JOY: Here’s the truth: I liked not having sex.
I was a virgin prior to dating Justin and I was not disappointed in my introduction to sex my freshman year of college. I loved everything about it—the foreplay, the actual play, the release, the freedom, and most of all, I loved that I was sharing my sexual liberation with someone I loved.
JUSTIN: Unlike Joy, I was sixteen when I lost my virginity. Women and sex were constant themes during lunch conversations at my all-boys high school. The more women you slept with, the more respect you garnered from your peers. As a sexually novice freshman, I struggled developing my self-identity and securing that much desired acceptance from friends. When I was finally able to engage in the “How long did you last?”, “What positions did you try?” or “Did you wear a condom?” conversations, my identity and ego began to align with society’s teachings—the more women you sleep with, the manlier you are.
That misguided self-identity followed me to college as I fully planned to have the stereotypical, uninhibited college experience. In my heart, I was a 90’s R&B hopeless romantic, but my actions were more reflective of “Back that Azz Up”. When Joy and I started dating freshman year, I struggled with the idea of being in a committed relationship. Although our physical connection was amazing throughout all four years, our emotional relationship was steadily unsteady and we broke up shortly after graduation.
I had been enjoying sex without understanding what it truly was—an exchange Joy Riley
While separated, I realized I made Justin the center of my life—a place that should have been reserved for me and God. During that time, I sought the advice of all the women in my life who had been through similar experiences. While sitting in my Nana’s living room on a Sunday afternoon, she explained to me that you leave a bit of your soul with each person you sleep with, and in return, they leave a bit of their soul with you.
It dawned on me then that I had been enjoying sex without understanding what it truly was—an exchange. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with an exchange if you have a firm grasp on exactly what you are giving and receiving in return. I knew I loved Justin, but I didn’t know his soul and if I am being honest, I didn’t really know mine either. We remained apart for two months before deciding life was better together.
Our college relationship was overwhelmingly positive, but something was preventing us from moving into the next phase of our relationship. My spiritual walk was lukewarm at best and Joy insisted she wasn’t interested in rekindling our relationship if God wasn’t at the center of it. Together we made a renewed commitment to strengthening our faith, found a home church, and slowly started to develop a stronger spiritual and personal relationship.
Joy’s original pitch: 40 days. But we agreed to remain celibate until our wedding day… 3 years, 2 months, 19 days. 1,175 days later. Justin Riley
Seven months into that new relationship, I was at my kitchen sink washing dishes when I heard a voice say, “You have to stop having sex.” God had spoken to me before so I knew it was him, but I decided to ignore the command. If I pretended to not hear it, I could continue living how I wanted to live, right? I was wrong.
The voice came again, a little louder this time. “You have to stop having sex.” I sighed in frustration and thought about how Justin would react. But immediately I was reassured. “It’s going to be easier than you think.”
Joy sat me down to explain that the Lord placed celibacy on her heart and asked if I was open to taking the journey with her. Unbeknownst to Joy at the time, God planted similar messages in my spirit, but I was unwilling to initiate the conversation for fear of actually living life without sex. Joy’s original pitch: 40 days. But since we both received the same message, we agreed to remain celibate until our wedding day…
3 years, 2 months, 19 days. 1,175 days later.
How did you we hold off for that long? Faith.
Were we ever tempted to have sex? Yes.
Was it difficult? Yes.
Was it worth it? Absolutely.
Celibacy completely transformed the entire framework of our relationship, resulting in a more meaningful, loving, and powerful partnership. Here are four lessons we learned from the journey:
1. Sex ≠ Intimacy
What better way to express our most passionate emotions for our partner besides having sex? How many times have you heard someone ask, “Are you in an intimate relationship?” Those asking likely don’t care about the deep emotional ties you share with your partner; they simply want to know if you and your partner are having sex.
Sex was our most common expression of intimacy. You look good today, let’s have sex. You make me smile from ear to ear, let’s have sex. I appreciate everything you do for us, let’s have sex. It was our default action when we wanted to show our love and affection for each other. But when our go-to response was no longer available, it forced us to redefine intimacy and appreciate the small interactions we took for granted. A passionate kiss was no longer a prerequisite for sex, instead it was the primary tool bringing us closer together. Thought provoking conversations sparked a greater attraction between us. Cuddling suddenly went from an inconvenience to a pure exchange of love and care.
You’ll be surprised to learn how deep your love can grow by replacing sexual gratification with emotional and spiritual satisfaction.
We went from having sex on a weekly basis for more than four years to removing sex entirely.
2. Becoming Best Friends
Sex was a distraction preventing us from fully connecting on an emotional and spiritual level. In its absence, we were free to hang out all day, explore the city, and enjoy new experiences without the pressure of capping our night off with sex. It was the first time we were truly able to enjoy each other’s company without strings attached.
3. Talk is Cheap, Unless It’s Not
We quickly discovered that sex had been a placeholder for boredom, anger, excitement or appreciation in our relationship. We were forced to elaborate on exactly what we were feeling, which was especially difficult, yet rewarding with heightened emotions. You may think talk is cheap, but when someone has fallen in love with you all over again (for real this time) and says they “lust for your soul,” talk becomes the most valuable currency to have ever existed.
4. We Can Conquer Anything
We lived together for more than two-and-half years while practicing celibacy. Imagine sharing a bed with the person you love the most, but you’re unable to unleash your physical desires upon them? Talk about a prime lesson in self-control.
We went from having sex on a weekly basis for more than four years to removing sex entirely. We learned how to keep one another motivated and honest. We became well versed in how to balance each other’s strengths and weaknesses so we could function as a whole. We resisted temptation dozens of times and held each other accountable when the other person was wavering. Ultimately, we both committed to accomplishing our goal at all costs.
Is celibacy right for me?
Celibacy isn’t one-size fits all. Our decision to practice celibacy was rooted in our faith and a yearning to unlock new doors within our relationship. The growth and wisdom gained throughout those years significantly enhanced the quality of our relationship and refortified our commitment to one another.
Celibacy within a relationship should be mutually agreed upon without force or coercion. Regardless if you are single or in a committed relationship, be clear with your intentions prior to starting your journey and remain steadfast in your pursuit of self-discovery.
Our journey through celibacy proved that when the two of us come together fully connected in mind, body and spirit, there is no force great enough to stop us.