Strategic CelibacyLiberating Your Desire, Part 1

Recently theres been a lot of back and forth about the line between bad sex and rape. For some people this public dialogue has made us look back at our own intimate lives with new eyes.

What did we want to happen? What actually happened? Why did it happen? Was it harmful? Were we harmed? Did we ever discuss it? Why or why not?

Theres a world of work to be done—people with any sort of privilege in intimate situations have to stop denying what they know, stop pushing past no, stop waiting for mouths to say no when bodies have already expressed it, stop getting off on power expressed as sexual access and harm.

But I think everyone, everyone, needs to ask ourselves: Have I been complicit in continuing harmful patterns of sex that blur the line?

Ive been getting really interested inside this inquiry about a slightly different question: How many of us are trapped in a politically regressive loop of desire?

How many of us, even as we hone a feminist or womanist or post-gender or otherwise radical politic around who we are relative to power, regress into submission practices we are taught are biological, primal, even spiritual, in the bed? To say it plainly, I suspect many of the most powerful women in the species are still convinced that, in bed, we need to be dragged by our hair into a cave and ravaged by a lover who plays a traditionally patriarchal role of dominance.

I suspect a key aspect of succeeding in the work of #metoo and smashing the patriarchy will be examining not just true rape culture, but our culture of desire. Not with shame or with righteousness, but with deep curiosity: What turns us on, and can we change it if it doesnt align with what we believe? How many of us can even imagine desire that is liberated from patriarchy?

The next few columns are going to focus on how we can grow our desires to align more closely with our dignity, using celibacy, fantasy, pornography and communication to cultivate new possibilities for desire within ourselves and between us and others.

Celibacy is intentionally refraining from sexual relations. This means not having sex with other people. It can include not cultivating sexual energy with others. Some people also limit their masturbation practices during celibacy.

Ive intentionally practiced celibacy a few times in my life, and find it to be a glorious way to reconnect with what matters in my body, to slow and deepen my pace and relationships outside the paradigm of desire, to decolonize my longings and remember my sacred sensual self.

We are still learning all the strategies we will need to truly dismantle patriarchy. Strategy is just a plan of action towards a goal. To use celibacy as part of our strategy to dismantle patriarchy, we must have a clear goal, a clear intention, a clear process. Here are a few steps for a strategic celibacy.


Get clear on why you might need an intentional period of celibacy. Do you suspect you are in patterns of sexual relationship that sustain patriarchy? Are you regularly engaging in sex that hurts, that is confusing, that your body isn’t an ecstatic yes to? Maybe you’ve never even considered it and you are just curious to learn more about your desire. Know your own reasons. Generate questions on the front end that you would like to understand better by the end of your celibacy.

How Long

Set a time period. How long do you want to be in this practice? You are ideally practicing long enough to let your body take a break from any harmful or unclear erotic behavior. The time period should feel doable, but long enough to really observe yourself.

Put it on your calendar.

Get Curious and Reflective

What are you focused on? What do you see, hear, or otherwise sense that makes you feel flushed and quick? What produces a physical response of desire? Keep a desire journal, write down what you feel, and if you notice a of lack of desire, track that as well.

Its all data.

Once you’ve started tuning into what you desire, check it against your values. Again, this is a time for curiosity, not judgment. Be tender with yourself, tender with your history.

See Yourself

Get honest with yourself. You may learn that youre right where you want to be sexually! You may find that youre engaging in practices that compromise your values. Noticing, knowing is the first step.

Hot and Heavy Homework

Whats your next step? A period of celibacy? A shift in your sensual focus? There may be healing work to do. Or it may be that in the next phase of your sexual life, it’s time to turn to fantasy and erotica and pornography to awaken new threads of desire in your system.

by adrienne maree brown
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adrienne maree brown is a pleasure activist, writer and facilitator living in detroit. Co-editor of Octavia’s Brood, author of Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds 

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