#SELFCARESUNDAYS: what giving up sex and porn for a month taught me about myself

Image by Maia Magoga

The dawn of a new year sees many eagerly opting into various forms of “sober” January. Alcohol, sugar and smoking as the most common vices are put up on the chopping block for a four-week period. Alcohol being the go-to bad habit to shelve saw as many as 4.2 million people in the UK planned to give it up. While I could never see myself abandoning my chronic nightcap, I instead chose to embark on my own version of “dry-January” but through the form of sexual detox.

Last year, I was busy. I had a sexual calendar riddled with experiences that allowed me to grow, gain confidence and learn about myself – particularly my sexual desires. It helped me understand my mental and physical boundaries, and overall getting off. Coming into my own through exploring my sexuality imbued a level of confidence; I was able to access parts of myself that I previously had not.

However, this growth also came with the realisation that sex can be extremely draining. It demands you to be present with your time and emotions while actively listening to another person — or persons — that you’re with who have needs, wants and boundaries of their own.

A month free of sex and porn is far from revolutionary, and I have succeeded in having longer sex-free periods while not even trying, trust me. However, what spurred this need for surrender came from looking back on certain experiences which left me with an unsettling feeling, or that I was trying to console or provide comfort to others through physical touch. It made me question what I was providing to others through the act of sex. This occasional sense of confusion following sex made me want to take a step back to better be able to understand myself.

There is no shortage of studies that focus on the science of how sex contributes positively to your health. It helps with sleep, improves mental health, and can even improve bladder control. However, these benefits are all balanced with the emotional, physical, and the occasional financial labour (ie. dates, dinners, etc…) that can go hand in hand with involving yourself with others. This four-week challenge makes space for a much-needed scan of my mental space, sexual tendencies, desires, and overall happiness.

THE RULES: no sex, no porn
WEEK 1: Accountability

Thorough studies, all conducted by me, have undeniably found that starting any form of a resolution on the 1st of the month leads to lowered success rates. For this reason, everyone should be allowed a “last meal” and so 4 January 11AM, it begins. With any cleanse, accountability is a way of holding true to your goal. I tell key people in my life to hold me accountable and provide emotional support when necessary. The hardest thing to give up during week 1 was porn. It was extremely difficult not to default to Incognito Chrome mode. Who knew this detox would involve so much imagination?

WEEK 2: Incorporate self-care into your every day

Caring for my body and sharing it with just myself, what a thought. How does one selfishly indulge? Of course, there are spin class, Bikram, air yogalates etc. Yet, arguably more importantly, it also involves showing kindness towards myself beyond expensive fitness classes; from nights in re-watching favourite film and TV shows, and oiling head to toe. No jade eggs necessary, true indulgence can be found in caring and improving your body for no one else’s eyes or touch but your own.

Speaking of which, be prepared for a random alarm to go off for old flames who will suddenly regain interest the moment you begin working on yourself.

WEEK 3: Prioritise your needs

I’m willing to side with science and agree that there’s a strong correlation between sex and an enhanced immune system. It’s week three: I am sick and out of commission, but this too forces me to care for myself. In spite of being sick, I focus on my work-life and am reminded how liberating it is not to give a fuck about anyone’s schedule and to guiltlessly stay at work as long as needed. Looking at you, Andy Sachs’s shit ass boyfriend in Devil Wears Prada!

All excess energy and mental capacity has been put towards work and deadlines, which I discover is another way to let off steam, especially when one is too ill to squeeze in another air-yogalates-meditation class.

WEEK 4: Assess what you’ve learnt from the last month

Four weeks in from abstaining from sex and pornography forces me to be present, including acknowledging and rediscovering my own desires. Restricting myself from sexual relationships enabled me to acknowledge what I longed for and, more importantly, who kept creeping into my mind. Taking a step back from both sex and porn enabled me to realise what I missed about sex and with who.

Just as you might assess how your work-life is balanced, your relationships with friends and fitness is important. Where does sexuality fall in your hierarchy of needs? In times where clocking 18-hour days is lauded as “the hustle”, and most headlines have me questioning my sanity, this time allowed me to reflect on priorities, and check in with myself in a way that I had often skipped over. Whether it’s taking a step back from sex or allowing yourself to completely indulge in that very intimacy, this level of mindfulness towards your sexuality is integral.

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