As 2022 was transitioning into 2023, I made a decision to take time away from sex and romantic relationships.
I’d like to share my reasons for this choice, but first I would like to acknowledge that I feel vulnerable speaking on this topic as it is quite personal. At the same time, this decision is central to my development as the human and the leader that I desire to be. It is central to my integrity.
I believe that our society would move in a more harmonious direction if our leaders spoke with more transparency and acted with more integrity in their romantic and sexual relationships. As I strive to be a leader who truly leads by example, I am going to share about this openly and publicly.
While it is indeed vulnerable to speak on my romantic involvement, I believe that it as absolutely necessary to live in integrity.
So, why did I choose to live this year without sex or romance?
Deepening my Connection with Earth and with our Plant and Animal Relatives
I have been deeply on a path to reconnect with Earth for over a decade now and have been yearning and striving for a deeper connection with Earth my entire life. I believe that I will find wholeness and completeness by fostering a deep, deep connection and love for Earth. So a year without sex or romance really is not about giving up or going without. Rather, it is about making space for something that will bring more meaning, purpose and value into my life.
Sex and romance, as well as the desire and yearning for sex and romance, has taken an incredible amount of my mental energy and time. It has taken an incredible amount of my space. It is safe to say that if I quantified all of my usage of time, that sex and romance would be one of the largest time usages over the last couple decades. It has very often distracted me from goals that I have in life. It has very often pulled me from my greater aspirations. One of these aspirations is to connect more deeply with Earth. As I have gone alone to be with Earth, I have so often been wishing that I had someone there with me to enjoy it. I was not able to be fully present, but rather distracted by an element of loneliness and yearning for the company of another. I desire to be with Earth and to be fully present with Earth without the need for another human. My most common co-dependency has not been just any human, but a romantic connection.
Choosing to forgo romance and sex this year has voluntarily forced me to be with Earth and to be deeply present. This year I have done two week-long solo trips – one into the Everglades and one in North Carolina and it was different than it used to be. I didn’t miss the company of another human. I didn’t wish for sex. I was feeling so much more connected to Earth. I could be more mindful with finding joy and connection with the water, the wind, the sky and the fire. I could even find accompaniment in these elements and meet needs for connection that in the past I would have needed a human for.
I desire to be able to hold as deep a love for another animal as I do a human. It seems much of modern humanity has tended towards a belief that humans are separate and superior from the other millions of species of animals, insects and critters. I don’t believe this. I believe that we are all inherently connected and that we are no more important than the many other species. But to believe this is quite different from implementing it. By no longer being able to meet my need for love from a partner this year, I have been able to put my energy into meeting that need from animals. I can say that this year I have felt some of my deepest love and closest connections to animals, many of them being common animals that I have seen my whole life, including deer, squirrels, frogs and turtles. I have looked at them and felt a different feeling inside of me. My connection has been deepened through intentional practice and prioritization of my time. I can say the same for our plant relatives. I still have a ways to go in deepening these connections, but I now feel comfortable calling the plants my relatives. A few years ago I would have felt inauthentic saying this, but today I feel comfortable. I believe the reason I feel comfortable calling the plants my relatives is because I truly feel it and I truly believe it. I intend to continue deepening this relationship through practice, such as my year of growing and foraging 100% of my food and my month of foraging 100% of my food.
Deepening my Connection with Humanity and The Pursuit of Universal Love
I believe in a global humanity. I believe that we are all neighbors on a very small planet that we call Earth. In the past, I think it was possible to live separately and for our actions to not impact our global neighbors, but in our modern state, that is no longer the case. We are all in this together and I am striving to feel truly connected to humanity.
While I find great value in holding an incredible amount of love for just one person, it is not the path that I have chosen to take. I want to foster a deeper love for our global humanity and I have found that I am bound by limitations of time and mental energy. I simply don’t have time to do everything that I’d like. My experience is that to be in a relationship with integrity and to make love with integrity takes a substantial amount of time. Relationships are difficult and they bring out a lot of emotions. I desire to be involved sexually or romantically only if I can meet my partner’s needs. Right now, I am prioritizing the pursuit of universal love and I know that I cannot put in the energy needed to get to this place if I am also putting that energy into the deep love of one person.
