The New Celibates

How ironic that in a year where religious, and especially priestly, celibacy has been put under a microscope, debated and often excoriated, the secular hipsters in New York City are discovering the power that comes with celibacy:

“I had man whiplash,” [Julia Allison] says. “I needed to put my neck in a brace.”

She issued a proclamation, writing on her Web site last week, “I decided to codify my unofficial gut reaction of ‘I really don’t feel like dating’ into an official ‘No Dating, No Sex’ stance, at least for the next month, and perhaps beyond that.”

She’s at the point, she says, where she doesn’t want to seek intimacy without the potential for a serious relationship. “I’ve always been against the New York version of fast-food sex. Believe me, come on, please, I’ve slept with guys I don’t love before, but I’ve frankly reached the age where I don’t want to do that anymore. I’ve dipped my toes in those waters, and it’s cold.”

I have heard of artists whose policy
it is to forego sexual activity of any kind while they are in the middle of a project; they feel their work is stronger for having sublimated their sexual energy into it. Some Buddhists and Taoists I have studied and worked with have spoken of the need to keep sexual energy focused and restrained–reined in, if you like and not allowed to wreck havoc on one’s own being–if its power is to be respected and perfectly utilized in life.

In our society, people who have decided to put sex in perspective in their lives have been looked at as walking freak shows. Tim Tebow is a case in point:

Get accused twice of rape (Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh), repeatedly abuse your wife (Michael Pittman, Tampa Bay), regularly strangle and drown hapless dogs (Michael Vick, Atlanta)? Ah, well, boys will be boys, it is society’s fault — and besides, women and dogs don’t wear Super Bowl rings. But pray, work with the poor, and refuse to engage in casual sex — there’s something seriously wrong with you. Or, as one Sports Illustrated writer put it, you are a certified “wackdo.”

Of course, I’ve been sounding this cry for a while:

. . .the Orgasm is the new Idol. It is the Alpha and Omega of their human experience.

This is not simply the reactionary rant of a conservative. Way back when I was a liberal, I thought way too much emphasis was being placed on sex, sexuality and the almighty O. I remember nursing my elder son and flipping on the tv , only to find a women’s talk show carrying on about how orgasms brought meaning to their lives, raised their consciousness, made them the equal of men, yadda yaddda . . . Sex is great. It is also sacred. And holy. We’re not taught that, anymore.

Now, clearly, some are wondering if maybe this a lesson they want to learn, after all. Perhaps the people who most vociferously denigrate others who attempt limited (or lifelong) celibacy are people who are too afraid to try it for themselves. As one woman in the Post article says: “I considered celibacy . . . But I think it’s harder to not have sex than to have sex.”

Yes, it is altogether easier to go with the flow. Chesterton said, “A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.”

Increasingly, the popular culture seems a dead thing. Perhaps that is why some are going counter-cultural. Let’s listen to what these young women have to say about reclaiming sexuality, and what that does to the ability to focus, and to love.

Cassy Fiano: has more thoughts
Bookworm: Football, faith and media

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • RandyB

    The difference, of course, being that the first group are eschewing sex for the sake of self, while the religious are eschewing sex for a truly higher purpose.

    [Yes, but it's a start. Even a very religious person begins by giving up with an aim to "getting" something for the self (it's just that eventually they learn that the more you give up, the more you get-admin]

  • Andy

    Gotta agree with Randy – adopting the outward trappings of religion without the inward regeneration of the heart is a lost cause.

    [I don't see them "adopting the outward trappings of religion" with this. I see them making a bare-minimum choice to sane up their lives a little. I only brought the nuns into it because they had interesting things to say about reclaiming sexuality. I think it's unfair (and wrong) to charge these people with adopting outward trappings of religion simply because they've decided to close their legs and zip up their pants. Give them credit for calling a time out, and hope they grow from it to the point where they even CONSIDER something higher than themselves. Why so fast to criticize? -admin]

  • AMDG

    I have always found it interesting that popular culture highlights a sort of sexual cognitive dissonance: sleep around to find love. I suppose it works in theory (movies and television) but not in practice (real life). What is slightly depressing is that people can’t seem to distinguish one from the other.

