Why celibacy?

“Why celibacy?” is a natural first question people ask when they find out a bit more about our relationship. So we thought we’d spend some time talking about why we’ve chosen this route.

Many people encourage LGBT Christians to live a celibate life based on the idea that gay sex is something that absolutely, positively, and without a doubt must be avoided at all costs. Within these circles, there is a lot of talk about what constitutes sex and very little talk about what constitutes celibacy. To these people, celibacy is understood as the absence of sex. We’ll spend some more time talking about what we think celibacy is in a future post; but, for now, we will say that we resonate very much with Eve Tushnet, who says that you cannot have a vocation of “No”.

As for us, we both have felt called to celibacy for some years. Sarah started to explore the possibilities of celibacy around the age of 19 as Sarah witnessed the profound ways nuns loved and served the world. The way nuns lived in the world offered a different pathway to holiness than the paths associated with marriage. Lindsey came to the idea of celibacy a bit later, around the age of 25. For Lindsey, exploring celibacy began as a way to integrate faith and sexuality. Yet, a lot of talk on these topics seemed detached from the practical experience of daily life, so Lindsey sought out many different kinds of people living celibate lives. Watching people live out celibacy challenged Lindsey to cultivate a life in which prayer facilitated hospitality, hospitality created connection, and connection empowered people to come together and share life. While both of us explored the possibility that we might have a religious vocation (i.e. living in a monastic community), we both felt that God was not asking either one of us to commit our lives to a specific religious community.

We are not coming to celibacy from the place that we are afraid and have never experienced the other side of sexually active relationships. And we are not coming to celibacy from a place that regards LGBT sexual activity as the unforgivable sin. We’re unique in that both of us have past experience with sexually active relationships. Sarah does not bemoan past relationships that have included sexual activity because these relationships taught Sarah a lot. From Sarah’s vantage point, it is partly due to the fact that Sarah has experienced such relationships that Sarah came to discover the vocation of celibacy. Sarah hopes to write more on this in the future. Lindsey’s experience of sexually active relationships came more from the challenges associated with drawing “the line” about which forms of intimacy are appropriate. In Lindsey’s view, so much of the material on sexual ethics comes from heteronormative situations where Lindsey has a natural struggle appropriating the existing material on sexual ethics to the particulars of LGBT relationships. We both appreciate learning that extending grace to oneself and others in all areas of life is an essential part of growing in Christ. Grace is a critical touchstone of the Christian faith; and, we’ve found that extending grace is tightly linked to offering hospitality to others.

Together, we have created a space where we can explore celibacy as a couple. As individuals, we have had chances to visit many different celibate communities. Every community we have visited over the years is different. We enjoy trading stories (of all kinds!) with each other. We naturally talk about what we have learned from different celibate communities and frequently discuss how to cultivate our shared vocation to celibacy.

To sum up, the answer to the question “Why celibacy?” boils down to the statement that we feel God is asking us to live our lives in this way. We are grateful for the ways that God continues to teach us about celibacy and look forward to continuing to explore our vocation together.

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38 thoughts on “Why celibacy?

    • Thanks for the feedback! In all of our experiences of celibate communities, we see continually that a shared spiritual life enables a rich communal life that remains open to receive visitors of every stripe.

  1. Jesus had sex. I am quite sure. He loves you if you are Christens. I am not here to judge you, but wonder about your commitment and desire, when he was as Liberal a guy you could ever know. He was a liberal Jewish guy, that disliked the desire for gold and power. I think he would have relished in your loving commitments.

    • Hi Joe! Thanks for spending some time reading our thoughts here and sharing your own perspective. We can understand why people might have a lot of questions about our commitment to one other because we’re a celibate couple, but we hope you’ll keep reading.

  2. I have to say, I do enjoy your writing. Very we’ll written and informative. I love hearing about other people’s relationships, and how they handle life and life’s challenges. It sounds like you have a strong, loving relationship, and that’s something that can stand the test of time, no matter what!

  3. Hi, Lindsey, Sarah! Looking forward to hearing more from both of you. I don’t claim to understand exactly where you’re coming from with the “celibate couple” idea… I’ve never considered my lack of understanding something incumbent on you to fix! But it seems I will be learning something anyway! Happy blogging…

    • Thanks Michael! We started this blog as an effort to share our journey with the difficult task of explaining our relationship to others. Thanks for the comment, and we hope we’ll hear more from you in the future.

  4. I really like your comment that, “there is a lot of talk about what constitutes sex and very little talk about what constitutes celibacy.” It is a great point! I also really enjoyed reflecting on your statement, “prayer facilitated hospitality, hospitality created connection, and connection empowered people to come together and share life.” I look forward to reading more, especially with regards to how you would define celibacy, which you state you will discuss in a future post. I am really glad you chose to start this blog as I value the insight you both bring as prayerful, knowledgeable and faith-filled Christians.

