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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