  • Bender

    Tim Tebow is a walking freak show. But not because of celibacy. He is a walking freak show because he and his family have been pushing this Cult of Tim Tebow for way too long now.

    As for sex, it is very easy not to have sex if you are single. After all, it requires that the other say “yes,” and the fact is, despite the way it is portrayed on TV, most people are not having sex with someone new every five minutes. Rather, even though many may try to and want to, they end up crashing and burning and going home alone. The guys anyway, and not a few of the girls.

    But involuntary celibacy really does not count. What counts is chastity. Virginity is no virtue if it is not accompanied by chastity. THAT is the virtue which is sorely lacking. Even those that have embraced the morality of chastity still are infected by the temptations of the desire for human intimacy or outright sexual lust. Hence the prayer, God grant me chastity . . . but not yet.

    And chastity is sorely lacking in society today because love is so sorely lacking. That is what most are really looking for. It is just that it takes too many too long to realize that you rarely will find love in a single person’s bed or backseat, and it is all too lacking in the beds of married people as well.

  • Mary

    There is no telling what the consequences of abstinence will be for any soul who undertakes it. The path of virtue has many astounding revelations on it.

  • cathyf

    One of the things that I tell my teenager and almost-teenager is that the bottom line of sexuality is either it’s all in or it’s out. And “all in” means married, permanently, with the intention of making a total gift of yourself to your spouse. And, I’m sorry, “self-control is so wonderful” is a load of crap when it means “I control our sexuality.” Total, permanent, irrevocable gift of yourself to your spouse means that you don’t get to take it back because you need that energy to devote to your art, or your job, or your children, or some stupid game, or whatever more-or-less centered-on-self pastime you have going that you’ve decided is more important.

    Any me-me-me-me-me rationale for celibacy is a violation of your marriage vows if you are married. If you are not married, then any reason beyond “not married” is superfluous.

  • Dee

    52..never had it…never will. It’s not that hard to avoid if you know who you are and where you are going and have always had Jesus on your mind every single day since you were little. I’m not particularly virtuous, however, since I’ve never let myself be alone with someone in a tempting situation. Those who do and resist are more virtuous than I.

  • Gayle Miller

    i was a virgin until the age of 26 when I decided to hop into the sexual revolution with both feet (disturbing mind picture that). At age 50, I hopped back out and have stayed out. I find my life so much less complicated and my friendships so much more fulfilling and drama-free!

  • Gayle Miller

    Just reread Bender’s post. You are a fascinating human Bender – with a distinctive and very interesting way of thinking. Just thought a word of appreciation was overdue.

  • Bender’s Cheerleader

    I’ve been saying that about Bender for 9 months or so, Gayle…better watch out- I’m the jealous type!:D

  • James the lesser

    Your observation that sex is the alpha and omega in the modern world is accurate: sex is the god and the ritual–and perhaps not altogether surprisingly. The union of two people isn’t purely physical, and at some level they know that.

    The natural operations of sex even somewhat resemble the “fruits of the Spirit.” That they are not the same is obvious—one need merely look for the fruits of the the “fruits of the Spirit” to see that. Love, joy, etc are supposed to have lasting effects and produce results in our lives. But the appearances are still there when the sex works right.

    (We all know of people who wake up with a stranger, or feel disgusted with themselves, or even “past reason loved” resulting in “past reason hated.” But these aren’t what they were looking for in sex.)

