WOMEN AND MEN TESTIMONY 'By month four, I dreamed of romance. By month five, I had the libido of a chimp.' When you give up sex, weird things happen. By Annalisa Barbieri
it started off by accident and then became something of a raison d'etre: giving up sex for a year. The reason for casting myself into a sexual desert I cannot remember exactly, but I do recall my heart being a little bruised and my head confused. Sex, as I remember it, usually confused matters further. Initially it was also a novel way of saying "I'm single". Then, as friends and colleagues (because of course I told everyone) said "you'll never last" it became a very real goal with an almost diet-like mentality (if I have one I'll have to have the whole packet). Thus it was that I discovered that when you give up sex, weird things happen.

The first three months were difficult. Moments of pure lust would hit me at absurd moments. I had dinner (at the 10 week stage) with a male journalist friend of mine and someone I had known platonically for years. He was recounting a very serious story he had just worked on. But as the details got progressively more grown-up and serious and dinner went from hors to pud my thought process went thus: "mm, you look nice" to "yes you really are rather sexy" to "take me now or I shall nail you to this table". I kept trying to concentrate on what he was saying, going "yes yes" and "really?" and nodding my head and thinking of holy things and freshly mown grass and peeling onions. Anything to stop those naughty, sexy thoughts that were surely being transmitted via my massively dilated pupils. I felt guilty big time, because not only was I mentally potting him, but I was doing it at a most inappropriate moment.

But by month four I was practically dead from the waist down. Sexual frustration was replaced by romantic frustration. I dreamed of romance, kissing, holding hands but not sex - which now seemed all very far away. Parties became just a reason for going out and having fun with no thought of "maybe the man of my dreams will be there." I felt let off the hook; it was like thinking "I really should go to the gym today" and then remembering that you couldn't because your leg was broken so the decision was taken away from you.

I had a lot of male friends already but now I felt even safer in forging new friendships with men without any misunderstanding. Because goddammit I was celibate and didn't everyone know about it.

I was also starting to discover certain things that I had not expected to. One was the way some men reacted (those with egos the size of San Francisco). Saying you were celibate to them made their eyes glow determinedly. (If only I had discovered this jolly useful tactic before.) Because they were, of course, so gorgeous that they and only they would make you break your resolve. I also became much more in touch with my natural sex drive. Whereas before I had always thought it to be a hit and miss affair I now realised, and felt, the difference. And realised that it was actually rather scientific. When I had sex on tap I didn't realise that there were times of the month (just after my period) when biologically I just didn't feel like it and times (14 days after) when I had the libido of a bonobo pygmy chimpanzee. It was like going on a fasting diet and then retuning in to your appetite.

When I was not in the mood it was fine. Talk of sex and boys bored me and girls who wanted to talk about sex and boys bored me. I wanted to talk about work, watch the news, listen to classical music. I was serious, focused, I didn't flirt. Then my "dangerous 48 hours" would start, although as the months passed this became a misnomer because 48 hours became eight days as my appetite went unsatiated. These times were fun, but mad. I would have ceaseless energy, be creative, flirt with everyone, develop mad crushes, listen to mood-lifting music and dress like I cared. And stranger still, when I wasn't in either of these stages I would worry about things that I hadn't even thought about since I was a teenager: the end of the world, the Odden Feature, why fruit is loaded with pesticides, and what to do about world over-population.

By month six I felt unbelievably cleansed, my head had cleared and I knew what I wanted. And it was sex and maybe love. And I couldn't have it, because I still had six bloody months to go, and I couldn't risk getting into any situation where sex might follow. I had also been asked to write a few pieces on sex which wasn't fair. I was working from memory, calling good friends saying "what does that bit look like again?" I had no idea if I would even remember what to do, how did you snog someone? Did you automatically know where to put your nose or what? It was like being a teenager again.

How priests manage it I don't know - prayer isn't an option I explored. It had been interesting but by month seven I decided that to continue might not be in the interests of my friends and colleagues. My moods became ever more heightened, so bad ones became murderous; sexy moods drove me so bonkers I felt one wing short of an Always Ultra.

My conclusion? Sex is powerful. Suppress it and it manifests itself in other ways. We all know the trite phrase usually thrown at women by men - "she needs a good seeing to". Well it's true. Sex makes most people happy, you're more tolerant, more settled and generally you smile more. With five months still to go I have decided that going without it can turn you into a very cross chimp indeed. Pass the nuts.