When Sophie Fontanel decided to give up having sex, it was no mean feat. In France, love of sex is expected.
I was 27. I had a boyfriend for five years. I always had done what I thought everybody expected from me. Suddenly, very frankly one day, I asked myself if I was really happy with this idea of pleasure. Was it disappointing or not?
I answered that it was very boring for me. It was difficult to admit this. If you admit your sex life is boring, maybe it means you are not sensual, maybe it means you have a problem. Especially in France, where we are supposed to be so erotic. We are supposed to love food and sex.
I didn’t keep it secret. I said to my boyfriend that I wanted to be alone. All my friends asked me, “Are you in love with another man?” I said to everyone, “I want my body to get some rest. I want my body to understand what my body really wants. Maybe my body wants some caresses but nothing more.”
I had the intuition that pleasure could be something very important. What I expected from sex was to trust someone so much that I could be fully there, my soul and my body. Sometimes, physically, I was there, but my mind was in exile. Sometimes, my soul was there, but very far from my body.
I had the courage to say, “That’s enough.”
The first days and weeks after my decision, I was so happy. I was happy because instantly I realized I was not wrong. I noticed that I started to desire. But it was not desire for a man; it was a desire for everything. I went to Greece. I went swimming. I was taking pleasure in the water on my skin. Taking a bath, laughing with friends — my body was open to every pleasure.
When you are not focused on the boring sex you had, you are no longer blind; you see very deeply into another person. The other aspect is you feel very shy with people because everybody is making love, and if you’re not making love you say to yourself, “Have I the right to talk about life?”
Everyone worried about me. My attitude was like a mirror that I put in front of them. Maybe everyone was wondering if their own sex lives weren’t that good.
When my book was published in France, I was invited on a big radio show. The journalist talked to me as if I were a curiosity. Then there was an advertising break. The host said to me, “There are a lot of people calling in to say they’re in similar situations.”
Not having sex does not mean you are someone who is very sad or very boring. It means that you are free. Because if you want your body to make love, you can make love. It’s not a prison.
Sexuality defines a huge part of us. It’s something very natural. But we went too far with this idea. We let sex be the kingdom. We made it the most important thing in life. I don’t think it’s the most important thing in life. For me, the most important thing in life is love, poetry.
For me, the body is not a machine. It was a long process to realize this. Because when I was young my body was a machine.
My time of no sex ended because suddenly, in front of a guy, I was very honest. Instead of pretending, instead of protecting myself, I just said that I didn’t know if I was able to make love again. Maybe I forgot everything. This honesty opened the honesty of the guy in front of me.
I’m now 57. I sometimes have moments in my life without any sexual activity, but it’s not a problem. What I know now is if you can share with someone something that’s very true, even if it doesn’t last a long time, it’s a miracle in itself.
* Sophie Fontanel is a writer and a fashion columnist in Paris and the former editor-in-chief of Elle France. “The Art of Sleeping Alone”, her memoir about giving up sex, was published in 2013.