Saskatoon·Point of View

I'm a sex writer who's not having sex

Abstinence hasn’t been about personal growth and growing up; it wasn’t about finding myself. I’ve always known who I am. It was about redefining my boundaries; not just in sex but in relationships, in my art, in defining how I allowed myself to be treated.

Abstinence has been an experiment of what boundaries I want to keep and what I define as sex

Tenille K. Campbell is a Dene/Métis artist from English River First Nation, Sask., and the author of #IndianLovePoems. (Erica Lee)

I slowly count the days until my birthday. I'm turning 36 but more importantly, in less than five weeks, it will be exactly one year since I had sex with someone. 

Yep, I'm a sex writer who's not having sex. I make another mental note to reply to the messages in my various social media apps, a visual reminder that this abstinence is a personal choice, not for a lack of options. 

My last partner was a beautiful Black man who drank apple whiskey with me and we listened to his favourite songs from back home as we cuddled in bed. He made me laugh as we discussed the subtleness of Canadian racism and our favourite authors, basking in an afterglow of mutual satisfaction and mental stimulus. And once he left the bedroom of the Airbnb I was staying in, I smiled, turned over and slept, only waking for my flight back the next day. 

Once home, I was having coffee and telling stories about my trip to my peers, noting what professors I had met and what I had lectured about. They laughed, rolled their eyes and asked, "but who did you snag?" 

I laughed, brushing it off. As an author known for erotic Indigenous poetry, I'm used to questions about my intimate life, as if my body was consumable, too, even to those I love. 

"But for real – who was it this time? Do you even know his name?" And they laughed, leaning in. 

In that instant, I made a decision. 

"No one." 

"I don't believe that — you? Why not?" 

The insistence that I obviously was sleeping with someone and that they had a right to these stories was an ugly feeling. It took me a long time to identify that the separation between my poetry and my body is a real thing — a guarding, a protection, if you will. And everyone from boys in DM's to even my closest friends were acting like witigos of old: devouring stories I had already given, demanding more than I wanted to give, thinking they had the right to cross that invisible barrier between my art and my body. 

I leaned back, both physically and mentally, telling nothing. 

Weekends passed, and I let my Tinder go silent. Messages went unanswered and old boyfriends' texts at 2 a.m. were deleted. 

One month, then two, three and four. We were deep in the summer heat, me travelling to the coast, to new cities, to Toronto, to Ottawa, and still my bed remained empty. The questions persisted and awkward laughter surrounded me when I fed them nothing. 

We were coming into the fall again, a time of winter cuddles and hibernation, when I understood that this was an action-based choice I was making. At first, coming from a space of righteous indignation, but now sitting in a comfortable space of mentally letting go of the game of flirtation, of the pursuit, of being pursued. 

In the past year, I have finished the draft of my second book of poetry and started on my third. I've started working intensely on my thesis. I've attended birthday parties and social gatherings, sharing shots and tattoos with new friends. I've travelled throughout Turtle Island, speaking in classrooms and communities with women and people that connect with my work. These are things I would have done, regardless of a snag or not, but the mental clarity and emotional space that not being in multiple situation-ships has brought has been enthralling. 

Don't get me wrong — there have been kisses on dance floors under neon lights. There's been hand holding, driving around town. There's been hours upon hours of conversations over Timbits at midnight. There's been slow, sensuous nights in bed with men who don't push my boundaries, grateful for a chance to just be present with me. 

And now, here we are five weeks out from a year of no snagging, a transition I never expected myself to take. 

Abstinence hasn't been about personal growth and growing up; it wasn't about finding myself. I've always known who I am. It was about redefining my boundaries; not just in sex but in relationships, in my art, in defining how I allowed myself to be treated. It's been a beautiful year of consent and conversation.

And, no, you don't get to ask what happens once these five weeks are up.


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tenille K. Campbell is a Dene/Métis artist from English River First Nation, Sask. She completed her MFA in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia and is currently working on a doctoral degree in Indigenous literature at the University of Saskatchewan. Her debut poetry collection, #IndianLovePoems (Signature Editions) is a celebratory, slyly funny and bluntly honest take on the erotic side of contemporary Indigenous life. She currently resides in Saskatoon.

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