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Celibacy and prolonged singledom are viable options for a wide variety of women

‘I’m celibate, celibacy’s fine.’ Even the sexy Lady Gaga is too busy to do it.


"I'm single right now and I've chosen to be single because I don't have the time to get to know anybody."

"I'm celibate, celibacy's fine."

When Lady Gaga, 24, announced a self-imposed dry spell in April, the critics jeered.

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Too busy for sex? Too busy for a man? It was obviously a shock tactic.

Similar suspicion greeted actress Edie Falco as she tried to explain her perennial singlehood to the Daily Beast last month.

"Does it make you sad, Edie, that you've never been married?" the reporter asked. Four times.

Celibacy and prolonged singledom are turning out to be viable options for a wide variety of women, from those at a critical point in their careers, to those who get too emotionally distracted by the opposite sex - and those who simply feel relationships are a hassle. Still, those who make the choice often face cynicism from, strangely enough, both traditionalists and hedonists.

"I'm not sad about any of my life. It's so unconventional," is how Ms. Falco, 46, tackled the issue. "And it took me a long time to realize that's okay. But if the main centrepiece of all of this is supposed to be love, then I am living in a deluge of it - the friendships that I have that are, on the average, 30 years old, my family, my children."

British journalist Hephzibah Anderson encountered equal incredulity when she chronicled her brush with celibacy in Chastened: The Unexpected Story of My Year without Sex, arriving in Canada this month.

"We're obsessed with this idea of the dry spell, that it's the very worst thing that could possibly happen to anyone," said Ms. Anderson.

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She chose to go without after spotting her college ex-boyfriend walking into a jewellery store with a smiling blonde. A depressing thought bubbled up: It had been nearly a decade since a man told her he loved her. Not long after, Jake, a guy Ms. Anderson had begun mentally vetting as "the one," told her he wasn't in love with her either.

She decided to throw in the towel, starting her celibacy run in August, 2006.

"The initial decision was, 'Enough. I've had enough of this,' " Ms. Anderson said. "I needed to step right back and create some space for myself emotionally. It was a very rash decision but as the year began and got under way, my motivations began to get clearer for me."

Like many other women in their 20s, Ms. Anderson had got into the bad habit of mistaking casual hookups for "rose-tinted" beginnings: "What I expected from physical intimacy wasn't what society seemed to be telling me I was entitled to."

Although she continued dating, without the distraction of sex, Ms. Anderson quickly discovered long-lost reserves of energy: "The pursuit of love was taking up far too large a chunk of my emotional and creative life."

She also found herself growing shrewder about the commitmentphobes dialing her up and more attuned to guys with less glamorous traits such as kindness.

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"It made me realize what a decade of dating had done to me. You can get quite guarded emotionally as time wears on. If you've drawn the line physically, you can be much more open emotionally."

Although it all sounds healthy enough, young women on a time-out often get flak, experts say.

"There's an assumption that you never really grow up," says Ailsa Craig, an assistant professor of sociology at Memorial University in St. John's.

"People who are single or never married well into adulthood are treated as if they are not as stable," said Prof. Craig, who presented the paper 'I Do' But Why Do I Want To?: Theorizing the Desire to Marry with co-author Tina Mercer at the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences in Montreal this week.

"What do we say if we think somebody needs to get married? 'They need to settle down.' It's as if all you ever do is flit around when you're single."

But holding off on committing is exactly what the authors of Last One Down the Aisle Wins (published last month) advise, particularly for women in their 20s.

"Unless a woman really has a vision for her single years, she can start viewing the aisle as her happily ever after. Her 20s become a way station to get there," says co-author and divorce lawyer Celeste Liversidge.

According to the book, the 20s are for adventure, forging networks with mentors and friends and strengthening body image, "emotional health" and finances.

"If you want to change jobs three times within three years, do that, because you're only answering to yourself," Ms. Liversidge says.

Women becoming "clouded by their sexual relationships" might want to consider temporary celibacy too, she suggests.

For all the benefits, "when women choose to live their 20s getting to know themselves, they will receive a lot of pressure from friends, parents and grandparents," says co-author and relationship expert Shannon Fox.

That's because singles and celibacy-vow takers who tell people they're happy are routinely perceived as self-deluding, says Bella DePaulo, author of Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After.

"The myth that what singles want most is to become unsingle is one of the most stubborn myths of them all," said Dr. DePaulo, adding that a large part of it is the superiority complex of married couples.

She thought the scandalized reaction to Lady Gaga's celibacy was telling: "There were times when it would have been scandalous for a single woman to say that she was having sex."

"It's come to the point where the only way you can shock is by saying, 'No thank you,' " Ms. Anderson said. "Permissiveness has become a bit restrictive."

Editor's note: The original version of this article incorrectly stated Alisa Craig's title and also indicated she is the sole author of 'I Do' But Why Do I Want To?: Theorizing the Desire to Marry. This version has been corrected.

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