Katherine Mooney considers herself a typical 25-year-old. She has lots of friends, an active social life, a job she enjoys, and goes on many dates with plenty of eligible young men.
There’s one thing that marks her out as different from others her age however: Katherine doesn’t have sex. With anyone. And it’s most definitely not due to a lack of opportunities.
For Katherine isn’t a virgin: she’s had seven lovers, a tally that — shocking as it may seem to many — is considered low among single women her age. But she made the decision to go celibate two years ago, after yet another meaningless sexual encounter that left her feeling worthless and used.
Nowadays, she is committed to a new dating rule: sex will remain off the agenda until she is in a long-term, loving relationship. So committed is she, that she won’t even consider kissing a man before the end of their third date.
Needless to say, she says she’s considered something of an oddity.
"No man seems to want me once they realise I refuse to separate love from sex," explains the hospital receptionist from Liverpool. "But the simple truth is that I’m sick of being treated like a piece of meat by men who can’t get their heads around the fact that the sex they watch online isn’t actually the kind of sex girls like me want any part of in the real world.
"We’re not always 'up for it'; we’re not there purely for the sexual fulfilment of whatever man we happen to be in bed with; sex, for us, is as much an emotional as a physical act.
"And the only way I seem to be able to get that message across, while at the same time protecting my dignity and self-esteem, is to put my own sex life on hold. It’s hard giving up your sex life at my age — people hear I’ve been celibate for so long and think I’m either a liar or there’s something wrong with me.
"But the positives are that I like myself better now than at any point in adulthood, and have never felt more confident. I’m happy to wait until the time feels right to start having sex again."
Of course celibacy is nothing new; the most recent statistics tell us 28 percent of women over 40 lead sexless lives, and that more than half of UK adults have not had sex in the past month.
But this feels different. Katherine is a young woman living in an era of supposed sexual liberation — many in her generation have embraced a sexualised culture that sees bed-hopping and promiscuity as a sign of emancipation rather than slack morals.
Unfortunately, it has also developed a skewed idea of what sex is all about.
Today’s young people are growing up learning about the mechanics of lovemaking not through clumsy teenage fumblings with an equally inexperienced partner, but via an endless and easily accessed stream of online porn that at best is unrealistic — and at its brutal worst is disturbing, violent and utterly demeaning towards women.
Research by the NSPCC last year revealed that 39 percent of boys aged between 14 and 17 routinely watch porn, regularly exposing them to the message that sex is something men do to women, and if they don’t like it, well, too bad.
Being in a relationship doesn’t enter into the equation.
This same study also found that one in five teenage boys harbours negative attitudes towards women, and that 40 percent of teenage girls have experienced sexual coercion — in other words, they have been pressured into sexual activity they didn’t want, which in some cases, horrifyingly, ended in rape.
Meanwhile, 44 percent of teenage girls and just under a third of teenage boys in England have sexted — that means exchanging explicit sexual images and messages — with a boyfriend or girlfriend. And just over 40 percent of girls who sent naked pictures of themselves said those images had then, humiliatingly, been forwarded to other people.
Then there’s the pressure young girls feel to look a certain way — our daughters are growing up believing that if they don’t have large breasts and skinny bodies devoid of pubic hair then they won’t match up to the expectations boys have of womanhood.
These images are all gleaned from pornographic material seen by both sexes, and are a sure-fire route to low self-esteem.
Little wonder then that young women like Katherine are starting to ask themselves: Where’s the liberation in all this?
"These days you’re considered a prude by your friends if you’re not putting yourself about," she says. "Loveless, casual sex is supposed to be something my generation enjoys.
"Between the age of 17 and 23 I slept with seven men, and not one made me feel desirable or special. Some were one-night stands, others were friends I occasionally had sex with.
"It was soulless and they were either into weird stuff they’d seen online, and expected me to be happy to play along or they were completely uninterested in making sex enjoyable for me. It made me feel like nothing more than an object. I think I deserve better than that."
And Katherine is far from alone in making the connection between pornography and the subversion of traditional loving relationships among our young.
Last year former Baywatch actress Pamela Anderson spoke at the Oxford Union of the numbing effect she believes porn has on intimacy, and of her fears that the warped online depictions of sex lead to sexual violence against women.
Fellow speaker Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, a US author, TV host and public speaker, agreed, asserting to the same audience that pornography would eventually kill off, "marriage, female sexuality, female libido and fin-ally sex itself," due to the way it breaks the connection between desire and love.
For Katherine, abstaining from sex until she meets someone she actually wants to have an intimate relationship with seemed her only option after she went home with a man — a friend of a friend — who terrified her with his bedroom demands.
"I had to say no, not once but three times, to having something done to me that would have left me in pain and feeling horribly abused," she explains. "In the end, I realised he wasn’t going to take no for an answer so I got up, grabbed my things and fled.
"I still shudder at the memory and struggled to confide in my friends. It was embarrassing, and also difficult to discuss because I suspect many women actually do oblige men when they want to take sex in a more twisted direction. For less confident women it can be hard to keep saying no. After that, I decided I never wanted to be made to feel like I was nothing again."
Dr David Holmes, senior psychologist at Manchester Metropolitan University, says there is no question that young men’s sexual appetites are being influenced by early exposure to extreme pornography, which makes troubling experiences such as Katherine’s all the more likely.
"During adolescence a template of what you find arousing is being formed in the brain; what a child is exposed to during the period when they first start to become sexually aware can have a massive influence on that template and what they will go on to find arousing in adulthood. So, if the stuff 13- and 14-year-old lads are watching on their phones is violent, brutal sex in its most extreme forms, you have the potential for huge problems.
"Even if they fully appreciate that what they’re looking at isn’t real, they can still go on to struggle to be aroused by the more gentle lovemaking that takes place in the real world."