Knowing this, it was clear that taking a substantial break from sex and romance was in my best interest to continue my path of developing universal love.
Deepening my Connection with Self and Finding Completeness within
Creating Integrity in my Relationships
The person that I want to have the deepest connection with is myself. To some this might sound selfish or egotistical. But for me, I see this as the path to cultivating the strongest relationships with everyone in my life. I see this as the path to being a servant to society. To have a deep understanding and connection with oneself is to find completeness. When I am making my decisions from a place of completeness within, I am able to make decisions that serve the best interests of the people around me and to humanity as a whole. Otherwise, when I am not complete within, I find that I am more inclined to lean on finding completeness outside of myself and that is more likely to result in actions that lack integrity, potentially at the expense of others.
I have leaned on sex or romance to meet my needs for love, acceptance and belonging for much of my life. I have seen that when I am gravitating towards physical connection with a woman it is often because I am lonely or feeling some self-doubt. I am looking for a way to meet my needs for connection, love and belonging, but all too often I would be physically involved with someone in a manner that was not highly principled or that did not meet some of their needs. Indeed, I would often meet some needs through sex, but then there would be other needs that were not met for myself or my partner in the process. For example, I would have sex with someone, knowing inside that I didn’t want to be with them for more than a few days, weeks or months while knowing that they might want more. Although with time I was able to express myself with radical honestly and transparency, I still found that my partner would experience hurt feelings from this. Yes, some of their very important needs were met through our romance, but sometimes more trauma came from it than healing. My goal is for all of my relationships – sexual or not – to be healing and not all of my sexual relationships have been. The pattern is that when I acted from a place of yearning and incompleteness that is when trauma has been most likely to take place. When I acted from a place of completeness, that is when we both were most likely to experience healing and to have our basic human needs met.
Although my sexual relationships have been some of the most healing experiences of my 30’s and have resulted in much meaningful growth, development and connection, they have also been at the center of my greatest imbalance. My highest highs have been in this love and with the highest highs come the lowest lows. Right now I am seeking balance, which I find most achievable by avoiding blissful states. I love bliss and I seek bliss, but I don’t think it is needed to accomplish what I want in life and I think balance is more likely to get me where I want to go. With romances I have experienced great swings. In my year-long break, I have experienced the greatest balance of my life. I have been more focused. I have been more clear. This focus and clarity allows me to make decisions that move me along in the right direction.
By taking a year off from sex and romance, I have been able to focus more deeply on finding completeness and wholeness within. I am creating a foundation that I strive to integrate into all of my relationships, whether romantic or not.
I have learned that sex is not necessarily my need, but rather it is a strategy to meet my needs for love, expression, connection, belonging and to contribute to the well-being of someone else. I have found that I can meet all of these needs without sex or romance. I can meet these needs in ways that are less risky to my overall balance, and thus all of my relationships and my service to Earth and humanity.
These are basic human needs which we all have, but that can be met in many ways other than through romance or sex.
Overcoming my Sexualization of Women
I grew up in a society that widely over-sexualizes women. It’s so pervasive and so normalized that many of us don’t even see it. But if we compare the US American society to many societies alive today and many in the past, it is clear that women are widely over-sexualized. I am a product of this society. I grew up with Hollywood movies like American Pie being the playbooks for how to relate to the girls. Not only was it pervasive in the movies, but in the society around me, both from adult men and the boys I grew up with. As a boy, the first thought I had of most girls was whether I was sexually attracted to them and this continued when we became men and women. It continued through the patterns that had been created and the continuation of these in college and through my early twenties and into my thirties. For most my adult life, and still to a certain extent, everywhere I looked, women were portrayed first and foremost for their physical traits, to the exclusion of their numerous other human traits.
