Sophie Fontanel is a novelist and the senior editor at French Elle. She also chose to be celibate from age 27 to age 39. The English translation of her book about these 12 years, The Art of Sleeping Alone, is due to be published in America on August 13. Fontanel spoke with New York mag’s The Cut about why she chose celibacy and how it affected her life.
In the interview, Fontanel explained that she chose abstinence not for religious or moral reasons, but rather because she realized that she didn’t actually want to be having sex with the people she was having sex with. She reasoned that there was no joy in having sex just for the sake of doing so. Fontanel was sick of having disappointing sex and decided to put a stop to it. Unintentionally, not having disappointing sex turned into 12 years of celibacy.
“Oh, of course I went on dates. My reaction was always, “Well, I’ll meet him, and then I’ll see.” I was hoping, but it was very abstract. It’s rare to find a man who really charms you. During that period, I fell in love twice. But, obviously, it was with impossible men. Married men, gay men. It’s very difficult to find a partner. That’s why I waited so long. Because I told myself, Okay, I give up. I will return to sexual activities when it is worth it — and it took more than 10 years.”
Fontanel’s experience is a worthy one to consider: sexual liberation does not always mean having lots of sex or having lots of partners. Knowing yourself and your needs is paramount to having a fulfilling sex life. Celibacy wasn’t foisted on her by religion or society (such as in abstinence-only sex education). She forthrightly chose to stop having sex that she wasn’t really enjoying.
Her most inspiring words come in response to The Cut’s question about whether she would recommend abstinence to others. She said,
“I recommend being true to yourself. If you are making love and you’re disappointed, then stop. Recover your freedom. Don’t be afraid of being single, and don’t be afraid of being single for a long time. I don’t believe that the more you have having sex, the more you want to have sex, or the more you are having sex, the better you are at it. I think it’s the more you want to do it, the better you will be. You’re not going to forget how to make love, you know? You never forget it. But when you have waited a long time and you return to sexual activity, it’s very amazing because everything is new.”
Interestingly, Fonental found that many of her friends were annoyed and confused by her decision to remain celibate: the assumption is that people who aren’t having sex are either being more self-righteously “moral” than others or celibate against their will. It’s a good reminder to us all that even though we are all human beings, our sexual and emotional needs are very different.
[Image of a disappointed woman in bed via Shutterstock]