Isn’t sex a good thing?

With some regularity, readers ask us if choosing celibacy means denying one’s sexuality and/or denying the existence of sexuality as a gift from God. About a month ago, one reader provided us with a great deal of information on the evolutionary aspects of sex and sexuality, following that information up with this set of questions: “I ask if [celibacy] is a denial of the gift God gives us in sex. I guess my question to you is, isn’t sex good? Isn’t it one of God’s greatest gifts to us? Aren’t we supposed to be sexual creatures?” After taking a few weeks to ponder how we would approach these questions, we have decided to address them directly today.

We’ll begin by giving the short, simple answer to the titular question of this post: yes. We do believe that sex is good. We believe it is a gift from God, and our Christian tradition influences our understanding of how God intends humans to use this gift. We also see a distinction between “sexual activity” and “sexuality,” and do not believe that absence of the first means avoidance of the second. We see celibacy as a means of living into the gift of sexuality rather than a denial of it. Our celibacy does not exclude us from existing as sexual creatures. We’ve both had enough experience in the past with attempting to deny or change our sexualities that we know how damaging suppression can be.

Concerning the idea that sex is, as our reader suggests, “one of God’s greatest gifts to us,” we would agree with that. Sexual activity enables humans to engage directly with God as co-creators, bringing new life into the world. It also enables couples to deepen their relationships with God by coming to know one another more intimately. That God has provided humans this means of connection with Him and with other humans is truly incredible. As such, we believe it would be foolish to deny that the capacity for sexual activity is one of God’s greatest gifts to humanity. That said, the decision to follow a vocational pathway that does not include sexual activity can provide means of engaging in other amazing gifts from God. One example of this is that celibacy offers the opportunity for connection to the world more generally, unlocking space for cultivating the gifts of intercession and mercy. When we are trying to relate to people who are not “family” connections, we find ourselves stretching to practice compassion. Directing compassion through Christ means prayerfully imaging him to the people we meet. We don’t always succeed in this, but working on it is one of the great challenges and joys of the celibate vocation. People who are married often feel called to take a more family-oriented approach to honing the gifts of intercession and mercy. Similarly, we feel called to engaging with God’s gift of sexuality in ways that do not involve sexual activity.

Another illustration that came to mind as we were discussing these questions is the various senses with which God has gifted humans. Generally, people are able to engage with the world using some combination of sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell, emotion, and so on. Not all humans are able to use all of these gifts, and we don’t have much choice concerning which of these we are and aren’t able to use. Even people who have the ability to communicate using all of the traditionally-named “five senses” tend to gravitate toward some more than others for communicating and making sense of the world. For example, Sarah has color-grapheme synesthesia—an involuntary phenomenon that causes her to see letters, numbers, and certain words in specific colors (i.e. “7” is green, “purpose” is red). Because of this, Sarah uses colors to understand most concepts when reading, writing, doing mathematics, translating from one written language to another, etc. However, this also complicates matters for Sarah’s engagement with the same concepts presented in oral format, so Sarah tends to rely more strongly on sight than any of the other senses. But engagement with one gift does not imply denial that others are good, or that others exist. Sarah’s understanding of things would differ significantly from that of a person who, for whatever reason, relies more consistently on the gift of touch to make sense of the world, but that doesn’t mean either has to deny the other’s experience.

The last question, “Aren’t we supposed to be sexual creatures?” is an important one. We want to be clear that we do see ourselves as sexual creatures even though we have chosen a way of life that does not involve sexual activity. We accept that both of us are attracted exclusively to women. Lindsey has been a strident advocate for celibates taking the approach of integrating rather than excising their sexualities. When one integrates one’s sexuality within the vocation of celibacy, one acknowledges that attraction is a gift from God and appreciates diverse kinds of beauty. Integrating one’s sexuality enables one to live within one’s body, becoming comfortable in one’s own skin. We have learned to celebrate our full humanity. We marvel at how being in relationship with each other has challenged us as individuals to grow in appreciation of our individual bodies while making space for another person to do the same.

We’ve come to believe that yes, sex is a good thing while considering sexuality as a whole to be even more profoundly meaningful. As celibates, we see sexuality as a gift given to people by God, so we can connect with their bodies. People’s sexualities affect how they experience the world. We appreciate many diverse aspects of people’s sexualities and do not seek to deny other people their own experiences.

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10 thoughts on “Isn’t sex a good thing?

