibate. Sporadic bursts of sexual activity disrupt estrogen levels and fertility cycles. Cutler writes, "Biology seems to favor the woman who is slow to consider sexual congress; the woman who waits until she really knows her partner....Until a woman meets such a man and gets to know him, celibacy preserves her hormonal system and her health."
Most important, a term of celibacy can offer a woman a physical rest and healing from vaginal soreness, yeast infections, and other sexually related problems. And sensual celibacy is 100 percent effective against sexually transmitted diseases.
EMOTIONAL HEALTH. Sensual celibacy gives a woman permission to focus on herself. Rebounding from a failed relationship only aggravates the pain. Time out from romantic involvements can help heal a broken heart and old wounds and give you a chance to gain new healthy perspectives on love, sex, men, and other relationship issues.
CREATIVITY BOOST. When I talk to women about my most productive period of celibacy durin