Sunday, 7 April 2013

Opting out

It's still quite a brave step for a woman to deliberately abstain from sex. It's still a far from acceptable attitude. Men (and women) who think you should always be sexually available can get shockingly critical and abusive.

Frenchwoman Sophie Fontanel has written a semi-autobiographical book about her experiences as a sexual abstainer, something that is still very much a taboo subject. It has struck quite a chord with readers who feel under pressure to have sex.

She says the first ten years of her adult life were full of disappointing sex - mechanical and often pleasure-less. So she took the radical step of refusing sex entirely for the next twelve years. And apparently hardly missed it.

The real shock though was how nasty other people were about it. They showered her with insults. She was called frigid, abnormal, bitter, neurotic, a lesbian, a reactionary Catholic. Even the most seemingly sophisticated people joined in the cat-calling.

But when she wrote about her experiences, many readers expressed gratitude for her raising the issue, as they also felt badgered to have sex they didn't want.

She insists there's nothing wrong with abstaining. "Some of the most interesting characters exist above sex. It's not an infirmity. No sex is infinitely preferable to bad sex."

Well, good for her. Why should it be praiseworthy to be always jumping into someone's bed but disgraceful to be saying, "I've had enough of crap sex, I'm opting out altogether, so don't even think about it"?

In fact there are large numbers of asexuals who have no interest in sex at all, but they tend to keep quiet about it because of people's derision and incomprehension. Odd as it may seem, their attitude is just as natural as the more fashionable quest for sexual pleasure.

Pic: Sophie Fontanel


  1. Surely it is up to each individual couple to work out the sexual arrangements that suit them.

  2. Please let me dissect this your latest offering:

    "It's still quite a brave step for a woman ..." Where does the 'still' come from? Is there a future in which everyone's sex life is public property? What's 'brave' got to do with it? Life is not an arena in which to let it all hang out.

    Oh, yes, and before I forget: What about men? Are they too "still quite brave" when they don't chase every skirt coming their way?

    Once more you so exaggerate, Nick: "... showered her with insults." You don't really believe that, do you? SHOWER SOMEONE WITH INSULTS over keeping her skirt down or his trousers up? Come on, Nick: What world do you live in? And so on ... let this suffice. I can't wait what your other readers have to say about this post.

    I'd have thought, not to put too fine a point on it, that YOUR sex life "is STILL very much much a TABOO subject" too. As you said the other day: Some things are indeed private. Please do note the irony: That woman who keeps all her charms to herself then let's it all hang out. In print. Some taboo. My foot.


  3. Hummm.i know a few people that abstain for whatever reason.... It doesn't cross my mind to even think about that fact....
    You have an interesting slant on it..... Which I suspect U has picked up on!

  4. Grannymar: Exactly. Or to not be in a couple at all if that's what they prefer.

    Ursula: Now you're the one exaggerating, I think - exaggerating the point I'm making. I'm only saying that although people are usually happy to be thought of as sexually active, they're not so happy to be known as sexual abstainers. Or so it seems to me - I might be quite wrong of course.

    From what I gather, men who show no great interest in women's attractiveness or otherwise ARE a bit brave because other men expect them to. Not that I spend much time with other men so don't quote me on that.

    And yes, my own sex life is very much a taboo subject, as it is on most of the blogs I frequent. That's one subject people are generally not willing to share with all and sundry.

  5. John: Glad to hear you're not bothered about it one way or the other - as I would have expected.

  6. I don't understand how she could be insulted about not having sex? Who would know, besides the men propositioning her? Weird.....unless of course, she was the one going around bragging about it and drawing disdain?

  7. I honestly don't see anything brave about it at all, Nick. I would imagine that men wanted to have sex with her (and how many would that be, reasonably - a few hundred?) so why did she have to breach this privacy and broadcast her refusals to the world unless it was to make a stash of cash?

    Something icky about the whole thing and I can't quite nail it.


  8. Bijoux: She didn't feel insulted about not having sex, she felt insulted by the criticism and abuse she received.

    www: Well, perhaps she was assuming that if she wrote about it, people would be more sympathetic. Which in fact turned out to be the case. Of course I daresay the thought of money crossed her mind....

  9. i dont regard my sexual status as a secret, nor do i regard it as newsworthy. it just is and i dont know why anyone would take a different attitude

  10. Kylie: Personally, neither do I, but clearly there are still people who find abstinence a bit peculiar.

  11. i find abstinence extremely peculiar but i understand that it happens for various reasons

  12. I liked WWW's comment and will take it further. I read the article you linked to, and I have to say, in our overly confessional world, Fontanel going public this way looks just as overly confessional as confessing one's sexual exploits. Her non-sex seems just as kinky and freaky as if she were detailing any slightly deviant sexual practice.

    I will say, furthermore, that any time one reveals one's sex life (whether it consists of nightly b&d sessions or saying "no" again & again), in a hugely public forum, one should expect people to weigh in, judgmentally and otherwise.

