At some point at the beginning of this month, after another dramatic press conference by the government, we were told to pick someone to form a ‘“social bubble” with, a person we would be allowed to visit at home and even spend the night with. After a careful and detailed period of deliberation that lasted a total of 120 seconds, I decided that social bubble was just Borisese for “you can shag again” - but only with one special person.
First of all, I am not taking advice on sex and monogamy from Boris Johnson. No m’am. Secondly, I spent the whole of lockdown having nervous breakdowns, repotting aromatic herbs and traumatising every living soul who showed any interest in me. It was no surprise that, when the time came, I had no one to bubble up with.
After getting over the initial disappointment, I also realised that… that’s not such a bad thing after all. You know, after 14 weeks of resisting and persisting, winning and conquering, I am finally beginning to reap the fruits of four months (and eight days) of sexual abstinence.
Celibacy is rarely intentional, which is why you seldom hear the C-word mentioned in a positive light. But the pandemic gave it new meaning: the reason behind our choice to abstain had nothing to do with a lack of available options or the fear of a metaphysical entity that will punish us for engaging in sexual activities for purposes different than procreation.
We’re doing it for more noble reasons. The way I see it is... I keep it in my pants so I can keep someone’s grandma alive. Ain’t that a nice thought? Think about your mate’s dead nan and suddenly you will lose any sort of sexual urge for the days to come. Trust me.
Eventually, but inevitably, my sexlessness slowly acquired a heroic quality that definitely helped me to rewrite some of the notions on sex and look at it from a different angle. See, the pandemic happened off-the-back of a fairly dramatic breakup for me and this time around I couldn’t shag my feelings away. I was forced to do the work. The only escape I had were the double vodkas and modern Irish literature and Youtube compilations of bad X Factor auditions.
It was difficult at the beginning, even more challenging towards the middle and just as I began contemplating the possibility of sending problematic text messages to problematic people in a quest to quench my not-so-literal thirst… I got over it. And the rest of it has been inexplicably smooth sailing. I reclaimed my own power. I practically stopped feeling things down there – I finally reached the nirvana.
Just kidding. I am still very much a victim of the weakness of my flesh. But I’ve definitely been successful at taking the advice of my friends and calming the F down. I think in some way I’ve gone back to basics. It’s a throwback to simpler times. Involuntary celibacy has forced me to rediscover more elementary pleasures, to find fulfilment and excitement in things that don’t require human touch.
I really was afraid, for a time, that this pandemic would represent a dangerous setback in my romantic life. Would I be clumsy after this long period of isolation? Will I be more reckless because of the pent up sexual energy or more selective because of the risks involved with getting too close to someone? And ultimately… is it any consolation to hear that it really is like riding a bike when you literally can’t ride a bike? (not in London anyway, because I’d like to be alive thanks)
I was tormented by the doubts and the questions. I began to imagine how light and peaceful life would be if I were finally freed from desire. How amazing it would feel to be so in touch with yourself (not literally but also literally) that you don’t really need other people to acquire a sense of fulfilment and satisfaction. It’s a super-power that, I’m sure, could prove extremely useful even in non-infective times.
The reality is not that straight-forward. The sight of a good pair of legs is still enough to make me feel like Michael Douglas in Basic Instinct minus the drugs and the unhealthy attachment patterns. When it comes down to it, I seem to forget that it’s still too risky to get frisky. The pandemic has just changed the pace of sexual exploration and forced us to prefer quality over quantity but it hasn’t compromised our, erm, basic instincts.
But it did show us there are viable alternatives to meaningless sex as we’ve come to know it in recent times. Reaching adulthood has meant that, sometimes, we treat sex as a business transaction. It’s fast and practical. We are busy 20-somethings with things to do and Instagram feeds to update and online therapy sessions to attend - ain’t nobody got time for actually getting to know the person standing in front of you or, more likely, under you.
The pandemic took so much away from us, but it gave us the gift of time. The curse of a sexless life was a blessing in disguise and it helped me embrace a more Cardiganesque philosophy of erase and rewind to bring myself back to a time where even the touch of a hand was enough to make me feel big things.
Sometimes, intimacy is not about the destination but more about enjoying the ride (pun definitely intended). And I have finally learned that lesson, now. Not only am I able to find fulfilment in other activities that have nothing to do with sex, I also feel more excited about slowly easing myself into it again, trying to savour every step of the process. The ‘’will they won’t they’’, a stolen first kiss by the door after a first date, the feeling of hands on hips, the ambiguous closeness that can have a thousand meanings, a heavy make out session on the sofa (clothes on), sleeping together without sleeping together, and everything else that may come after that.