  5. I feel so sad for you two, to think you have to deny yourselves the pleasure that is not against God but glorifies him. I am sorry you have been so oppressed by this religion. I understand if you have to do this to make yourselves feel better about doubting your sexuality. Be your true selfs. Be who God called you to be, proud and gay! How old are you guys anyway?

    • Hi Kay, thanks for your comment. We’d like to remind you that we both have spent considerable time exploring celibacy for ourselves. We don’t see ourselves as oppressed or forced into celibacy. Our choice to live a celibate life together is not driven by fear, but comes rather from a very distinct sense that God wants to bless us through living a celibate life. We are 29 and 30 years old and have had ample time to explore other kinds of relationships and get a clear sense of our vocations. We see celibacy as a vocation that requires us to integrate, not deny, our sexualities.

      • Something sounds not right here. Celibacy is unnatural and I don’t see how anybody would do it to themself without being made to do it.

    • Hi Kay, I can’t hit reply directly below your most recent post because WordPress isn’t giving me the option. I hope my comment comes in a place that makes sense for the flow of conversation. I’d encourage you to use caution with the word “unnatural.” Countless LGBT people have been immensely hurt by the way this phrase gets thrown around as a way to silence and belittle the experiences of LGBT people. Sarah and I can definitely appreciate our experience as unique, and our friends encouraged us to share a bit more broadly about our experience because it is unique. As for celibacy, an incredible number of people throughout time have made a choice to live a celibate life. Sarah and I have both been blessed to meet a wide array of people who have chosen a celibate life. We’re incredibly grateful for all of the people who have modeled what life-giving celibacy can look like. We hope you’ll continue reading and allowing us the space to share our own experience. –Lindsey

  6. This has been a wonderful start for your blog. I have been struggling with vocation for well over 45 years. I have long fought the feeling that, since I have not gotten married and my journey toward a religious or clerical vocation has been less than fruitful, that I was some how incomplete. This reflection has given me pause to look at how celibacy can be looked in my single vocation. Being single in the Church has been presented as a tempory, default state. I don’t think that is true.

  7. The thing about defining celibacy is that it is neccessary first to define “sex”…”sex” has so often been defined as being basically one type of heterosexual sex that there have always been weird grey areas around other orientations or practices. I asked a curate once what being celibate would look like for my partner and I. She seemed to think that basically it would mean the only thing we could do was hold hands. Things she said we couldn’t do if we wanted to be celibate included sleeping in the same bed and kissing. Although I don’t think many people would define these as “sex” I reckon her point was probably that they were things that might lead to sex. For me a big part of celibacy might be frustration, “temptation”, avoidance…but maybe for others these don’t even come in to it. Perhaps if one is really called to celibacy then temptation isn’t a big issue (I don’t think I could live celibate with my partner just because I feel like that frustration would damage our relationship, and if we gave into it then there would be guilt etc). I guess the question underneath all of this is about whether for you guys temptation is a part of celibacy and how you deal with that? Maybe that is too personal a question, though…

    • Thanks for the comment. Lindsey definitely agrees with you when you say that “sex” has so often been defined as being basically one type of heterosexual sex. We will soon be publishing a post where we attempt to define celibacy. Give us some time to think about the various ways the “slippery slope” argument gets presented to folks in the LGBT community, and we’ll hopefully get a post together soon that directly addresses that topic.

    • Thanks for sharing your blog post with us! Lindsey especially had a visceral reaction because unfortunately your post summarizes how these sorts of interactions tend to go. We’ll likely write an extended response over a few posts. In our post on defining celibacy, we discussed why we think it’s important for celibate people to have agency when defining celibacy. You can expect to see more from Lindsey in the coming weeks regarding the issues you raise in your blog.

      You can find our Defining Celibacy post at http://aqueercalling.wordpress.com/2014/01/18/defining-celibacy/ if you haven’t already had a look. We’re big believers in one-click access.

  8. Celibacy is natural for those called to it. I choose celibacy because it is very comfortable and makes me happy. In this regard I don’t think my sexual activity would glorify God. If i deny myself food or water or ignore other body functions, I will die. I won’t die from not having sex. Than again I am from a Roman Catholic background and celibate, homo social communities were always held in high esteem. No one in my family ( even the conservative Catholic ones) would think celibacy unnatural.

