My mind was recently blown when I read about THE FAREWELL INTERCOURSE LAW, an antiquated law in Egypt, whereby a husband is legally allowed to have sex with his wife for up to six hours after her death. Necrophilia,anyone??? The law was established generations(centuries?)ago to support the Islamist belief that marriage extends beyond this life. Today it is highly controversial, and many Egyptian women are marching to abolish it. To date, the Islamist-dominated Egyptian Parliament remains divided. Men can still have their way with dead wives as long as they observe the time-limit. Tick tock. Tick tock.
More radical segments of Egyptian women are calling a moratorium on marriage, refusing to consider a proposal until THE FAREWELL INTERCOURSE LAW is abolished. And even divorced women are vowing celibacy, not to marry again. They are calling themselves a word I can't pronounce or spell, but its the Egyptian equivalent of BORN-AGAIN VIRGINS.
Which brings me to the same CELIBATE-BY-CHOICE movement which seems to be gaining momentum here in the US, especially AMONGST WRITERS. No kidding. I did a recent survey of men and women divided equally, and 19 out of 20 writers queried were not having sex. At all. By choice. Maybe its the way life has speeded up in our cyber-age, or the recession, or the trickle-down fear of AIDS, but writers say they just don't have the time for sex these days. Or the energy. Or the inclination. I'm talking about men as well as women.
I asked half a dozen female friends, now hardcore BORN-AGAIN VIRGINS, how long their sexual abstinence would last, and four of them said 'indefinitely because curbing their hormones made them feel empowered.' The other two said they wanted to stay sex-free until they finished their next novels, which could be three-four years from now. Oh, my. These are not wrinkled, man-hating crones, they're sexy, vibrant women in their 30's,40's, 50's and 60's. (And one in her 70's, a former Born-Again Cougar).
Yes, the notion of celibacy is as old as Lysistrata but it seems to have taken on a new urgency for writers. It sounds dismal but its true, almost every male and female writer I talk to seems to be dropping out of the 'game.' My cousin, Tom, just spent five years completing his first novel, under contract with a big publisher. The same week he completed it, he started his next novel. And his wife filed for divorce.
She rightfully complained that for five years, 95% of Tom's energy went toward the novel, the other 5% went toward the kids. There was nothing left for her. "I was always exhausted," Tom says, then he says something more interesting. "But I noticed that the longer I went without sex, the BETTER my writing got." Now he's vowed to go without sex until completion of his next novel. Where will it end???
Wait a minute. What about those unexpected times when we're hunched at the keyboard and get hit with the 'urge,' when our eyeballs glaze with remembrance of sexual encounters past. Every BORN-AGAIN VIRGIN I talked to, men or women, had the same response. "No problem! I just take care of it myself, and I'm back at the keyboard in ten minutes." Oh. So they're not complete sexual teetotalers...they're onanists. Do-it-yourselfer's. (But, isn't masturbation sex?)
Let me say I believe in recharging one's batteries and one's spirit after a divorce, a disastrous relationship, or when you've been around the track too fast, too often. A lot of us remember the mindless, coked-up sex of the 80's and 90's that left us feeling numb, brain-dead and sometimes...dirty. But we grew up. We became selective. We fell seriously in love. Then out of love. But part of life is searching for that thrill again, even if its just a fantasy. We have to have that childlike gullibility, the blind belief in love and lust and passion and hate, or else the characters we create won't have it either. Without it, we're not really writers. We are cynics.
OK, its one thing to 'save yourself,' until the right man or woman comes along. Then opt to make the leap again, to take the chance. But serious BORN-AGAIN VIRGINS,again, including men, have the lifted-fist zeal of marching fanatics. They have a code: No dating. No kissing or petting. No eyeballing from across a crowded room. Nothing! Then there are the SEMI-BORN-AGAIN VIRGINS. Those who say you can date, and kiss and pet. But they draw the line at penetration. WHAT!!!??? In my personal lexicon, that is NOT abstaining. That is c-ckteasing. Or, in the case of anti-penetration men...c-ntteasing. It begins to sound rather cheezy.
I want to keep this on a semi-serious plane. I do believe that the total avoidance of sex really means an avoidance of all the emotional baggage between men and women that always causes troubles. Different hormones, different expectations. It's true, and I speak from experience, when you're celibate for a while, you really do feel fresh, renewed and clear-eyed. Its easier to sift the losers and the cads out of the human herd. It's when sex rears its head again, trouble seems to start. (But hey, men and women are different species, we've always known that. Just because you're having explosive sex with someone doesn't mean you're in the same zipcode emotionally.)
But, getting back to writers: We're in a frightening profession. For many of us, income is non-existent, or erratic, at best. There is the day-to-day pressure to produce, to hustle, to compete, to try to make the rent. Its especially competitive in this digital age, where some e-writers are producing a book a month. So, yes, in such a climate, sex might come in second, or even last.
Abstinence among writers is more common than we realize: most writers are probably on sexual sabbatical when they're deep into the writing of a book. We just don't announce it to the world! But it is not the same as banner-waving, trumpet-blowing BORN-AGAIN VIRGINS. These are people who are abdicating for other reasons, usually a broken heart, a broken marriage, low self-esteem. It seems to me they are swearing off something other than sex...they are swearing off all things emotional, which is a form of closing down, of psychic death.
Sex is how we got here. Its who we are. Its in our hormones and pheromones. It IS our hormones and pheromones. It makes us loose cannons, uncontrollable variables. Every act of sex is a truce. Another form of longing. It's very scary. But a deeper form of sex is love. It is what is required to finish the unfinished life. It is what renders us visible.
Humans are frightening things. That's why we need the touch of other humans. What comes from that touching is called life.
And we need to LIVE as well as write. So abstain all you need to. But don't shut down your heart.