“I’m putting a lid on that desire”: celibacy, choice and control

Terry, Gareth (2012). “I’m putting a lid on that desire”: celibacy, choice and control. Sexualities, 15(7) pp. 871–889.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1363460712454082


Sex is constructed as an important (even essential) part of ‘normal’ adult functioning, and for men in particular. While sexual abstinence may often be valued among adolescents, ‘celibacy’ among adults is considered problematic, associated with losses in health, well-being and general quality of life. Despite this, for various reasons, some people choose to deliberately avoid sexual activity (often conflated with coitus) with another person, even though they might continue to desire it. This article presents interview data detailing nine men’s accounts of their choice to be ‘celibate’ or deliberately giving up sex for a period of time. Using thematic analysis, it presents two primary themes. First, that sex (despite the choice to be celibate) is still an imperative, and second, that celibacy becomes necessary as sex itself can be constructed as a problem. The analysis also examines how accounts of ‘choice’ and ‘control’ are used to define celibacy as a form of resistance to the power of the male sex-drive discourse, and yet simultaneously build upon hegemonic forms of masculine sense making such as a selfcontrol, autonomy, and in some cases outright misogyny.

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