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My year without sex

(Washington Post illustration; iStockphoto)
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I did it! In late 2015 I made a vow to be celibate for a year, taking the time to evaluate my emotional needs and expectations without sex clouding my judgment. Furthermore, as an openly gay male and a universal blood donor, I wanted to be able to give blood. (When the Food and Drug Administration lifted its ban on blood donations from gay men, it was with the caveat that they abstained from sex for 12 months.)

Despite the temptations, I have fulfilled this promise to myself — while learning a thing or two along the way.

I hoped my abstention from from sex would give me the chance to form the emotional and romantic foundation for a long-term relationship. While I’m still single, I did reach at least the three-date mark with two guys. I now have a better idea of what I’m looking for in a partner, sexually and emotionally.

And yes, it is possible to Tinder-swipe while celibate. The first of my third-date dudes was a former college football player who’s also a super-smart lawyer. There was an immediate connection on our first date; after a few drinks we were making out on the window ledge of a bustling dive bar. Rather than sending him home in an Uber, I invited him back to my place, with the resulting chaste sleepover testing every ounce of resolve I had.

We ended up watching Fourth of July fireworks together, and I was pleased that he showed an interest in meeting my friends. But I also ignored plenty of red flags as well; our communication was often plagued with misunderstandings.

I could tell he was irked when I told him I needed to wait before we did anything more than kiss. After a few weeks of back-and-forth frustration and failed plans to meet up, I pushed him to be honest about how he felt about us moving forward together. Not to my surprise, he admitted, among other things, over text message that he “needed to feel something to keep trying” with me.

Did that mean he needed to have sex? Or was he talking about an emotional connection? Once again I was left feeling confused and hurt, regretting that I invited him to meet my friends at their July 4 house party. But after a rage jog and a huge burrito, I realized I had to shake if off and move along without him.

The second guy was also a Tinder match, but we both immediately realized that our paths had crossed before: He had seen me and my previous date dominate the beer pong table at that infamous house party, and his ex-boyfriend had starred in my Web series a few years back (perhaps the most L.A. thing ever). He was the type of good-looking guy who seems far too cool to hang around with me, but somehow I never felt insecure with him. Rather I found myself at ease, whether we were hiking in a canyon or lounging on the beach in Santa Monica.

While we always had a great time, after a few dates I began to fret about where this was headed. Were we just friends, or could it be something more substantial? I knew I needed to learn from past mistakes and keep communicating, even if I was scared I wasn’t going to hear what I wanted. Unlike with the last guy, I knew I could have this conversation honestly and openly. Sure enough, my heart sank when he didn’t reciprocate my romantic interest, and I felt a little embarrassed to acknowledge that I was more invested. But it was also liberating to finally have such a mature and truthful talk with a guy.

This past year, the biggest thing I’ve learned is that sex isn’t the all-or-nothing affair I’d made it out to be. Going forward, I know I want to be sexually active, and I don’t necessarily think sex has to be reserved only for a committed relationship. I don’t need to deny myself physical touch — and the ensuing endorphins — altogether. But I know there are certain times when sex can lead me down the same dark path that persuaded me to swear it off for a year. If I had slept with my Fourth of July fling, I know I would have been more distraught when he bolted, having given him a piece of my heart and also my body far too soon.

I haven’t totally figured out how to handle sex, but I’ve learned how to establish parameters and expectations to protect myself emotionally. I can learn to embrace a casual, fun and respectful encounter, but it’s key to communicate with sexual partners to make sure we’re on the same page. I know these types of discussions don’t always come easily for me, and there are going to be plenty of times when things get messy — having an emotional chat, for example, after taking a shot or two isn’t a great idea. But for me to have fun physically and emotionally, I know I need a real talk before the pillow talk.

I’ve also made good on the other half of my challenge: I was proud to donate blood in late 2016, even snapping a selfie to document the achievement. And I’m excited to have sex once again, when and with whomever it feels right.


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