Dating while celibate

'Having a healthy sex life isn't seen as an optional extra, it's seen as essential, like a healthy diet, which is nonsense – we need to eat food in order to survive and function, but we don't need to have sex. Sexuality is very fluid; some people have low or no sex drive, but if it doesn't cause them distress then it's not a dysfunction.We shouldn't make moral judgments.' Shirley Yanez, 54, a life coach from Leicester, has not had sex for nine years I had been sexually active from about 13 and was never really told anything about the dangers of unprotected sex.When I was 16 I had an abortion, but I carried on being carefree and thoughtless until my mid-thirties, when I met the man of my dreams. After about six months I decided to see a gynaecologist and to my horror discovered I had blocked fallopian tubes and was infertile. My sexual behaviour had ruined my opportunity to settle down; I couldn't give my husband the baby he desperately wanted, and the marriage ended.

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I became more and more successful, but also more lonely.

Then, in 1999, I went to Los Angeles to be maid of honour for my best friend.

The best man was very attractive and, after a lot to drink, I went to bed with him. I married him the next week, gave up my business, sold my house, put all my money into stocks and moved to LA.

There are an awful lot of people very quietly not having sex in our loudly sexualised society.

Recent research suggests that one in 20 couples is celibate, though not necessarily by mutual choice; while about one per cent of the population is asexual – that is, not sexually attracted to anyone.

Why, then, is not wanting sex still seen as the oddball option?

At a time when teenagers face increasing peer pressure to lose their virginity and couples are expected to enjoy sex well into retirement – aided by the twin gods of Viagra and hormone replacement therapy – could celibacy and asexuality be the last sexual taboos?

'Questioning sex makes people very uneasy and there's a lot of stigma about not having sex,' says Hephzibah Anderson, who wrote the memoir Chastened (Vintage, £7.99) after choosing to be celibate for a year.

'But most of us will go through a dry spell at some point, and some people just aren't that into it. One of the reasons I wrote the book was to try to bring celibacy back as an option.' While people may dip in and out of celibacy, asexuality tends to be a permanent state.

The Aven online asexual network has 40,000 members worldwide.

Its founder, David Jay, says that being asexual can be isolating. 'A lot of asexual people feel disempowered or broken, wondering where they fit into society, especially since it can seem as though sex is necessary for happiness.' 'Socially, we've made sex an imperative,' says Paula Hall, a sexual psychotherapist for Relate.

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