Sex Therapist Dr. Ava Cadell Explains Why People Choose to Stop Having Sex

Tim Gunn is an attractive man. Tall (so far as I can tell), with silver hair (who doesn't love a silver fox?), and nice smile (a good smile counts for a lot). He's quite the catch, really. He's the host of a popular TV show, he's written several books, it's safe to assume he is economically secure, and, overall, he comes across as a genuinely cool and likeable person.

So when Gunn recently revisited his celibacy in the public eye, it caused quite the stir. In the past, the 58-year-old wrote in one of his books that he had not had sex in "decades," leaving people to wonder, "Wait — exactly how many decades are we talking about?"

Then a few weeks ago, on an episode of ABC's The Revolution, Gunn finally answered the question: 29 years. The man has not had sex (or been in a relationship, for that matter) for 29 years! It's the kind of unveiling that makes your jaw drop. At least, that's why I literally did when I found out about the news.

Truth is, within my recent past, I decided to abstain from sex for an entire year. It didn't start out that way. Initially, upon ending my (admittedly somewhat casual, yet still heartbreaking) relationship with a man, I decided to pull back the reigns and return to home base.

"Dating is just a waste of my time and energy," I told my friends. "I'm going to focus on myself for a while." And that's exactly what I did.

Before I knew it, four months had passed. "Four months!" I declared. "This is the longest I've gone without sex since I was first sexually active!" By six months, my enthusiasm and lingering '90s "Girl Power!" attitude had begun to wane. By nine months, I became easily irritable, snapping on friends and loved ones, the result of too much contained pressure that not even my scrolling of the mouse could offer a full release.

In having deprived myself of sex for what felt like, and can only be stereotypically described as, an eternity, the idea of going nearly three decades without a man's touch sounds completely unfathomable. I decided to do some research. I was curious: Exactly what percentage of the American adult population is abstinent and/or celibate?

(Note: The two terms mean the same. Via Merriam-Webster: Abstinence: abstention from sexual intercourse; Celibacy: abstention from sexual intercourse.)

So I Googled. And then I Googled some more. Nothing. There were statistics about abstinence among teenagers and abstinence-only sex education programs, but where are the statistics on adults who intentionally refrain from sex?

Frustrated, but still curious for answers, I decided to speak with a professional — the wonderful Dr. Ava Cadell, sex therapist and founder of — and hopefully get some insight on exactly what abstinence/celibacy is about.

NEXT: Q&A with Dr. Ava Cadell


Q&A with Dr. Ava Cadell

What's the difference between abstinence and not getting laid for a large period of time?

The difference between abstinence and not getting laid for a large period of time is choice! Abstinence is the practice of not having ANY kind of sex with a partner. This is different from incurring a dry spell in the bedroom, which may happen as a result of lack of interest, not meeting the right person or inability to perform. Also, not getting laid typically refers to not have sexual intercourse whereas abstinence means not participating in sexual acts of any kind.

What are some common reasons people refrain from sex after being active for many years?

Common reasons people refrain from sex after being active for many years include a change in religious or moral beliefs, to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases or infections, to refrain from the emotional responsibilities and complications, as a result of psychological reasons such as depression, hormone imbalance or negative past experiences, and of course lack of desire. Abstinence can also be seen as exerting a form of self-control and delayed gratification.

Is there a correlation between asexuality and abstinence?

It is important to distinguish the difference between asexuality and abstinence. Asexuality is the sexual orientation of a person who does not experience sexual attraction whereas abstinence is a lifestyle choice to not participate in sexual play. Therefore just because a person does notexperience sexual attraction does not mean they do not have sex.

Is there a certain age range or time of life when more people turn to abstinence or celibacy?

Abstinence is being brought to the attention of teenagers more prevalently than any other age range. The hope in doing this is to prevent unwanted pregnancies, STDs, medical side effects of birth control and contraceptives, to encourage them to focus on their schools and careers and to allow them more time to build healthy relationships. The time of life inwhich people turn to abstinence or celibacy varies widely as such lifestylechanges can occur at any time.

What do you think are some common misconceptions about being abstinent?

Common misconceptions about being abstinent are thatpeople are not interested in sex at all, they are have never previously had sex and that "if you don't use it, you will lose it."

Why do you think some people were in shock about Tim Gunn having refrained from sex for so long?

Sexuality and sexual activities are natural to humanbeings as sex is our second basic instinct after survival. Therefore, it is shocking to some people to hear of others voluntarily denying themselves from taking part in such an experience. To exert the mental and emotional strength to restrict their sexuality is difficult for those to understand who find great pleasure in their own sexuality. However, just abstaining from eating deserts for 30 years might shock some people, so does the idea of abstaining from sex as Tim Gunn has for the last 29 years.

Melysa Martinez writes a sex column at Follow her on Twitter at @areyoushaved and for more stories like this follow @AfterDarkLA on Twitter.


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