Celibacy sucks…

While that probably isn’t a surprise for someone in a relationship in which the sex is good, or at least not terrible, and the amount of sex at least approaches the frequency they want; for someone single and not sexually active, the phrase probably doesn’t need to be said. It is their reality. I realize some people have chosen celibacy as a holy calling, however for others, celibacy has been… thrust…. (sorry)…. upon them by a divorce, or a relationship dying. I guess there are many reasons why a person would choose not to be sexually active, but my time of celibacy has led me to look at sexuality in a larger sense. I have come to realize that my sexuality, and the manner in which I express it, is a much larger issue than whether I get to enjoy the intimacy of a sensual encounter with a woman. I have begun to understand how the masculine and feminine are inextricably intertwined in my own personality. I confess that I probably have more questions now about what it means to be male or female than ever before. Now, obviously, I’m not in need of an anatomy lesson. That isn’t my point; and my body tells me about the physical desire for a woman whenever one walks by in a bikini… just being honest. This is especially so after spending most of my life in the Midwest. I’m not used to seeing so much skin! I often feel self-conscious, as if I just inadvertently stepped into a women’s dressing room by mistake.

“Oops…. Sorry… I thought this was unisex, but that lingerie shows off your curves REALLY well!”

However, my brush with the power of sexuality in a physical sense leaves me questioning how we as a culture have treated it. Not just in a physical sense, but in a deeper, emotional and spiritual sense. What are the social/cultural cues regarding what roles men or women are supposed to fill? There seem to be mixed messages.

On the one hand, our culture seems to value a woman for how she looks. A woman should be beautiful. There are also parameters the culture mandates, as to what beautiful even means, as it regards to women. The media portrays how beauty is defined, especially as to size and shape. I suppose women feel objectified by this definition of beauty, and they should, for that is exactly what the image portrays. And yet… what is especially devious about this message is that few women are genetically predisposed to this size and shape. Whole arrays of businesses have risen to help women become this “goddess” of large-breasts-small-waist-cellulite-free-thighs-wrikle-free-skin-perfect-hair-white-straight-teeth-and-shapely-strong-butt-set-on-tan-legs. Living by the beach, I see women in constant movement in search of this self-perception. Women running, and riding bikes, and lifting weights, and laying out to get a tan, and whatever else will turn them into what they THINK men want. Or… at least I think that is why they do it. As if their identity is based on how their appearance approaches the media-induced portrait of what a woman SHOULD look like. I suppose if one were to ask them why they are going to such lengths… how they push their body to become this image… they might say they are pursuing health. I hope so. It just seems so easy for such a pursuit to plunge over the line into obsession.

There are also women, who seem to mock this “goddess” form. They wear clothing that exposes their apparent opposition to the form. They seem to be comfortable with their bodies, and their choice to bare it all is a big middle finger directed at public opinion to the contrary.

Then, there is another cultural voice that says women should pursue intelligence and achievement either instead of, or alongside physical beauty. Movies and television portray women that can not only out think a man, but also out work him. The message here seems to be one of independence, and even opposition to masculinity, or at least to the stereotype of a man created by our culture. It is as if men will be threatened by a smart, creative, gifted woman; and thereby become defensive, so a woman must always be on the offense against any perceived slight from a man. Obviously, a man WILL try to put down such a woman, right?

Then, there is the continuing battle between women who want to be a full-time mother/wife, and women who want to have a career, or women who want both.

Women can be especially harsh critics of not only each other, but of themselves as well.

The culture isn’t any kinder to men, in my view. Men are valued for the amount of money they either have or manage. Although I have noticed a slight shift towards valuing men also by their bodies, the message is pretty plain: Money equals attraction. Honestly, the journey to prosperity is getting harder for men, too. There are fewer jobs in this country for which it is advantageous to be physically male, and especially so for well-paying jobs. Jobs which utilize traditional male roles, are less available. The public, cultural perception still is that men have fewer obstacles in their career path than do women, and with the exception of child-bearing, I have come to believe this assumption is false. It seems there is a cultural war on masculinity. It feels like women and children are afraid of you sometimes. I heard Helen Fisher, (author of Why Him, Why Her) speaking about relationships on TED talks the other day. She said that she was asked if men were more inclined to adulterous affairs, and she responded that they were not. The questioner then asked if men weren’t more genetically inclined, and she responded sarcastically, “Who do you think they are having affairs with?”

In a marriage, the message to men is that they are to provide financially, yet also be more involved with the care of children, and daily tasks in the home. Actually, I agree with the former and with the latter if the wife works outside the home. However, doing those things will most likely mean that his earning potential will lessen because making more income usually means more time in some form or another. This is a lose/lose position for a man to be in. If he invests more time at work, in one or two, or three jobs; he isn’t a good husband/father. If he spends more time at home with the kids and wife, he isn’t a good provider.

