According to Tim Gunn, the “Project Runway” star, you can get by quite nicely without any sex, for up to three decades. This week Tim had the courage to tell us on national TV that he hasn't been sexually intimate with anyone since a painful past romance during which his partner criticized his sexual performance. A negative critique of one's sexuality can indeed be painful but doesn't usually lead to 29 years of abstinence. In Tim's case, though, it may have played a part. My best guess as a psychologist is that there have been many other factors at work here. Yes, the painful relationship may have made him "gun shy" but he probably always lacked a huge sexual appetite. Just as people vary in their appetite for food they vary in their appetite for sex. And in my field we refer to this as the "sexual appestat."
I believe Tim when he says that he has been happy without sexual intimacy in his life. He is an attractive man with a lot of appeal and undoubtedly has many opportunities to indulge. In fact, he probably gets more offers than he can remember. He most likely made a decision to channel his energy elsewhere and got out of the groove of sexual activity. And, perhaps he found ways to satisfy himself that do not involve a partner. That is his business and his choice.
The message that he is putting out there is that not all gay men are hyper-sexual and that, yes, one can survive quite nicely even when not immersed in relationships and the bodies of partners. Tim Gunn has not spoken the unspeakable. He has simply spoken out loud
And he has spoken out loud for a multitude of men and women who have chosen to be celibate for a number of reasons including religious, health, and lifestyle reasons. There are no clear numbers available about the number of men and women who choose to abstain from sex. From speaking to and reading about men and women both in and out of relationships, however, it is clear that sex is NOT a priority on everyone's list of to-do activities. Some people would rather focus their energy on work and exercise. Yet others simply have low sexual desire. The entire spectrum of sexual activity from none to a great deal is within the normal spectrum.
The good news is that individuals and relationships can thrive either without the sexual component and can flourish with lots of body contact. The key is for both members of a couple to be matched on the level of desire. There is no such thing as a normal amount of sexual activity despite the results of studies that ask couples how frequently they have sex. Studies give us averages that are based on a wide range of responses, including 0 times per week to daily sex.
The bottom line is to define the level of sexuality that works for you and to live by that standard.
Dr. Barbara Greenberg is the co-author of the hit book, "Teenage as a Second Language: A Parent's Guide to Becoming Bilingual." Check out her interactive website for parents and teens to listen, learn and discuss hot topics and daily dilemmas. You can find it at www.talkingteenage.com.