    * Love. Even without a marriage to sustain it, sex can result in a strong affection. In fact it bonds so strongly that you feel almost like a part owner of the other person. The bonding is dulled by promiscuity, and selfish people focus on their pleasure and their “ownership.”
    * Joy. Excitement and pleasure on the one hand and satisfaction and satiation on the other resemble joy.
    * Peace. Satisfaction and exhaustion make you feel peaceful.
    * Patience. Oops: Sex isn’t famous for producing patience.
    * Kindness. Serving your partner’s pleasure is one sort of kindness.
    * Goodness. Oops: Sex isn’t obviously connected with goodness, although you can play semantic games about it being a good thing.
    * Faithfulness. For a moment, at least, one feels linked forever. But faithfulness is a long-term thing, and the emotions I’m writing about here are quite temporary. Oops
    * Gentleness. Satiation and exhaustion can leave you feeling gentle. Excitement doesn’t always lead to gentleness, though. Half credit?
    * Self Control. Oops: Sex is not famous for inspiring self-control.

    I suppose 4 1/2 out of 9 isn’t bad for an imitation.

    If you discover something that seems like love, that bonds you to another person, and that seems to make you a better person, it makes sense to think about it a lot, and want to share it a lot. It isn’t just a matter of looking for sensual pleasure.

  • shirley elizabeth

    Chesterton said, “A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.”
    I have never heard that quote before, but I love it. Thank you.

    Also, throughout high school and college I’ve been the kind of person labeled “prude” by my classmates (something I’ve been completely fine with. To them it’s negative but to me, coming from them, it means I’m holding to my morals), and they probably would still today, though I’m married – even at so young. The secret they don’t know or care to hear about because it would make them look like fools? I enjoy a hugely fulfilling and beautiful sex life with my husband, something they’re still looking for in their lover turnover and one-night stands.

  • Mary

    Any me-me-me-me-me rationale for celibacy is a violation of your marriage vows if you are married. If you are not married, then any reason beyond “not married” is superfluous.

    There’s a difference between “for the greater glory of God” and “because getting laid demanded that I pay attention to the other person” — and an entire range in between. An objectively good act needs a good subjective intention to be the right thing to do.

  • Jen

    Your comments about seculars turing towards a period of celibacy for a time, is interesting. I agree with other commenters that simply being celibate isn’t the same as turning their lives around and focusing on Christ, but, dare I say, it’s a start.

    A day without mortal sin is a good day, no?

    When I was younger and a newly-fervent Catholic, I couldn’t understand why people persisted in their sin. If it was easy for me to be ignited in the faith, surely it would be easy for anyone.

    As I age, I see that we are all on a journey towards God. Some of us are open to His grace. Others simply are not. But any step taken in the right direction, should be applauded, even if their reasons aren’t pure. After all, can any of us claim our reasons are always pure?

    I know of couples who practice NFP because it’s “good for the environment” or because by practicing that method of family planning, no toxins are entering the woman’s body. I wish they were using it because they see the beauty with which God’s plan is for marriage. However, I still think this is a great step in the right direction. And, it keeps the door to grace open.

    p.s. Anchoress-I just received the June/July copy of First Things. Oh my! Stunning. I love it already. Way to go FT!! I think RJN would be very proud.

    [Yes, I plan on writing about that redesign, next. -admin]

  • Bob Devine

    Why is it that every time the subject of nuns and priests comes up that the chastity aspect dominates the discussion so much? It is actually a very small part of the vocation of either the priesthood or being a nun.

  • Greta

    The reconnection of sex with love in marriage would have an amazing impact on our country and society as a whole. This would be then put on steroids if the sex, marriage, and union with God were bound tightly. It is not the act, but the reason for the act when it is done for another which is why Jesus gave us two important commandments of which the 1st and most important was loving God with our whole entire total heart, soul, and mind. I always note the order Jesus used with the heart first, then the soul, and only then the mind. We love our way to God and when we reverse the order we get into trouble. Only when we have the first one right is the 2nd even remotely possible to love others as He has loved us. We have to be filled with the love of God or we will only be offering up human love which is tainted in its best form. In its worse form, we forget God and give care and love of the other over to government nanny states.

    JPII Theology of the Body should be studied in depth in every high school and university. It should be part of every attempt for marriage, certainly in the church.