Can Celibacy Break 'Soul Ties?'
Intense, pleasurable sex can leave you feeling all types of emotions. Basking in the afterglow, it's possible to feel a deep, perhaps cosmic connection to the person next to you. This is a sign that a soul tie has formed.
"Soul ties feel as though [the people] were made for each other and share a spiritual connection, and often appear on a gradual basis after being physically intimate or having sex with someone," explained Charlotte Johnson, a sex and relationship expert based in the United Kingdom.
Soul ties are not scientific, but the concept has been embraced by a new-age spirituality community residing on social media platforms such as TikTok.
You can form and strengthen a soul tie through sexual encounters, according to Clara Manly, a clinical psychologist in California who specializes in relationships.
"That's where the term 'making love' comes from," Manly said. "You can have sex with anybody, but to make love to someone, you're taking it to a very sacredly intimate level."
Having sex out of anger or manipulation or by force can form and intensify a negative soul tie, Manly added.
'You can have sex with anybody, but to make love to someone, you're taking it to a very sacredly intimate level.'
Sex does change dynamics between people, but exclaiming that sex always turns into a deep soul connection is factually incorrect, according to biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, who is also a senior research fellow at the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University and chief science advisor for Match.com.
Fisher said the feeling of a cosmic connection can be explained by biology: "Any stimulation of the [genitals with another person] drives up the dopamine system in the brain and can push you over the threshold into falling in love. And once you fall in love with somebody, you can feel a real soul connection to them. It's that simple."
From religious Scripture to TikTok videos
Why are young, spiritual and liberal content creators embracing the term "soul ties" as sexually progressive? The popularity of soul ties is a symptom of a wider shift from organized religion to spirituality, Manly suggested. Plus, it reflects a wider rejection of hookup culture.
"Celibacy is literally the best thing you can do in a patriarchal society," TikToker Victoria Devall said in a video, adding that hookup culture benefits only men and disempowers women. "When you take back your power and only allow those who are truly worthy of you to touch you, which takes knowing your worth to hold that boundary, that's the revolution."
Voluntary celibacy is on the rise. Fewer women and men are engaging in casual sex, partly because they are drinking less alcohol and more of them are living at home with their parents, according to a 2021 study by Rutgers University. Traditionally a religious choice, sexual abstinence has been embraced as a healing tool.
This isn't necessarily a bad thing.
"[Celibacy] can be very good for being with yourself and understanding more of who you are and what you want," Fisher said.
"A psychological benefit of celibacy is not dealing with as much emotional trauma as someone who is not celibate. Though this is not always the case, it's more likely as they haven't been as vulnerable or open to any intimate situations," Johnson added.
On a practical level, not taking part in sexual activity with other people removes the risk of catching any sexual diseases, too.
Celibacy can allow you to reclaim autonomy over your sexuality and sexual desire, and redirect your energy, Manly said.
Can celibacy break soul ties, though?
"Celibacy of its own accord will do nothing to someone," Manly explained. "Whether it's five months or five years, if you're not doing soul work, no transformation has occurred."
Soul work is defined as practicing deep reflection to improve your relationship with yourself. Breaking a destructive soul tie has to be a conscious decision, or the individual will keep repeating the same toxic cycles.
If soul ties make sense and motivate you to stop engaging with people, relationships or sex that doesn't serve you, great. However, this is not a movement built from a fear of sex.
With the right person and in safe, consensual experiences, sex is good for us. Fisher lists the benefits of sex:
- Drives up dopamine levels, which give you energy, focus, motivation and optimism
- Orgasms flood the body with oxytocin, which provides a sense of calm; plus, the rush of endorphins pushes the pain threshold up by 10 percent
- Creates glowing skin
- Boosts the immune system
- Good for heart rate, respiration and blood pressure
- Promotes sleep
- Delivers oxygen to the brain
- Elevates mood
"Celibacy for a while can be very good," Fisher added. "For other people who get scared of sex and deny themselves for a long period of time, it's going to affect the brain. I mean, it's going to affect the way they see life."
It's OK to crave only meaningful sex with people who respect you and with whom you feel safe; it's also OK to want fleeting, one-night stands with people you don't care about (again, as long as you feel safe); and it's OK to choose celibacy and break soul ties to figure out why you keep having unfulfilling sex.
Whatever you want, it should feel good. Being too scared to touch someone's genitals for fear of forming an eternal cosmic bond with them? Probably won't feel good.