Yeah, sex is cool, but have you tried abstinence as a form of self-care?

For some women, their experiences with dating apps and the men on them have been so bad that they’re trying short-term celibacy ― or, as some call it, going “boysober.”

Experts have been observing a “sex recession” for years; research shows that millennials and Gen Zers are having less sex, with fewer partners, than their parents’ and grandparents’ generations did. For a growing number of straight single women, disenchantment with hookup culture is a prime reason for taking an extended break from sex and men.

“So many men treat women as sexual objects, and I’m really tired of men trying to sleep with me for merely the challenge,” said Sophie, a 31-year-old who has been abstinent for a year and a half. (Like a few women in this article, Sophie asked to use her first name only to protect her privacy.)

“Dating apps have ruined dating,” Sophie told HuffPost. “The intention to form real genuine relationships is gone, and hookups are the new normal expectations from men.”

“Apps make people feel disposable and men act even more disgusting through an app than they would in real life.”

– Destiny, a woman who’s celibate by choice

In lieu of sex and weeknights squandered on disappointing dinner dates, Sophie is using her free time to knock out some personal goals. It gives her a sense of agency where dating apps felt like a losing game. And frankly, she said, she enjoys her peace of mind now that she’s not centering men in her life adding: “This year and a half has only reinforced me wanting to be single and celibate.”

If you need proof that the celibate and anti-dating app movements are growing, look no further than the vocal reaction many women had this week to dating app Bumble’s celibacy-shaming ad campaign.

“You know full well a vow of celibacy is not the answer,” one billboard the dating app put up in Los Angeles read.

“Thou shalt not give up on dating and become a nun,” read another ad.

On TikTok, women swiftly criticized the dating app for offending half of their core demographic and failing to see that celibacy is a legitimate choice that an increasing number of women are favoring.

“LADIES! The patriarchy is SCARED!! They’re losing us and they’re panicking!!” influencer @Fleeksie joked.

Even “Uncut Gems” actress Julia Fox weighed in: “2.5 years of celibacy and never been better tbh,” she wrote.

Bumble has since apologized for the ads, saying the marketing campaign was a misguided attempt to “lean into a community frustrated by modern dating.” In recognition that celibacy is a trauma response for many people, they also made a donation to the National Domestic Violence hotline.

To be fair to Bumble, the ads were, in all likelihood, meant to be an in-joke with the growing number of women utterly fatigued by modern dating. Women really do banter at brunch about possibly joining a convent or a monastery because their dating life is just that depressing.

But because the messaging came straight from a dating app ― a company with a vested interest in keeping users on its platform ― the ads came across as tone deaf and a little condescending. The ads’ messaging also played right into the self-interest of men who use the apps primarily to prowl for hookups.

“Bumble missed the mark by a mile when they took agency and choice away from their subscribers and instead became just another talking head telling her what to do,” said Ashley Kelsch, a dating coach in Austin, Texas, who’s practiced abstinence in the past.

A sampling of the outrage Bumble received from women on TikTok in response to the dating app's "anti-celibacy" ads.
A sampling of the outrage Bumble received from women on TikTok in response to the dating app’s “anti-celibacy” ads.

To a certain extent, dating apps are to blame for women not wanting to date.

For many women, their disinclination to date is directly tied to terrible experiences on apps. Nearly 80% of women who’ve been on apps like Bumble in the long term say they’ve experienced dating app burnout or fatigue, according to a March 2024 Forbes Health survey.

There’s plenty to be fatigued about, from unsolicited dick pics and questionable background-checking practices to disillusionment with how the apps have gamified our love lives. Dating apps provide us with a “paradox of choice,” convincing us that a better match is always around the corner, just waiting to be swiped on.

Then there’s the fear of who you’re actually going to meet from the apps: Men on dating apps worry about getting catfished, a popular joke goes. Women on dating apps worry about getting murdered.

The dialogue about the Bumble ad and how safe women feel dating on apps happened just as the “man versus bear” TikTok meme went viral: “If you’re alone in the forest, who would you rather run across with: a man you don’t know or a bear?” the videos ask. For many women, the answer was obvious: A bear.

When Kansas City Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker went viral earlier this week for telling women college graduates they should become homemakers in a commencement speech, many brought up the bear again: “Men like Harrison Butker are the reason we would choose the bear,” one woman tweeted.

Destiny, a flight attendant from Northern California, is team bear. She found Bumble’s ad copy was off-putting because celibacy ― at least temporary celibacy ― actually is the answer for her and many of her friends concerned for their safety.

“I’ve been put in countless dangerous situations with men that I’ve met on apps where I’ve felt extremely uncomfortable,” she told HuffPost.

On one second date she had with a guy she met on Bumble, the man angrily started hitting his steering wheel because Destiny jokingly asked him if they could discuss something besides his income.

Destiny said she hasn’t hooked up with anyone in years because she feels that “intimacy is sacred and it’s something that only feels fun if there are feelings there.” Celibacy feels like a form of self-protection.

