‘Boysober:’ Women are ditching ‘hot girl summer’ for celibacy.


Lifestyle influencer and college student Niy Johnson, 23, decided to go “boysober” at the end of the school year. 

She’s not alone.

2019 was the start of the “hot girl summer,” coined by Megan Thee Stallion in her hit single of the same name. Five years later, we’ve entered the era of a “boysober summer.” 

Single women have hopped on a new trend of abstaining from any romantic or sexual relationships with men, including dating and casual hookups. Therapists say the emergence of the boysober movement is indicative of a greater trend of young women taking a step back from sex and relationships and puts a new spin on voluntary celibacy. 

More women are taking a step back from dating. Here’s why. 

Trauma and relationship therapist Jordan Pickell says a majority of her clients who are single have taken an “intentional break from dating altogether” within the last year, and even more so within the last few months. 

With the rise of online dating, more women are experiencing burnout. 

“Dating apps require so much time, money and energy, and then people get unsatisfying and sometimes even harmful experiences in return,” she says.

Many of her female clients express laboring over curating their dating profiles, only to receive minimal energy in return from the men they want to date. 

Shadeen Francis, marriage and family psychotherapist and board-certified sex therapist, sees “boysober” as the counter to “boy crazy,” a narrative that often paints women as desperate or obsessed with male validation. 

Francis says that for young women in their early to mid 20s, the parts that are fun about dating have little to do with their potential partner. With online dating in particular, people can idealize a person without actually knowing anything about them. 

“(Young women) love fantasizing and daydreaming about the maybes and possibilities, and often find that actually talking to the person ruins it,” she says. “They love coming back and talking with their friends about their experiences, but the actual interactions that they’re having in these romantic or sexual settings are often disappointing or confusing or overwhelming, or sometimes they’re finding themselves in unsafe contexts.”

What is it like to go ‘boysober’?

Johnson and her best friend used to joke that they were never single at the same time. As soon as her friend became more serious with her partner, Johnson realized she was in a place where she wanted to be “the exact opposite of that.” 

“I’m such a lover girl. It’s not that I’m always looking for relationships, but I don’t mind dating and just experiencing people,” she says. “I wouldn’t say that I got a lot of pushback from my friends, and if I did, it was more so them not thinking that I would be able to do it.”

But three months in, she’s found it easier than expected – even calling it “fun.” 

Before going boysober, Johnson had gotten out of a two-year relationship and another serious relationship that followed. While dating, she was “always the friend who was with her boyfriend” and felt her female friendships would suffer. 

“I was just so engulfed in my boyfriend,” she says, adding that he would tag along on her hangouts with friends. “It can be a little bit aggravating to have friends like that, and I didn’t want to be that friend. I wanted to be a good friend, and not just a friend who was focused on her relationship.”

She also found herself in unsatisfying relationships. 

Since going boysober, she’s learned how to set boundaries for herself and decentralize men and dating in her life. 

“I’m so comfortable with not talking to guys, being in a relationship, looking for a relationship or seeking male validation,” she says. 

What makes this different from voluntary celibacy? 

For Johnson, going boysober was “a fun spin on celibacy,” as it entails all the same things as celibacy but “just in an exciting way.”

Francis says the language we use actually goes way deeper, and reflects a communal aspect that makes boy-sobriety so appealing to young women.  

While celibacy centers abstinence, sober is about “clear-headedness.”

“The language is a lot about reclaiming that energy for yourself,” she says. “You still get to be a sexual or sensual being, even if you’re no longer in pursuit of or trying to get the attention of partners.”

“Boysober” also moves away from the historical context of celibacy, which Francis says has often been about “purity, external forces, and proving or earning something.”

What is voluntary celibacy? The sexual empowerment of saying ‘no’

Changing what it feels like to be single

Women are redefining what it means to be single, Pickell says. 

“(Being single) is not something shameful. It doesn’t signal any kind of lack, but it is an empowered choice,” she says. “By going boysober, women are actively decentering men in their lives, and rather than trying to please men, taking a step back.”

Through this intentional break, some of Pickell’s clients have even realized they were queer and were able to begin exploring their sexuality. 

“You can get so caught up in the game of compulsory heterosexuality that you don’t even necessarily realize or entertain the idea of dating people other than men,” she says. 

Is there a future for the ‘boysober’ trend? 

Like most trends, Pickell and Francis say boy-sobriety will likely come and go because most people ultimately still want romantic partnership. 

Johnson set a goal to stay boysober through the summer, and while she plans to continue it, she says after that she’ll be open to dating if the right person comes her way. 

“I really just want to build a strong and meaningful connection and friendship with whoever I decide to be intimate with in the future,” she says. 

Going boysober has also helped her realize what she wants in a future partner, and she feels more confident in her ability to enter more fulfilling relationships going forward.

Even if it’s only temporary, Johnson recommends anyone struggling with a need for validation to go boysober and “put that energy back into themselves.” 

Pickell and Francis are also on board. 

“When (young women) almost inevitably go back into the world and pursue dating and relationships,” Francis says. “They can be clearer about their boundaries and advocate for what it is that they want from a partnership, and feel less overwhelmed or hooked by the drama of it all.”

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