    In the un-PC parlance of dialogue about rape, this woman is really asking for it.

    Her True Confessions are just that. She found an angle and she is working it publicly.

  13. Leah: That's an interesting reaction, that she makes her non-sex seem kinky and freaky! And I agree, if you air such things publicly you have to expect some sharp responses. Though I'm not sure if she deliberately broadcast her abstinence (at the time, that is) or whether it somehow "emerged". I suppose if men were habitually pushed away, then people would draw their own conclusions?

    The funny thing is that now she's "asking for it" by writing it up, people seem to be more sympathetic than they were before she went into print.

  14. It has occurred to me of course that the whole book is an invention from start to finish, like those misery memoirs that turn out to be total fabrications. But I'm giving her the benefit of the doubt. She's made a few embellishments, maybe....

  15. Kylie: For all sorts of reasons I think, including medical conditions that make it too painful.

  16. I also confess that I had a more personal reaction. I couldn't live without sex for 12 years. I cannot imagine actually choosing a sexless existence. I think I'd take "bad sex" (whatever the hell that is) over no sex.

  17. Leah: This it, I think. People who get huge pleasure from sex, whatever form it takes, just couldn't imagine being without it for years on end.

    Of course I don't know if she's only talking about mutual sex, or whether personal sex was also excluded....

  18. I don't find her brave - maybe a little self-involved? Certainly condescending about Brits and Americans. First, who cares if she has sex or not? I'm sure she got criticism, but anyone who is public about anything at all gets criticism. Have a look at the comments section of any YouTube posting, for instance - people are vicious just for the sake of being vicious. I suspect that people who write about having lots of sex get criticism, too. In fact, I posted once about running away to Puerto Rico with a stranger and got some criticism.

    Secondly, in my work I encounter people all the time who have virtually no interest in sex and have gone years without it. The only difference is that they are taking pains to be public about it. I wouldn't be happy without sex, but I don't have it because feel obligated - I have it because I like it.

  19. leah, bad sex is when you feel degraded

  20. Agent: That's true, public declarations invariably get criticism of some kind. Interesting that you've uncovered so many people who're indifferent to sex. Yet the media stereotype is always that everyone's gagging for it and can't get enough.

    Kylie: That's an excellent definition.

  21. I guess that is one good definition of bad sex? Unless one's personal predilection is to be degraded...

  22. Leah: Indeed! Which is more common than one might suppose....

  23. I don't mind sharing my sex life with anyone. It is zilch at present. No brainer. I don't miss it and if it came along, I am sure I would enjoy it as much as the next man but why make such a big deal about a subject that is strictly private.

    What sells I am afrain, is ses. Just look at Fifty Shades Of Grey.

  24. Ramana: Yes, why make such a big deal of something that is really just a matter of personal preference or circumstance.

    As for Fifty Shades, I think the appeal there is not sex as such but a particular type of sex that many people had never tried and were curious about.

  25. How very strange that people should care. I know plenty of normal and unexceptionable people who seem to me (not being privy to their lives mind you ) as though they probably live without sex. But there again, I suppose one can be surprised! Perhaps not.

    Anyway for me the point is surely that she wrote a book about it, and thereby invited comment. And when you invite comment, you get it - good or bad. And what is more, that getting commented on and noticed is the point. You make yourself known. I am certainly a bit bored with people who try to get themselves famous because of their sexuality, or lack of it, or whatever.

  26. Jenny: Interesting that so many of you think not having sex is neither here nor there! Sure, if you write about something, you're going to get a torrent of comments one way or the other. But as I understand it, she says all the negative comments came BEFORE she wrote the book.

  27. I think the heart of the matter is this: society as a whole likes people who conform to the norm. The norm changes over the years - a small movement of 'alternatives' begins (punks, hippies, rockers, religious dissenters, activists of various kind etc) and sometimes continues to be thought of as 'outside the norm' and sometimes gradually becomes accepted - albeit in a modified form.

    But until the 'alternative' is accepted by society, their battlecry will continue to be denigrated by 'normal' members of society, who will mock, tease, and generally behave in a way that puts themselves firmly in the 'group' camp and the alternative group firmly in the 'outsider' group.

    Truth is, society needs to be cohesive to survive and we all have a biological tendency to be afraid of what doesn't fit. And we sometimes mock what scares us.

    In terms of evolution, people who abstain from sex are non-contributors, so I guess there's some basis in the non-acceptance. But really, it's the choice of the individual.

  28. Jay: That's true, people who follow the norms will always tease those who don't, in order to feel more comfortable with their own choices. And yes, we often mock what scares us.

    Of course the abstainers aren't non-contributors at all. They may not contribute to other people's sexual pleasure, or contribute kids, but they do pay their taxes to support other people's kids, so they do their bit. They also pay for the health services that treat other people's sexual infections.