“I think folks vastly underestimate how focused women can be in the pursuit of what they want in life.”

– Tameka Bazile, a content strategist from South New Jersey who was celibate for a year

Beyond concerns about her safety (and concerns about the rising number of STI cases in the country), Destiny said she thinks dating apps have taken away the magic of a human connection.

“Apps make people feel disposable, and men act even more disgusting through an app than they would in real life,” she said. “Why would I, or any woman, want to put in so much work to just feel constantly disrespected and creeped out?”

Comedian Hope Woodard, the comedian who coined the “boysober” dating term, told The New York Times that opting out of dating men is an antidote to the cultural belief that women are responsible for validating men’s emotions, thoughts and feelings with sex.

“I’m a little bit angry at myself and angry at all the sex that I’ve had that I feel like I didn’t choose,” Woodard said in a February interview with the outlet. “For the first time ever, I just feel like I have ownership over my body.”

In the wake of the rollback of Roe v. Wade, celibacy also feels like a safe option.

Other women say their choice to remain celibate is at least in part motivated by concerns over reproductive rights coming under attack in numerous states since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Abstinence, or at least being extra selective about who you have sex with, makes a certain kind of sense.

“Celibacy is us taking our power back when there are no protections in place to keep us safe,” said Rebecca Wierman, the founder of Sonic Trip, a sound healing therapy group.

Wierman chose to abstain from sex for three years in response to experiencing sexual harm, hook-up culture and the rollback on women’s reproductive rights.

“It was my way of healing, in tandem with therapy, reconnecting with my body and taking my power back,” she told HuffPost.

Wierman ended her abstinence after meeting someone on the dating app Raya, only to have that relationship end and remind her why she chose to explore celibacy in the first place.

Given those personal experiences, Wierman was disappointed in Bumble’s ads.

“What began as a dating app for women’s empowerment ― women had to be the first to message, but they’ve changed that since ― has turned into a publicly traded company exploiting women for monetary gain,” she said.

Celibacy can allow you to ‘accomplish so much without the distractions.’

Tameka Bazile, a content strategist from South New Jersey, was among those who criticized the Bumble ad on TikTok for disrespecting what she and others on TikTok jokingly call “the closed leg community.”

In her video, Bazile spoke from experience. She gave up sex for a whole year in 2016 to clear her mind after a string of disappointing dates and confusing hookups.

“I noticed that I was forming attachments through sex and not understanding whether I was into someone because they were worth liking or because I was physically attracted to them,” Bazile told HuffPost.

Her decision to say “no” to sex wasn’t about punishing men for failing to level up. It was “100% to ensure I was showing up as best as I could for myself,” she added.

Her no-dating, no-sex policy lasted for a year and would have lasted longer had she met her now-fiancé.

“I think folks vastly underestimate how focused women can be in the pursuit of what they want in life,” Bazile said, and sometimes casual sex and hookup culture just gets in the way of that.

After her last relationship ended in 2019, Talia Cadet, a lifestyle influencer from Washington, D.C., was celibate for a little under three years. She was in her early 30s and needed time to regroup and figure out what she wanted in life. Then COVID happened, prolonging her stint with abstinence a little while longer than expected.

“I knew instantly I didn’t want to date in a climate where you can’t fully trust the people you’re dating won’t expose you to COVID-19,” she said.

She quit the dating apps, too, because they weren’t delivering matches that she thought would tangibly enrich her life.

“Dating apps have become so superficial and vapid,” she said. “It’s a money grab. It’s supposed to be a repeat business. Hooking up is cool in the moment, but it’s not satisfying in the long term.”

Today, Cadet creates content that gives women tips on celibate life. (One major tip? Use your time wisely and “go hard on those professional and personal goals.” Without the distraction of dating, Cadet bought a house in 2020 and excelled in work.)

Does Cadet have any regrets about forgoing sex during her sexual peak? Not one, she said.

“I have a stronger sense of self. I’ve accomplished so much without the distractions,” Cadet said. “I know exactly what I do and don’t want in my relationship. I’ve learned to love my solitude. Dating is less frustrating after all of this.”

Ultimately, women wanting to take a break from the hookup culture, casual sex or dating apps are motivated by myriad reasons, not just one, said Kelsch, the dating coach. It doesn’t have to be a hard-lined stance, either ― maybe you’re just celibate for a season. And men can choose temporary celibacy, too, obviously. (We’re not talking incels here ― those who are “involuntary celibate” ― but rather, actively choosing to abstain from sex.)

“It’s a very individual thing, but the most common theme I hear from my clients and friends is that dating apps feel shallow and are a time-suck,” she said.

After our touch-starved pandemic years, Kelsch said people are craving connection and depth and quality over quantity in their sex and dating lives.

“Perhaps we are entering a ‘less is more’ era,” she said, “and small talk or connections with 20 isn’t nearly as gratifying as really getting to know and be heard by a few.”

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