There are social scientists/biologists who will say that these two ways of valuing the sexes are steeped in evolution.  A woman’s body was very important to be able to bear multiple children, so the species had a better opportunity to flourish, they will tell you. A man that could provide more of what the family needed also gave the species a better survival quotient. While that makes pretty good sense in a primal setting, it seems simplistic to me. I don’t think this view looks at our sexuality deeply enough. We are each more than animals competing for a limited amount of food, and the best partners to pass on our unique genetic code. There is a quality to physical intimacy that shares in spiritual transcendence. Making love has a divine quality attached to it. We celebrate the joy of loving another person with the totality of who we are. Removing our clothing and being naked with another person is a practice of shared vulnerability that is powerful. It can be affirming. Just taking your clothes off in front of someone else is a risk of humiliation. That is especially true as we age.

And yet…

The longer I am celibate. The more I feel the power of my sexual drive. It can be scary, too. It isn’t that I’m afraid that I will tackle some woman in a bikini and physically molest her on the beach. It is that I might fall to the physical/emotional pull to sex in some non-relational form. I honestly have no strong desire to get into porn. Although I understand why it is tempting, I also see the down side: the emotional isolation after the physical release. What I like and want in sex, is the connection between two people… Love. And that is where I would especially like to begin talking about Deep Sex.

A disclaimer to start… There is no way I can honestly say that if I were to have the opportunity for a sexual encounter with a woman to whom I was attracted physically and mentally, that I would be able to decline. Maybe this is why I haven’t had the opportunity… Maybe God is protecting me, and the other person from the complications of uncommitted sex. I have had opportunities in the past, yet with each one, I found a compelling reason not to pursue it. (I still get this little shiver remembering the Glen Close character in the movie Fatal Attraction…)  Ultimately, I decided to treat myself, and the other person I might add, with greater respect than falling into bed with someone I didn’t really know.

This does NOT mean it is easy… Far from it! It is very lonely, honestly.

In my seminary classes, we have studied how the church has handled sexuality in the past. More specifically, we have read of the tendency to view sex as dangerous to spiritual growth. Many of the spiritual mothers and fathers even went so far as to go into the desert in order to seek God. It is especially hard for me not to understand this approach as unbiblical. To me, it is a denial of the “goodness” of God’s design of community, and is an escape from the difficulty of living out one’s faith in the midst of dissonance. Eventually, other people followed the original seekers of solitude. So, community FOLLOWED them into the desert. Community forces us outside ourselves. Why is there a need to forgive, unless there is one who acts in a manner which conflicts with our intentions? We learn to both give and receive forgiveness by interacting with other people. I realize there are scriptural examples of holy hermits. Jesus’ human cousin, John, lived in the desert in a Spartan existence. The prophets of scripture also spent time outside the community, for long periods of time, in order to hear God’s message more clearly. Even Jesus went into the wilderness for a period of time for those reasons, as well as to do spiritual battle with the Adversary. However, John, Jesus, and the prophets returned to the community in order to live out the message they received in the wilderness.

I have found that it can be easier to live alone, even though it is lonely, than to risk the pain and messiness that is part of living in community with others. However, I am learning to see loneliness as an invitation to step outside myself. I am invited to release my fear of being rejected and misunderstood. Love is assertive. It is active. It does not wait, unless waiting is an act of patience rather than fear. Love is also willing to be misunderstood, then stays around to talk through the issue. Celibacy can be an act of love, but it also can be one of fear… unwilling to get dirty in the messiness that is brought by love. It can be a way to hide from risking the discomfort of intimacy.

So, how does one know the difference between celibacy as an act of love, and celibacy as an act of fear?

Can one person’s journey into celibacy help inform others around them about the nature and depth of their own intimate relationships?

Can one living without physical sex with another person accept and be accepted by the community of faith?

Can we be sexual beings outside of intimate, physical, genital contact with another person?

How can the church teach sexual ethics, within a culture so sensually driven in a manner that works in our everyday lives?

I want to believe that my journey into celibacy is an invitation from God into a deeper love affair with God. I want to believe it is an invitation into a fuller life within which I will find a fuller expression of my sexuality in ways that are generative in different forms, and that I will find varied ways to be co-creative with God. I want to believe that I am still a value to the greater community in which I live and can find a freedom to give of myself in a fuller spectrum than I previously believed possible. I want to believe these things, and intellectually, I do. Yet I also find myself struggling with my sexual body.

Rob Bell, in his book Sex God, says that humanity seems to err in regard to sexuality in one of two directions. We either see ourselves as angels, which are sexless beings solely created for service to God; or as animals which are destined to live by the power of their innate drives; sex being one of them. Bell points out, however, that we instead are created in the image of God. We are neither angels nor animals, but more profound beings: Children of God. We are created to manage Eden… the garden within which we have been placed, both in time and space. A part of that management responsibility is the management of our Self. That is the rub. I find it so easy to become obsessed with a self-created end to my own celibacy. In so doing, I lose focus on allowing the tension of living alone yet in community to bring out new depths of who God has created me to be. I want to be a sexy man, even though I am not getting laid!

I believe the phrase: sexy man, could be used to describe Jesus, especially because he treated women with deep respect. They responded to him with love, that was at times sensual, yet not physically, genitally intimate. Jesus’ love was redemptive. Even women who used their bodies to service the desires of men, found in Jesus a man who looked through the veil of their bodies into the depths of their soul; and they were changed radically due to the encounter. Jesus loved them without the expectations of a physical quid pro quo.

That is Deep Sex…


One thought on “Celibacy…

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