Shunning premarital sex may seem old-fashioned to some, but Erica Willams says nowadays celibacy is somewhat of a movement, especially among some minority women. Williams, 30, is the founder of Journey to Purity, a nonprofit in Virginia that aims to promote celibacy in women through education and community building efforts.
The Journey to Purity Meetup group has 102 members, and is limited to women. Williams says the majority of the women are black or Latina.
For these women, celibacy is a conscience and often faith-driven choice.
Black celebrities like Tamera Mowry-Housley, Meagan Good-Franklin and Ciara speaking openly about waiting to have sex inspires others to try, Williams says.
No topic is off limits for the women in the group.
From their philosophy on masturbation and pornography, to oral sex to sex dreams — they put it all out there.
Many say while masturbation, an act Williams says she once struggled with, isn’t specifically mentioned in the Bible, it is still rooted in lust.
Lust is a sin and masturbation is an outward manifestation of that sin, she says.
Still, Williams adamantly emphasizes that she doesn’t believe sex is bad.
Tavana Bunton, 32, lives in Maryland and is a member of the Journey to Purity’s Meetup group. She says the longest she’s gone without sex is about three years.
Like Williams, her faith is an element of her choice to pursue celibacy, but for her, the choice is also about sexual health and self-worth.
“Too much stuff going around and I just can’t give myself freely to just everyone like I used to,” says Bunton, who first had sex at 15.
When asked if she’s currently celibate, there’s a pause.
“Nah,” she says. “I like to be raw with who I am. I’ll have a season where I’m not [celibate]. Sex has been my release.”
Celibacy, she adds, is a journey.
Growing a community
Williams says Journey to Purity started in 2016, four years after she shared her first “celiversary,” as she calls it, on Facebook. She continued to use social media as a platform for abstinence on her celiversary.
Women in several states started to reach out to her and say they are on the same journey and needed encouragement.
“When you do have sex with people it goes beyond that interaction, it’s spiritual, soul ties. It goes deeper,” Bunton says.
Williams’s father died right after she turned 11. She says she believes his death plays a role in how she views sex.
“I was willing to do whatever I felt to keep that man,” Williams says. “I felt that my father left me and that hurt and I didn’t want to experience that in a relationship. At that time I felt like sex is what I needed to do.”
She has had many celibacy starts and stops over the years, but reached a point when she told God she was all in, Williams says. That was seven years ago.
“Certainly, being raised in the church or being exposed to biblical truth has a strong impression on how people approach sex, whether in marriage or premarital,” says Almeta Radford, who ministers alongside her husband at a church in Virginia.
If it isn’t driven by a deep desire to refrain, celibacy can be extremely difficult, says Lex Harris, a Washington, D.C.-area therapist focused on families and relationships.
In a way, celibacy is unnatural, Harris says. “It’s your natural inclination to be joined with another person, it’s a natural desire that’s within us.”
There are pros and cons with each type of sex, she says.
Not being celibate or monogamous means a woman has the advantage of enjoying her sexuality and freedom, Harris says. It also allows her to better able to understand her needs in order to experience sexual pleasure, something she sees many women forgo in long-term relationships.
“In a partnership, we are selfless. Your attention is on pleasing your partner and not focusing on what you need to feel pleasure,” Harris says. “When single, you get to be a little more selfish.”
Dating while celibate
This begs the question: How does one date when sex is a no-go?
There seems to be, Williams says, three types of guys a celibate women will most likely encounter while dating:
1. The guy who says, “I don’t want nothing to do with that” and immediately ghost you
2. The guy who says, “Oh, I can change her mind,” then makes it his mission to score
3. And the rarest of birds: The guy who says, “Oh, okay ,that’s cool.”
In his twenties, author Ryan Whitfield says he definitely fell into the first category.
Today, he’s in favor of celibacy, and is celibate himself.
“Being celibate does not mean you aren’t horny or turned on,” he says. “But you are willing to subdue those hormonal feelings and emotions or wants, to zone in on something a little bit bigger than just a sexual moment.”
“No sex doesn’t necessarily mean no intimacy,” Whitfield and Harris, who have co-authored a book and host a podcast together, say.
Intimacy is defined as an ongoing connection between two people. Sex is just a key component of physical intimacy, the duo explains in their podcast.
Williams says she remains hopeful that celibate women will find love.
“I believe there is one out there — I haven’t met him yet — who is already on the journey.”