All too often I have found myself focusing on a woman’s breasts or butt. I might not know them or have ever spoken to them, but their body is what I put my full focus on. Or, it has often been a woman that I do know, such as a friend or a colleague that I am putting my focus on their body when I don’t want to be doing it. With colleagues, I find myself having sexual thoughts about them and being distracted from our task at hand. With friends, I find myself having sexual thoughts about them even though my intentions and true desires are solely platonic. Often women approach me at my talks and classes or through my activism and I find myself feeling sexually attracted to them and looking at their breasts rather than into their eyes. On social media, I find that my attention is given disproportionately to women who I am sexually attracted to. This is most apparent by how often I find myself clicking on the profiles of women who have commented on my posts or messages because I am intrigued by their physical looks. (Again, at the root, I am seeking something here such as acceptance or belonging.)
I have all too often seen women pass me and turned my head to check them out as they passed.
This is not the human I want to be. There are so many women who are tired of being sexualized. There are so many women who are suffering from trauma because of the actions of their male friends, colleagues, family members and strangers. There are so many women who daily have to deal with the over-sexualization of them by society which takes a toll on their mental energy and ability to accomplish their goals in life. I believe that to the degree at which we overcome our sexualization of women, we ascend and create a society that serves all.
I want to be a human with whom women can feel comfortable and safe. I want to be a human that women can feel relieved of the male-dominated societal structures when we are together. I want women to be able to breathe a sigh of relief knowing that at least one man is not wanting to have sex with them. And with all of this, be able to meet more of their needs for relaxation, peace, shared reality and power in their world. Most importantly, as a male leader, I want women and especially young women and girls to be safe and comfortable with me and for us to work together in harmony. (More on this in the next section.)
I’m not saying it is bad or unnatural to have sexual thoughts. I also believe that a certain level of it can be quite healthy. But I believe that I can transcend the over-sexualization and that this would be in my best interest as a citizen of this society and a servant to humanity. I believe that for those of us who choose to practice intentionally we can transscend the over-sexualization of one another. I believe that this responsibility lies more heavily on men than women since it is far more often that men have not done the work to meet their needs in a harmonious way and women suffer from it.
At the start of the new year, I spent ten days in silence in a Vipassana. It was not planned that my Vipassana aligned with the beginning of my year without sex or romance. However, it was perhaps the most helpful practice I could have chosen to accomplish my goals this year. One of the purposes of Vipassana is to overcome programming and to break free. A space is facilitated where it is much easier to create mental space from sexual thoughts. Through the practice of Vipassana, I found some of the greatest clarity and focus I’ve experienced in the last couple of decades and I broke free from the sexualization of women. Although, once I returned to society, I saw more sexualization trickling in as the months passed. I am glad that it is drastically less these days. I learned that if I saw a woman that I was attracted to that I didn’t want to sexualize, to simply look away. I found the self-control to simply not turn around as they passed. In Vipassana we learned about our “addiction to craving” and every time I was sexualizing a woman I remembered that it wasn’t about her and it wasn’t about sex. It was about craving something deeper. That knowledge resonated with me greatly and I have made strides this year that would have been a little hard to imagine just last year. As of now, I feel I have been sexualizing women as much as ten times less than I used to. I intend to continue working with Vipassana as a tool for overcoming programming and patterns and living in integrity.
Besides taking a year from sex or romance I am also not watching pornography this year. I have watched pornography since I was a teenager. In my twenties or thirties, I realized I didn’t want to watch it anymore. I have found that it is easier said than done. I never watch it for more than ten or fifteen minutes at a time and it ranges from a handful of times per week when I’m out of balance to just a few times per month. But that is still more than I want to. I want to watch zero pornography. It’s clear to me that watching porn contributes to my over-sexualization of women. While it does meet some of my physical and mental needs, it also does harm and for me it is an action that lacks integrity. It reduces my attraction to the women I am with, creates false standards of body image and does not positively contribute to my relationships with women. The porn industry is one that is not of service to humanity and that is not contributing to equity and justice for humanity (Note: I don’t think that pornography is inherently detrimental to humans and I do think that it can be done in a way where there is respect, safety, mutuality and sexual expression. However, the current industry does not reflect these values and it is not for me to be involved in any manner.)
Just as important as what I am thinking about, is what I am not thinking about when I am focusing on the physical attraction to a woman. I have found that when too many of my thoughts move towards the sexualization of women I am not seeing them for their full humanness. I want to be focusing fully on their holistic self, their gifts, their messages, their skills, their goals in life, their service to society, what they have to teach me and so much more.
