How Celibacy Deepened My Sense of Intimacy

In our world of hook-up culture and dating apps, remaining celibate can be seen as “missing out.” But for this writer, it strengthened her relationship with her partner—and with herself.
Words by Jaelani Turner-Williams. Photos by Jaelani Turner-Williams and Richardson Roberts.

There’s been an unexpected dating trend within my friend group in 2021. They aren’t just “cuffed” or “boo’d up”—they’re settling down. A number of my friends blasted their surprise engagements all over social media–complete with balloons, streamers, and fluorescent “WILL U MARRY ME?” signs. I’d reached my mid-20s, and couples were more intentional about who they wanted by their side—not just during quarantine, but for life.

While I was happy for my friends, I started to have anxiety from FOMO, and felt that it was taking too long to find my person. I thought I was doing everything “right:” being financially literate, living on my own, and having a car plus a fruitful writing career. Noticing symptoms of depression through our weekly virtual meetings, my therapist brought up Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to combat my negative self-talk, jealousy, and hyper-vigilance. I was angry, struggling with loneliness and regret from being so eager to have sex at 19; then, I surrendered, accepting my decisions and submitting to my “single season,” even if it was, potentially, indefinite.

For two months, along with maintaining a daily gratitude journal, exercising, practicing yoga, and reading daily TinyBuddha readings, I underwent CBT, training my mind to think differently about my self worth and my familial and romantic relationships. I still desired a partner, even going as far as writing a list of ideal qualities they’d have, but I wasn’t actively searching for anyone. With discipline, I refused to impulsively download dating apps and even turned down date offers from men who weren’t my type. 

In came Model Bae. In early July, I consequently ran into my now-boyfriend three times in less than a week. The first two times were in person; I thought he was suspiciously handsome (and found it odd that our nose rings were on the same side). He held eye contact with me for a bit too long, even for a stranger. The third time, I ran into a mutual photographer friend at a party where, through Instagram, I noticed the same stranger in one of their pictures. 

Taking it as a hint that I was interested, the friend FaceTimed my soon-to-be boyfriend on the spot. We exchanged numbers and found out we were both Virgos. Within a month of dating and frequent conversation, he asked to be official. I wasn’t just shocked that I had manifested a partner so soon, I also was pleasantly surprised that we hadn’t even had sex yet. And, the one time we almost did, I asked for us to pray for discernment instead, and I spoke aloud about wanting to connect on a deeper level, resisting temptation and waiting until the time was right. I knew that I wanted my first relationship to be established on friendship before anything else. 

Little-known relationship fact: there’s power in celibacy. Aside from the obvious benefits like avoiding STIs and unwanted pregnancies, the decision can also be empowering for those who seek a monogamous commitment. In the Hinduism practice Brahmacharya, a vow of celibacy is a preservation of energy through maintaining mental concentration and spiritual discipline.

There’s power in celibacy.

Reaching my end-of-the-year goal of fostering a new relationship, my boyfriend and I are constantly finding ways to get to know each other. Through mutual respect and setting healthy boundaries, here are five ways that we’ve connected on a deeper level without hitting the sheets.

Meditation

During my boyfriend’s first time sleeping over my apartment, he woke up before me and announced that he was about to meditate. It was 6 a.m. and I was exhausted, so I rolled over and slept through his session. When I awoke ten minutes later, he was still sitting in the lotus position in my bed, eyes closed in complete silence. 

In retrospect, his meditating was a dead giveaway that we were aligned. I had briefly picked up meditation earlier in the year, holding different crystals each time depending on my vibe that day. Now, my boyfriend and I make meditation a shared practice, sometimes nestling each other’s foreheads together for an additional ‘third eye’ sensation. He’s even introduced me to Theravada Buddhism podcast The Collected Teachings of Ajahn Chah, which I recommend. 

With nurturing intimacy, partner meditation breeds trust and encourages partners to have ‘mindful’ disagreements, improving their ability to find conflict resolution.

Staying Active

Recently, on the morning after my birthday, my boyfriend and I were nursing a mini-hangover, but still found time to attend an 11 a.m. yoga class at a nearby studio. Since last summer, I’ve been practicing yoga solo on weekends as a method to decompress—both emotionally and physically. Encouraging him to have self-care days of his own, I introduced him to the yoga space, even acquainting him with seasoned instructors. Like meditation, couples yoga gives partners the space to connect through holding positions. 

Plus, it can be fun when things get a bit competitive. A day at the gym can last well over two hours for us, but for a more relaxed active day, we’ve resorted to hiking nature trails and playing tennis at local parks. Whether exercising separately or practicing AcroYoga, staying active creates emotional self-awareness and champions physical support.

Music

Aside from being a model, my partner is an artist and producer with vast musical knowledge across genres. Being a journalist who’s covered music extensively, our shared passion complimented each other’s. Before we were exclusive, we even snagged tickets to an upcoming Tyler, the Creator tour stop, even though his tour doesn’t begin until February.

Along with sharing a playlist and sending each other song links weekly, I quietly observe my boyfriend play the guitar often, as my apartment is the second home for one of his two guitars. Being an oldies enthusiast, we’ve connected over The Bee Gees, Stevie Wonder, and we’ve even watched Aretha Franklin gospel film Amazing Grace together. 

Couples who listen together can quite literally stay together as it promotes a respect for each other’s opinions and sparks shared discovery.

Before setting expectations for a partner, I had to think deeply about my values and willingness to commit. 

Prayer

Saying a prayer in front of my boyfriend before we became official cultivated a shared vulnerability with each other. We’re much more honest and upfront about each other’s religious backgrounds; my family is Jehovah’s Witness and my boyfriend is a Sierra Leone-born Christian.

While we both come from different religious sects, we’re relatively omnist, and have an openness to learning about different religions. During mornings, after meditation and tea, we listen to daily devotionals from the Bible app and discuss our perspectives on God’s word. Through acts of kindness, spiritual couples tend to be more gentle and patient with each other through compassionate self-reflection and sincere conversations.

Being Intentional About the Relationship

Prior to asking me to be his girlfriend, my boyfriend straightforwardly asked me if I was ready for commitment. Digging deep, I realized that my dating experiences had set the precedent for me to be serious about a partner, establishing communication and emotional intelligence throughout the relationship’s progression. On the first date, we discussed our long-term plans—complete with wanting a family. As we’ve grown closer, we’ve discussed flaws in our previous dating experiences, our parents’ relationships, and responsibly getting tested for STIs. Being physically attracted to my boyfriend was important, but I wanted us to have mental and spiritual connectivity. Before setting expectations for a partner, I had to think deeply about my values and willingness to commit.

Choosing celibacy from the very beginning has aided us in maintaining focus on our relationship for the long-term. Relationships don’t always have to begin with celibacy, though—partners can choose month-long breaks without sex to recenter themselves. When challenges arise, celibacy provides a safety net of communication and friendship to rely on. For those who’ve experienced heartbreak and scorn, it’s easy to become cynical about commitment, but finding strength through celibacy gives motivation to quite literally choose your person every day.

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