Have you watched the Seinfeld episode “The Abstinence”? In this episode, George doesn’t have sex for 6 weeks and gradually transforms into a genius.
The theory that is conveyed in that Seinfeld episode is that if you shift your focus from sex, your sexual energy could be harnessed into productive deeds.
In other words, if you just stop your fixation with sex, you’ll be able to fulfill your potential as a human being.
Sitcoms aside, many people believe that abstinence is purifying and has some virtue in it. And after I was asked — by completely normal people who are pondering the option of celibacy, mind you — about my thoughts on the matter, I decided to share my humble opinions with the world.
After all, all the saints we hear about were abstinent.
Surely this must mean being celibate is advantageous. But is it?
Celibacy or Abstinence?
For the purpose of this article, I am using these terms interchangeably.
And I also don’t distinguish between which form of abstinence/celibacy is being practiced.
It could be temporarily (say, only until marriage) or it can last a lifetime;
It could be refraining from penetrative sex with a partner or it can be refraining from doing anything that is deemed “sexual” with a partner;
It could be depriving yourself of self-pleasuring (AKA masturbation) or it could be depriving yourself of finding a partner.
Anything that falls into the realm of deliberate avoidance of acting out a sexual desire, is, in this discussion, abstinence.
Three Things to Contemplate Before Going Celibate:
I want to discuss a few valid reasons people have for abstinence.
1. Sex or porn addiction.
Sex and porn addiction are real. they happen to normal people, and they can seriously ruin lives, like addiction to any other substance. Without going into too many details, it is important to differentiate between a prominent — yet healthy — sexual appetite, and an addiction.
The main indications that someone is addicted to sex or porn are: a growing dependency; a need for a “bigger/stronger dose” in order to achieve the same amount of satisfaction; and a deterioration of other aspects of one’s life.
If you suspect that you are addicted to porn or to sex, you must treat it. And abstinence is an important recovery strategy.
Here are a couple of resources if you want to know more:
Unfortunately, some people think they are addicted, when, in fact, they simply have a strong sexual desire.
Many times these people are influenced by religious or spiritual beliefs of what a normative or optimal sex life looks like. And since their desires, arousal patterns, or fantasies might differ greatly from whatever is being promoted as ideal, people wrongly assume that they are addicted.
In this case, abstinence might actually make things worse.
Trying to fight a natural tendency of ourselves as sexual creatures can propel us into a cycle of shame. So instead of embracing our sexual self and finding the right people to celebrate it with, we cover our desires with celibacy.
If you suspect that you have a sex addiction, please check it with reliable resources, then find a plan to break the cycle of dependency. Abstinence will, most probably, be part of such a plan. But deciding to abstain from sex just because someone else tells you that masturbating 3 times a day is evil, is actually not healthy.
2. Testing our ability to overcome desire.
Contrary to common belief, desire is never fulfilled. It only stops temporarily and then it starts again. Can you recall the last time you’ve been fully content? And how long did it last?
Desire changes form and object, but in and of itself, it keeps running our lives. And some may say, ruining our lives.
It matters not what your desire is for: a better income, a bigger house, designer shoes. A fine dining experience, an adventure in New Zealand, running a marathon, climbing the Kilimanjaro. Finding true love, having a baby, being admired by your peers. Sex.
Sex is yet another desire we have.
Sure, from an evolutionary point of view it has an important role to play. Without it, we can only imagine what would have happened to the human race.
Still, it is merely a desire.
And, like any other desire, seeing that we can live happily without succumbing to it is an amazing realization.
The question that remains is: are you actually going to live happily, letting desire run in your psyche but never pursuing it, or are you going to fight it?
Are you hoping that by not acting upon your desire it will one day go away?
Or perhaps you think that you will feel joy whenever you overcome your desire and won’t falter? As if it is some sort of an accomplishment?
Let me tell you something.
There is nothing wrong with having a desire of any sort. You can decide to overcome it, or fight it, or ignore it.
But in order to be truly content, you better just look at your desire on a case by case basis.
You see the desire arises within you, you question its origin, you contemplate the implications of acting upon it, then you decide how to respond to it.
There is no battle. There is only seeing with eyes unclouded by the desire. Or by any dogma with a predetermined course of action, for that matter.
It comes to this.
If a monastery life calls you — if you feel sheer elation by the idea of letting go of any desire that arises within you as soon as it arises — then celibacy is definitely for you. A monastery is the perfect setting for living life this way, although you can decide to do it even while leading a life that looks completely normal to outside observers.
However, if you are thinking of celibacy as a form of escaping the misery of desire, you need to realize that desire arises everywhere and out of nowhere.
It won’t stop simply because you are abstaining.
You’ll be much better off learning how to channel your desires in a healthy, mature, responsible way.
Let me introduce you to my fear theory.
Once upon a time, before medicated forms of birth/disease control were introduced, institutionalized religions genuinely wanted to help their followers manage the atrocities of unwanted pregnancies and really bad infections.
So leaders started preaching and promoting an agenda that the only sex that should ever be practiced by anyone, is the one that is used for reproduction and reproduction alone. In order for it to be successful, they had to use the fear tactic.
Sex for pleasure had to become a monstrous idea so that people would never be interested in venturing there. Back in these dark ages, masturbation caused people to go blind, and the only sex that was not considered a sin was the one which God almighty has blessed with His holy matrimony.
For centuries, making people fear sex was a somehow effective method for reducing the occurrences of unplanned pregnancies and STDs.
Thing is, we don’t need that fear mentality anymore.
We now have readily available techniques to steer clear of all these maladies.
True, nothing is more effective than abstinence, but matching the right contraception for people’s own situation would be effective enough in most cases.
The original agenda of making sex a sin, that one in which it was used to protect and serve the people, has long been forgotten by… everyone.
And now clergy and commoners alike are left with beliefs that make them fear, be ashamed of, and feel disgusted by an activity that is otherwise beautiful, natural, uplifting, and at times even breathtakingly divine.
Many people still practice some form of abstinence because of fear.
When teenagers prefer practicing oral and anal sex — not out of pleasure, but out of fear that other forms of sex are sinful, it is not a helpful form of abstinence.
If the main reason you are considering celibacy is out of fear, either of pregnancies, diseases, or the wrath of some external power, I urge you to learn about the various forms of protection. And about forms of practicing sex which celebrate yourself as the creation of God.
You might decide abstinence is the best choice for you after all, but as long as your choice is based on facts and not on fear, you know you made the right decision.
Celibacy is an amazing, powerful choice for some.
It is a miserable choice for others.
If you are considering celibacy as a lifestyle, you could always try it for a predefined period of time. Then, try to ascertain if it makes your life better or worse. Reassess, and try a lengthier period of time to see how that feels. Rinse and repeat periodically.
At the end of the day, it is completely up to you.
Don’t ever let anyone pressure you into deciding to have sex — or not have sex — if that’s not what you really want to do.
P.S.- George Constanza from Seinfeld?
He ended up having sex and turning all stupid again.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you!