Overcoming the Sexist Biases Within Me
Much more disruptive to living in equitable relationships with women than over-sexualization is my deeply ingrained biases of how men are superior to women. Today I don’t actually believe that men are superior, however, I grew up in a male-dominated society and a lot of the beliefs of male superiority have been deeply ingrained into me from a young age. I have overcome many of them in the last decade, but there’s still subtle residual currents that take time to resolve. They are beliefs of what women can’t do or “shouldn’t” do and I still catch myself getting caught up in them. The best way that I know to overcome this is to see women doing all the things that I was taught that they can’t do. To spend time with women as leaders in their community. To spend time with women in empowered states. To spend time listening to women. To spend time learning skills from women. To spend time hearing their experiences in life.
The more time that I am thinking about women sexually, the less time I am likely to be focusing on overcoming my biases through the examples I shared above. As I shared earlier, my sexual relationships have been some of the most healing relationships I have had and many have contributed to overcoming my biases towards women. For this year though, I believed that I would heal the most and overcome the biases the most by nurturing non-sexual relationships with women, especially relationships with powerful women colleagues.
Developing as a Leader
My purpose is to live in a state of integrity and truth and from this place contribute towards a more equitable and just society. I consider myself a leader and I intend to continue to develop as a leader for every year that I have left on Earth. Being a leader requires certain levels of power. With power comes great responsibility.
I have learned just as much from leaders that I wouldn’t emulate as the leaders I would emulate. One of the consistent themes that I have seen is leaders using their power to get their sexual desires met without the consent or true desire of women. I have seen how power structures and power dynamics are used to take advantage of women. To a much more subtle degree, I have also seen how even minor power dynamics can be used by men to advance their sexual agendas on women. And in my own experience I have seen how power dynamics can play out unknown to myself and in some cases even unknown to the woman I was pursuing or was involved with. I was not aware of power dynamics when I became a leader. (Not a surprise, as this conversation is intentionally avoided and suppressed by the male- dominated power structures.) Now I am a leader and I am playing catchup with learning about power dynamics. I thought that until I have a deeper understanding of my power dynamics and also more control over my own usage of power, the safest thing would be to take a break from sex. I do believe that men in power can have equitable, mutual, healthy sexual relationships, but I do think that it takes an extra level of care to ensure this.
I have experienced such a great level of hurt and despair as I became more aware of my actions in my teens and twenties. I know that in my younger years, some women experienced a lack of safety, security, equality, respect, compassion and appreciation in their involvement with me and even so in my adulthood. I am so disheartened by how men act and how I myself acted. I truly hope that I will be strong enough for all of my relationships with women to be of high integrity and complete shared reality and mutuality for the rest of my life. The last decade has seen continual growth, with some missteps. I am breaking free from being the dominator in the dominator society, but I still have work to do. I’ve learned that even the dominators are suffering under these societal structures.
Taking a year off from romance and sex has been designed to reduce my own suffering and the suffering of others. (Some people feel concerned when I say suffering because they use the word only for a deep, deep level of suffering. I believe that we are all suffering to varying degrees.)
What the Future Holds
Surprisingly this year hasn’t been difficult. I’ve barely entertained the thought of having sex and barely felt temptation. I think it is quite possible that I could carry out the rest of my life of service in celibacy.
It remains to be seen what I will do in this regard after this year’s commitment is fulfilled.
There is a possibility that I will never have sex again.
There is a possibility I will never be in a romantic relationship again.
There is a possibility I will be in romantic relationships that don’t involve sex.
There is a possibility that I will be in relationships in the near future and in the next decade or so where I decide to spend the rest of my life in celibacy.
There is a possibility I spend the rest of my life with one person or that I will have partners for different chapters of my future.
What I do know is that whatever I choose to do, I will do it with integrity.
I will continue practicing honesty in my relationships.
I will continue reducing my sexualization of women.
I will continue learning to meet my needs by other means than sex and romance.
I will continue the pursuit of universal love.
I will continue deepening my connection with Earth and with our plant and animal relatives.
I will continue deepening my connection with myself and finding completeness within.
I will strive to be a leader who truly serves humanity.