  1. Agree, sex can be good. However, sex can be bad… Speaking as one who has been sexuall abused by a partner, I wonder why there is so much concern that celibate couples are rejecting God’s gift of sex. While I am not celibate, I really do take exception to the notion that all couples must have sexual relations. Paul disagreed.

    • Hello Rev Denise, thanks so much for raising this concern. Your comment highlights just how easy it is to misuse sex even within the covenant of marriage. Intimate partner violence is real and, all too often, involves the misuse of sex.

  2. Thank you for your insightful answer. It teaches so much. If I understand you, what you are saying is that each of us is different in the way we use what God has given us. We are all unique and seek to use what we perceive as our gifts to live in Christ. Some people will live active sexuality in this way. Some will not. I honor that because you have clarified it for me and I thank you for that.

    Perhaps celebate sexuality can be better understood in comparison to fasting (except that fasting always ends, whereas celebate sexuality is has no ending date in mind), which is another spiritual practice I am not expert in.

    I revel in the prayer of thanksgiving before each meal. Each bite, like each breath of my life, is best for me when taken with homage to the God of All reality who gives these things to us. To use these constant gifts in this way is to be in constant prayer.

    So too, with sexual practice. Its grandeur is the prayer of prayers to me. It is no accident that the most common verbal response to orgasm is “Oh, God!”

    But I imagine that a virtuoso pianist could see her playing in a similar vein, and have a hard time understanding the lack of that sense in those who are not musically gifted.

    So it is with me, who has not been given what you have to play. But I can honor your play, even if I cannot, with my very limited sense of reality, imagine it.

    Each of us then, is called to play for God the instruments God designed for us as we discover them. You have discovered in yourself celebate sexuality and endeavor to live it pleasingly before God.

    Alleluia!

    • Hi Gregory, thanks for your comment. We would push back a bit on the idea that celibacy is akin to fasting. Fasting is intentional abstinence from something, usually food, for a period of time. We don’t see ourselves intentionally abstaining from sex; we see ourselves living our lives differently.

      Perhaps an analogy might help. Consider two professionals: a pianist and a surgeon. Both have perfected gifts of using their hands, but they use their hands in very different ways. Neither professional rejects how the other professional uses his or her hands. Also, it would be very odd for most pianists to say that they are abstaining from practicing surgery. If anything, the pianist might say that he or she has not sought the training to be a surgeon. The pianist has a different vocation than the surgeon.

      As celibate people, we work all of the time to direct our minds, hearts, body, and spirit to manifesting God’s love to the world. Sometimes these ways overlap with how married people live within the world; sometimes these ways are distinct.

  3. Great post. I appreciate the elaboration you’ve offered on your view of the connection of sexuality and celibacy. I especially like the thought of “celibates taking the approach of integrating rather than excising their sexualities”. That rings true. I can look at that phrase and see “LGBT folk taking the approach . . .” and say “Yes”. Celibacy can still be on the table, or not, it still rings true.

    So help me understand one contrast I suppose you are drawing. “People who are married often feel called to take a more family-oriented approach to honing the gifts of intercession and mercy.” I’m not sure what family-oriented approach means or what distinction you are aiming for there. And given that you’re testing the waters with the term ‘family’ (but not married), to describe your own relationship, I get a bit muddied up trying to parse the sentence.

    Thanks again for sharing your stories.

    • Hi Kacy, thanks for your question. We could have also said that many married people we know must include their children while honing the gifts of intercession and mercy. While we personally do spend considerable time exploring how we can hone the gifts of intercession and mercy together, we also appreciate our individual diversities in what comes naturally to us.

    • Kelly, we’ve stated over and over again on this blog that we chose celibacy because we feel called to it–not because we feel “bad” about sex. We have heard of Matthew Vines, and at times his work has been thrown at us by people with sexual ethics different from ours in order to prove that our experience of a joyous celibate life simply does not exist. Matthew Vines’ work relates to the question, “Is gay sex a sin?” That question is not the question we are concerned with here at A Queer Calling. We would agree with Vines on one thing: that it can cause a great deal of harm when churches approach LGBT issues by imposing celibacy mandates and saying nothing more on the matter. There’s much upon which we disagree with him as well. We’ve seen little, if anything, in Vines’ work to suggest that he believes a situation like ours can actually exist and be a positive thing. But if he or someone else with a similar perspective on sexual ethics ever wanted to engage with us on the question, “What might a life-giving celibate vocation look like?” we would be glad to talk about it with that person.

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