Quality of sex overall: 0/10
Frequency of sex: 0/10
Intimacy levels: 0/10
How do you feel generally about the people you fuck: 0/10
How happy are you with the amount of time you have for sex: 10/10
Twenty-eight-year-old freelance photographer, Ian, has been voluntarily celibate for seven months. I met with him in an east London park to talk about what would make him break his celibacy, how he feels gender roles have had a negative impact on his dating life and, for some reason, why fucking is like football.
VICE: Hi Ian! So, you’re celibate. How’s that going for you?
Ian: I feel very happy in my life because I know what I want and what I don’t want.
How were you meeting the people you slept with pre-celibacy?
On dating apps. I like them, I feel they’re a bit more honest as there are no defined roles. Like on Bumble, women had to speak to men first. Also when I worked as a photographer, I would do weddings and would meet people there, like the bartender who was working the wedding.
So, when was the last time you had sex before deciding on celibacy?
I don’t remember.
Was it years ago?
I think around December 2018. So, about seven months ago and before that, I last had sex in around April or May.
Why did you decide to become celibate?
It wasn’t about religion or anything like that. It all started when I thought more about the construction of gender roles and sexism. Feminism has been growing stronger lately, so I’ve been thinking a lot about it and the roles I’ve been filling.
What sort of roles have you been filling?
There are a lot of things I do, or that I am expected to do, because I am a man. The man has to take more initiative and drive forward and insist a bit more. It’s almost as if he wants it more than the woman he’s pursuing does.
So you’re saying that men have to put in a disproportionate amount of work?
In what way?
Men have to convince women. I’m not saying it’s in every case, but most of the time. I actually had this talk a lot with my friends and most men – it doesn’t matter if they’re straight or gay – agree with me on that.
What do the women you’re friends with think?
I cannot seem to get to the same level with women. The first thing they tend to say is that they take initiative too, which I’ve tried to understand, but I think it’s done in different ways.
You’ve never seen a woman take initiative with a man?
I think women are more indirect. She can give subtle hints, but then it’s part of the man’s role to catch them. It’s rare that a woman is direct, because most men won’t like it. But I feel that I’ve changed and society is still a step behind. I feel like I’m living in the wrong era. Maybe next year things will be different.
What sort of changes do you think will come in terms of gender roles?
The roles will be less established and women will be able to be more direct and men will be able to accept that. Right now, men are used to being rejected.
You don’t think women are rejected by men?
Well, as a [straight] guy, ever since you’re a kid, you’re used to being rejected by women. Unless you’re some sort of god, you’ll get rejected a lot.
Do you ever miss having sex?
No and if I did, I would just go back to playing that old role. There’s always an input and an output, when you do something there’s a reward. So, I was starting to feel that seeing someone became an effort and it wasn’t natural to me anymore – taking the initiative and everything that I used to do. I just did it because I was told that that’s what I was meant to do.
What if someone comes up to you and says they’re interested in you and you also happen to feel the same way, would you break your celibacy?
Yeah, I’m not 100-percent committed to celibacy. But even if a girl comes to you, in a sort of direct way, it still may not work. Recently, I was shopping and a girl in a shop started talking to me and asked me to try on a shirt she was buying for a friend who was the same size as me. Sure, she broke the ice, but I didn’t do anything, so nothing happened. The guy is always expected to drive it forward.
So, you’re saying you don’t want to have to put any effort into wooing someone to sleep with them?
I get bored of it. I lose interest when I realise I have to persist or take the initiative, I’m just not interested anymore. For me, sex is just fun. It doesn’t have a big meaning, it’s like other activities I enjoy, like football, for example
Fucking is like playing football?
Well, imagine if I had to do that same level of convincing to make another guy part of my football team. I wouldn’t be able to explicitly tell him that I wanted to play football because you’re not supposed to say that to them directly. So, I’m saying, if you had to make such an incredible effort for everything, you wouldn’t do it. The whole process in front of it means sex isn’t fun for me.
You don’t think having sex with someone else was worth putting in the effort?
No, not at all.
Do you think a lot of men feel the same way about sex as you do?
Yeah, for sure and hopefully reading this will make them feel less alone. When I talk about this with men, even if they’re not my friends, they definitely understand it. They know the struggle. We feel like it’s a full time job, because you have to put yourself out there and you have to keep up appearances.
What do you think of the British Medical Journal research? Is social media to blame for us all shagging less?
It’s not the whole reason, but I do think social media plays a huge part.
What impact do you think social media has on our sex lives?
I think social media gives us just quick social interaction and avoids a lot of things that are uncomfortable about socialising. Socialising is a need and now we can satisfy it with social media, you don’t even have to go out. I think in some cases, some people live a virtual life and that satisfies them.
You still have sexual urges though, right? Do you still masturbate?
When you see something really nice and it’s very expensive, you just look at it – you don’t buy it. So, I still like women, I’m just not going to do all that effort. But yes, I still masturbate.
Have you been masturbating more now that you’re celibate?
I masturbate about the same amount as I did when I was having sex, but now obviously without the sex. Your body gets used to it, the less sex you have, the less sexual need you have. I used to have a lot of sex and now I don’t miss it so much. I think sex is pushed a bit by consumption.
What do you mean by that?
They sell you sex, the same way they sell you food, for example. We don’t need to eat as much food as we do but we still like, buy burgers. In the same way we don’t need to consume porn, we’re just bombarded by advertising and sexual images all the time. Sex may be a necessity but not as big as we think.
So now, you’ve realised that you don’t need to have sex?
Yeah, I don’t think I even realised the things I was doing. At least now I’m aware of it and I can choose. I think I would have to go back to being a bit sexist to have sex with a woman again. The guy having to seduce and conquer the woman is sexist in a way.
So essentially, you think women should be more direct with men?
If you, for example, started being direct it would be amazing, but you would definitely get rejected.
Rude. I don’t think I, personally, would be rejected.
[Laughs.] It’s true, you will be rejected, as a lot of guys are old fashioned and wouldn’t know how to react. If you take that role [of being direct] then, they won’t have a role to play. It may not be that often, but you definitely will be rejected.
Right … OK. Well, thanks Ian!
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.