EXCUSE ME, BUT HAVE you heard? We're not doing it as much as we used to. No, that's not right. Let me put it this way: Some of us are not doing it all. This, for lack of a term, is the New Celibacy and it is either something brand new, like punk rock, or something that has been going on all the time and has only recently been discovered like ballroom dancing. Either way, as Sam Goldwyn once said, include me out.
The New Celibacy was first repoted, I am told, in the Village Voice which published an article about it last year.Some people took it as a put-on - you know, a joke. Others were not so sure. Others thought it was happening or, as you may want to put it, not happening. Anyway, it was puzzle. Then in May things became clearer. The New York Times said it was happening.
There was excitement. There was commotion. It was a wonderful piece of reporting - real names and all. People reported dropping out of sex, losing interest. Some of them said it was too much of a hassle. You did it once and then you always had to do it. That sort of thing. Oh God, I know, I know. Yawn, what a chore.
People said they could do without it. It was easy they said. They did not miss it. I don't know about them. I was once celibate for 18 years - 18 years, three months and 12 days to be precise. It was March . . . That's a different story. All I can say is that celibacy was not easy. They were not easy years. They were years of anxiety, years of acne. But who knows anymore. I mean, The Times. The Times does not kid around. William Safire writes for The Times.
I showed this piece of reporting to R, a researcher here at The Post. R was unimpressed. This was news to her, she said. Certainly none of her dates had heard of it, she opined. The New Celibacy, we concluded, had not yet reached suburban Virginia where R Lives. There are some who maintain that sexh as not reached there, either, but that, as they say, is a different matter entirely. Anyway, I then showed the piece to a young man I know who also works here. He sneered, giggled and shrugged his shoulders. He also gave me a funny look.
By now, I was havinb fun. One night, while coming back from Chinatown, we passed the 14th Street porno strip. There were thousand of people out there. I suppose none of them had read The Times. I kidded about stopping and telling them that the new rage in New York was not doing it. I got talked out of it.
No matter. I kept plugging away, doing my reporting, I heard of a New York woman who does nothing all day but type pornographic novels. She has done more than 200 of them.I thougt I really did - that if there was such a thing as the New Celibacy it resulted from overdose - too much sex all around. She would be the perfect one to interview. I called her boss and he brought her to the phone. I asked my question. She giggled.
I pressed on. There was a lunch where I met a friend I've known for a while. I joked about the New Celibacy. She did not laugh. She said she was into it.She said she had taken up running instead. Now I giggled.She looked very sternly at me. Talk to me, Richard, before you write, were her words. I did. She stuck to herstory - running.
Things went on like this. Most of the people I talked to had no idea what I meant. But there were some that did. There were some who did say tht they were tired of it all, that it got to be too much of a hassle, took up too much of their time - not doing, that is, getting to the point where it was done. They were tired of the lines and the lies and the implied commitment. They explained what they felt and after a while it did not sound like the New Celibacy, but the old morality instead.
But, of course, it was not that, either. It has nothing at all to do with morality. It has to do with priorities, with understanding that there were other things in life. It was hard, really, to figure out what they meant and it was hard also to tell if they were talking about themselves or simply people they knew, but it was not that hard to tell that there was a particle of truth to The New York Times piece.
But it is not all that hard to figure out what is at work here. In a way, the New Celibacy is something like the singles bar - a way to avoid all the trapping of commitment. The singles bar was set up to make things easy, to cut the red tape, the small talk, the movies and the chocolate soda afterward (no, I am not that old), to eliminate, in other words, the time that might in the end be wasted - the time it would take to get hurt. It is the same with New Celibacy. It is yet another way to avoid taking a risk, to avoid taking it yet one more time on the chin and there is nothing chic about it. It is, instead, as said as a broken heart.
There is nothing new about that.