  9. I’m really enjoying reading your blog posts. When I first read your byline about being a celibate couple, I admit that I initially had the same reaction as Kay above. I was worried that you were choosing to be celibate because of a fear that by having a same-sex sexual relationship is sinful. So I am happy to read more fully what being celibate means to you as individuals and a couple. While I don’t pretend to fully understand it, I am enjoying trying to! My philosophy on sex, lack of sex, relationships, etc…. is that as long as it is a consensual decision that isn’t harming either party, than who is anyone to judge? A lot of my friends can’t understand why, as a Christian, I can support relationships such as those on Sister Wives. Again, my philosophy is, if all these adults have chosen this lifestyle and no one is being forced into any kind of relationship, than who are they harming? Who am I to say that this lifestyle is displeasing to God? In the end, all I can do is love others and accept them for who they are and support people in the decisions they have made.

    • Hi Emily, thanks for your comment. We’re glad that you decided to stop by and read more on our blog. In a time where many Christians give LGBT people a blanket command to be celibate, it can be easy to assume that a couple might be forced into living a celibate life. We hope you’ll continue to read and share your perspective!

  10. I also really enjoyed reading your thoughts on how you have chosen to live out your relationship–I personally feel different convictions in this area, but I think it’s important that you live out your life the way you feel God is calling you to do so. I think sometimes people struggle to understand that God can call one person to one thing and another person to something else. Whether celibacy is a season for you or a life-calling I wish you all the best in your beautiful relationship!

  11. Hi both, an interesting idea being a celibate couple. At Metropolitan Community Church Newcastle (MCCN), we offer a spiritual gifts questionnaire when individuals are exploring if and how they want to be more involved in the life. Celibacy is included as a spiritual gift and both amuses and baffles people. I explain it is not the same as being single. I also point out the merits of having people who are celibate in terms of supporting people pastorally who may have experienced sexual abuse in the past. There is at least one person in the congregation who defines themselves as celibate. I think being be able to offer celibacy as a healthy choice is just as valid as being in other types of healthy relationships. I don’t ask anyone in the congregation what they and their partner do or don’t do sexually. Why would a celibate couple be treated any differently? It is clear that this is a sexual choice that you have made as a couple, just as many people make sexual choices with their partners. Blessings on your life together.

    • Hello! Thanks for your comment here. We agree that there’s a lot of different ways a celibate person can provide ministry within the church. We’ve also experienced significant encouragement by offering our ministry together.

    • Alex, I have already answered this question in reply to another of your comments. No, Lindsey and I are not secretly ex-gay. We believe that the ex-gay movement has caused a lot of harm for a lot of people, including us. We do not believe it is healthy for a person to deny his/her sexual orientation, and this is what the ex-gay movement asks people to do. We have no affiliation with any ex-gay organization, and we do not accept the ideologies promoted by these organizations. I hope this answers your question. -Sarah

  12. I don’t understand. If you’re gay that means you can’t be celibate. It means you have sex with your same sex. I don’t understand???

    • Hello Sylvia. We think you are confusing sexual orientation with sexual activity. People who are gay or lesbian are attracted to other people of the same sex, but being gay or lesbian does not necessarily mean that a person is sexually active. Likewise, if a person is straight, he or she is attracted to people of the opposite sex, but that doesn’t mean he or she is necessarily sexually active. It is just as possible to be celibate as a gay person as it is to be celibate as a straight person.

  13. Sarah and Lindsey,

    Similarly, I want to thank you for your educational blog on this subject of “celibate relationships.” As a Side B gay Christian, I personally believe it is God’s will for me to remain celibate and not participate in any unhealthy (sexual) interactions with men. But I respect the conversation that you both are promoting here.

    As I’m sure you are aware, celibacy has its challenges — and that’s probably an understatement! I just wonder how you both are able to navigate the waters of physical interaction. I know a previous commenter mentioned “slippery slope.” Can you expound upon this? I think I would definitely be interested in attempting a “celibate relationship,” but I don’t know if I trust myself to do so.

    In reading your previous posts on celibacy, it’s apparent that you both are committed to vulnerability and a shared spiritual life. However, can’t the lines between friendship, romance, and love get blurred in this arrangement?

  14. I came across your post by accident. I found it to be both profound and happy to learn my partner and I aren’t alone in our practice of celibacy.

  15. Hi Sarah and Lindsey,
    Thank you for your candid and well considered perspectives and writing. Enormously helpful. I, too have moved from being part of sexual committed relationships to exploring a calling of celibacy, solitude and silence…. It seems to be working out and a yearning for God has taken the place of a partner.
    However, I’m wondering if you could explain a little why whilst being in a partner relationship you consider yourselves ‘celibate’? The term Deo Vacare as I understand it, means one chooses to ‘give up’ intimate relationship with a partner in order to pursue a particular relationship with God. As you rightly say, celibacy is not simply the absence of sex…. Could you help me out here? How would you describe the difference between a non sexual relationship and a celibate one?
    I think there are many couples, LGBT and other who do not have sexual relations for many reasons but may not describe themselves as celibate….

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