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Thursday, Dec. 3, 2009

Living the Celibate Life

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I was wondering if you could recommend any good resources on nonreligious celibacy. That is, I'm thinking about being celibate, but [this] isn’t related to any religious values.

As a sexuality educator, I believe there are many reasons for someone to choose not to engage in sexual activity. In two of my previous columns, I answered reader questions about asexuality, which is generally defined as not feeling sexual attraction or desire. Celibacy is different, as it can involve people who do have sexual desires, but choose not to act on them. Some people define celibacy as not having sexual contact with other people, where for others it may mean no sexual activity of any kind, including masturbation.

In our culture, we most commonly associate celibacy with religious instruction or values, as you note in your question. Some religious denominations require their spiritual leaders to be celibate, and some also teach that celibacy is expected from all followers who are not married.

However, there are many other reasons that someone might choose to abstain from sex. Some people may feel overwhelmed by our hypersexual society and the pressures that it places on all genders to be continually sexually available and attractive. Some may be recovering from sexual trauma, an abusive relationship or even just a bad breakup and need to take some time away from sex to heal. Others may wish to redirect the energy that they focused on sex to another area of their lives to grow in a new direction. Still others may have health concerns that cause them to rethink sexual activity.

Regardless of the reason, a person who chooses to be celibate can be healthy, happy and satisfied, as long as the choice not to have sex is coming from an internal sense of honesty and peace with oneself and not a sense of shame or fear about sex. Since our society does place a huge emphasis on sex as a marker of happiness, social status or the health of a relationship, it can be difficult to convince friends or others in your life that celibacy is, indeed, a good choice.

This is where the resources you request would come in handy. Unfortunately, and very surprisingly, I was not able to find much. While a number of online forums, communities and newsletters have sprung up for asexuals, similar resources for people who are choosing to be celibate outside of a religious context don't appear to exist. After checking with other experts in the field and my usual go-to Web sites, most resources are either geared toward specific religious communities or "abstinence education" for teens. There are a few books out there aimed at adult women that don't have an explicit religious context, but I personally take exception with the fact that these books in some ways reinforce gender stereotypes about the nature of women's sexuality (we're so emotional and romantic!) and also promote the idea that women are somehow the gatekeepers of men's sexuality and, by extension, society's. I wish these books were written for all genders, as there are certainly men out there who are interested in celibacy—the last I heard, Lenny Kravitz had decided to remain celibate for a number of years.

Readers, if you know of any resources about celibacy that you would recommend, please comment on this article or send them to me.

Want Laura to answer your questions in SEXpress? Send them to laura@shepex.com. Not all questions received will be answered in the column, and Laura cannot provide personal answers to questions that do not appear here. Questions sent to this address may be reproduced in this column, both in print and online, and may be edited for clarity and content.

Laura Anne Stuart has a master’s degree in public health and has worked as a sexuality educator for more than a decade. She owns the Tool Shed, an erotic boutique on Milwaukee’s East Side.

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