(Rachel Orr/Washington Post illustration; iStock)

In December, I decided to abstain from sex for a year.

It wasn’t in response to a bad one-night stand or any moral objection — sex was something I always kept lighthearted, fun and safe. But along the way, I found myself looking for more than just a physical connection.

As a gay man navigating my 20s, I’ve enjoyed partnerships with a variety of men. But whether it was the young stud from the gym or the more established professional at the bar, I grew disappointed that the romance always ended in the bedroom.

In the midst of my dating struggles late last year, the Food and Drug Administration lifted its ban on blood donations from men who have sex with men, as long as they abstained from sex for 12 months. To me, this policy change — while still discriminatory toward gay men — felt like an important opportunity to take a break from sex. I saw it as a chance to reevaluate my choices for my body and my heart, all while contributing my O-negative blood to the greater good. By refraining from sex for a year, I will have the opportunity to save a life and, hopefully, renew my own sense of well-being.

When I’m not intentionally abstaining from sex, my libido can overrule my brain. On a trip to San Francisco in late September, I met an incredibly handsome man. Our whirlwind flirtation escalated quickly from a steamy dance floor make-out to a heated hook-up in my friend’s Airbnb. I knew this guy was a real catch, and although we lived on opposite sides of the country, I wanted our fling to evolve into something lasting. On our first video chat together, I floated the idea of developing a relationship. Unfortunately, he declined, telling me he wanted to stay single and sexually available.

I was disappointed, but I held out hope. Perhaps over time he would see that we had something special. In the meantime, I would adopt his attitude and enjoy myself with others, no strings attached.

A few months later, he announced on Facebook that he was in a relationship. I felt the impulse to break down in tears, but it was only 9:30 a.m. and everyone hates a crying intern.

I could’ve gotten over him by getting under someone new. But this time, I had no desire to open Grindr or swipe into Tinder oblivion.

I finally realized that the hook-up culture I embraced had left me feeling unfulfilled. Between the hot encounters and desperate debauchery, I chose fleeting gratification over anything else. The news from the FDA gave me just the challenge I needed: one year, no sex.

It has been three months since I’ve had sex, and I’ve been off my dating apps for nearly that long. While I’ve been able to dedicate more of my focus to my career and my friends, there have been plenty of temptations already. I narrowly avoided my first slip-up when I accompanied my New Year’s kiss into his Uber ride home, and spending the night with my crush in a Vegas hotel made it difficult to keep my pants on.

And discussing my vow of chastity makes for complicated pillow talk! I’ve had guys take off once I told them about it. But the next day I’m always thankful I avoided another one-time deal. Perhaps after these few months of detoxing, I’ll be able to find men who will take the time to get to know me.

Although I feel the FDA protocol remains discriminatory and homophobic, I’m not one to be deterred from doing what I feel is right. And that’s what this celibacy challenge is about for me: getting it right.

I’m giving myself the chance to build a connection with someone outside of sex, no matter how hard it may be. Just 271 more days to go.

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