Lately, after conversations with friends and close family members, I’ve been pondering the idea of taking a vow of celibacy. But, like any good journalist, I wanted to do some research first, before committing to something that sounded so absolute. And some of the things I found actually made me change my mind. I’ll preface this research by saying that a few months ago, I set a goal for myself. That goal basically entailed tabling the idea of casual sex. But, when I thought through my decision, I realized that my motivation was not one of religious origin, like many decisions made concerning sex often are. Thanks to personal experience, and a very convincing argument made by my Intimate Relationships textbook, I just believe that sex would be all around more satisfying and enjoyable if reserved for a loving relationship. I hate to sound like a prudent conservative, because that honestly is not my thought process at all. I’ll give an example of how I’m feeling. I’ve always wanted to do it to music. The “Baby-Making Music” playlist in my iTunes library not only has a high play count, but is frequently revised and added to. Unfortunately, when I was engaging in casual sex, I never felt like I had earned the right to make such requests as, “Do you think we could turn on some music instead of, you know, the television? I brought my iPod.” Those rights, I believed, were reserved for girlfriends and other similarly committed partners. I wanted to reserve that sometimes sacred act for a situation where I felt comfortable enough to throw on Miguel’s “Teach Me” when things began to heat up. So, for me, I wanted to take what felt like an eight experience on the scale of one-to-ten, to it’s maximum potential. I’m not promising to save myself for marriage, but at least someone who’s worth it.
That being said, the research I did returned some interesting information. First, the word “celibacy” seems to have deviated from its original meaning. Many people use the word to mean abstaining from sexual intercourse, when in actuality the word to describe that is simply “abstinence“. “Celibacy” as defined by Webster and a host of other reputable sources, actually refers to a refusal to get married. The word comes from the Latin caelebs, meaning “unmarried”. Biblically, believers were asked to take such a vow and abstain from marriage because it was believed to be a distraction from Christian service. Another saintly definition outlines that “…Celibacy excludes not only libidinous acts, but also sinful thoughts or desires of the flesh.” According to the Western Christian Church, celibacy involves abstaining from “the use of marriage” which is believed to mean to resist any sexual contact even within marriage. That definition, I believe, conflicts with the whole challenge given by God to “… be fruitful and multiply…” from Genesis. Also, I was taught that sex between a husband and a wife is not only okay, but should be celebrated. Lastly, Gabrielle Brown, author of The New Celibacy wrote, “… Abstinence is a response on the outside to what’s going on, and celibacy is a response from the inside.” The goal behind celibacy, as defined this way, even without religious motivation, is to achieve personal, psychological growth.
Whew! That was quite a bit of research to digest. But here’s more. I ventured to a website that celebrates celibacy from a presumably Christian perspective, and found a bulleted list of The benefits of living without sex. A few of these “benefits” stuck out to me, and not in a good way.
- Enjoy feelings of self worth, empowerment, and individuality.
- Know that someone loves you for who you are rather than what you can give sexually.
- Avoid the heartbreak, regret, anger and emotional turmoil that a failed sexual relationship brings. Avoid giving away something precious, only to be left feeling used and worthless.
- Learn how to love unconditionally rather than lust …
- Enjoy feeling emotionally healthy and stronger, more able to face the future. Many people use sex as an escape from the disappointments and pain in their lives, only to find that sex brings them more problems than it solves.
Now, I’m not fooled into believing that this website is more than just opinion, religion, and speculation. But I feel like it is a good indication of what many of us have been socialized to believe. There is no guarantee that those of us who indulge in pre-marital sex, or do not choose a celibate lifestyle will be heartbroken, regretful, and angry because of it. On the contrary, there is not guarantee that those who do choose celibacy will be able to completely avoid those feelings. Also, being sexually active doesn’t mean that I am unable to face the future. Once again, it would be ignorant to assume that simply because you’re not having sex with your partner, that you couldn’t still be used in another way. I know plenty of people who have been in unhealthy relationships without sex. And a non-sexual relationship does not necessarily equate to an unconditionally loving one. What I’m saying with all of this is simply, don’t drink the Kool-Aid. Your experience may be different than others. Don’t let someone convince you that sex has been the bane of your existence, when in actuality it’s only been a small part of your life. If, however, you’ve had a longing for all of these feelings and lacking in all of these things, then maybe celibacy is right for you. (I’d really like to delve deeper into the socialization piece, but I’ll do some more research before that one.)
Another issue I found with taking a vow of celibacy came into play while doing more research. The article How to Take a Vow of Celibacy lists a multitude of steps towards taking and maintaining such a serious vow, from figuring out why you really want to take one to avoiding temptation and shifting your concentration to other things. One step that very clearly helped me to make my choice.
3. Tell those around you about your vow of celibacy. While you can keep your vow of celibacy a secret, it could be more effective if you let those close to you in on your vow. Doing so can help others be supportive of your decision. As a rule of thumb, it’s rarely a good idea to hide any life changing events such as this from those who are close to you. If you are in a relationship, it is definitely important to tell your partner about your decision.
Call me antisocial, but I don’t know that it is anyone else’s business (except for the person I am involved with) whether I choose to have sex or not. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for girl talk, and the juicier the better. But I just feel like if you are so adamant about refraining from sex, it should be a personal charge and not something that your whole posse has to hold you accountable for. I’m starting to ramble, so I’ll cut to the main reason why I don’t feel like a celibacy vow is right for me. Many of the literature I read suggests that living a sex-free lifestyle opens the door for you to devote yourself to so many other fulfilling endeavors. Maybe I am different from most people, but sex just doesn’t rule my life. It doesn’t keep me from doing anything, or distract me from any opportunities for growth and success. Even my decision to reserve it for the proper occasion has not been a decision that occupied a vast majority of my mind. I guess, if I were in a committed relationship that seemed to be centered around sex, or if I felt like my sexuality was really getting me into sticky situations, or if every weekend consisted of casual sex with a different, nearly anonymous partner, celibacy might be a more reasonable choice. Or if I was grappling with my sexuality and my devotion to God, I could understand taking such a vow a little better. But none of these things are true for me. Sex has never really been that big of a deal to me, even before I got in the game. And, I don’t think the decision not to have it would be any more serious. Also, the word “vow” just sounds so permanent. I want the freedom to change my mind as I change my circumstances without feeling guilty about wanting something different. How long are these things supposed to last? Until marriage? After marriage? I don’t know, this is really just a slightly educated rant, but I can tell you that right now, the previous goal I set for myself is just fine.