How to Live a Life of Celibacy While Missing the Point of Vocation

Here at A Queer Calling, one of our main purposes is to help people establish a positive vision of celibacy as a vocation. However, our efforts do not organically change what is out there on the rest of the internet. A reader recently sent us a link to How to Live a Life of Celibacy, a wikiHow article with 38 contributors as of 20 May 2014. This link is the top hit if one googles “how to live a life of celibacy,” and it contains 20 tips/steps that are absolutely loaded with assumptions about what a celibate life entails. We earnestly wonder if any of the 38 authors have any lived experience with celibacy and are curious to know if they are trying to apply lessons they have learned while abstaining temporarily from sexual activity to living a life of committed celibacy. We’re going to quote each of these 20 steps and share our responses, snark and all, to this article’s assumptions.

1. Make sure this is something that you are very serious about. It can be a great thing if you are doing it for the right reasons.

So far, so good. We agree entirely. Celibacy is a life marked by a commitment. It’s helpful to know why you are committing to a celibate vocation, and to develop a positive sense of what celibacy can mean for your life. We’d even go so far to say that if you’re committing to living celibately because your spiritual director has told you that failing to live a celibate life will send you straight to hell, it’s best to challenge the celibacy mandate.

2. Find a friend or mentor that has gone through this period in life and ask questions about his or her reason for making their choice.

Again, this counsel is extremely helpful. Lindsey has highlighted the importance of finding people living a celibate vocation in a post, Actively Cultivating a Celibate Vocation.

3. Avoid listening to others’ feelings about your decision, if they do not agree with yours. It is your choice, and yours alone. Instead, talk to friends and people who will not judge you, or this choice you have made.

Generally, sound advice. When someone makes a committed decision on any matter that other people might not understand, he or she has to choose whose counsel to embrace. This counsel is not uniquely tied to cultivating a celibate vocation. Indeed, it is often helpful to hear out close friends when discerning any vocation because they can often see into one’s blind spots. Friends can be great barometers in helping a person discern a vibrant, life-giving, and connected celibate vocation.

The rest of this article offers what is arguably some of the worst counsel that we’ve heard when it comes to cultivating celibate vocations. So, for the rest of our post…snark alert!

4. Get involved involved in different hobbies; better not to be around many people you may be sexually attracted to for a while if this can be avoided. You could become involved with some more spiritual or personal activities instead.

If someone makes you dizzy with attractions, the obvious solution is just stay extra busy. Why not? Avoidance works for all of life’s challenges, right? According to this article, It’s possible to run, run, run, run, and still do more running, fear all kinds of relationships, and embrace a white-knuckled disconnection and aloofness that can suck the life force out of even the most introverted people, yet still discover a sustainable manner of living. Really, wikiHow?

5. Try to find people who you think will understand you and your choices. Doing this alone can be very challenging. Tell them you need some moral support.

A moment of seriousness: we agree that living a celibate vocation can be hard. (Living a marital vocation is hard as well.) We do our best to foster a community space where people interested in celibacy can find support because we have benefited significantly from the friend support we have received. It can be helpful to reach out to friends and mutually discuss the discernment process often. All Christians should be in the process of regularly seeking God to discern direction for their lives.

6. Avoid temptation, especially at the start of this lifestyle. Do not put yourself in situations that might lead to sexual activity, such as close quarters with someone to whom you are sexually attracted. Don’t spend time alone and secluded together unless you absolutely know that you can control yourself in that situation. You can still be intimate and close with them, as long as you are in control. (it also helps for them to know of your statutes with this lifestyle)

Surely, every celibate person is likely to crave sexual encounters and reach out for them whenever any opportunities arise. Uh huh. *Eyeroll.* We’ve seen the counsel contained in Tip #6 mirrored in spiritual direction when the spiritual director cautions an LGBT person about the slippery slope towards illicit activities. To be sure, if a person is committing to celibacy after extensive sexual involvement, it might do that individual well to consider what habits might need to change. However, that’s a different kind of message than simply, “Control thyself.”

7. It is a fact that after a certain amount of time, that if you do not remind yourself of what you are missing sexually, you will stop feeling strong urges. However, this can be hard if you are regularly engaging in watching social entertainment like movies, TV shows, and many advertisements and commercials that continually show hormonally and/or sexually led relationships. Learn to ignore these; they are society’s standards, not yours.

So, a celibate person should hide himself or herself in a hole because we live in a sex-saturated culture. Sexuality is merely an appetite that can be starved into submission…except, it’s not. In truth, human sexuality brings us into all sorts of different relationships with others and colors how we perceive the world around us. There is beauty and connection in so many places. It is right to say that world does not typically have a positive view of vocation, especially when vocation calls us towards sacrificial love. Both celibate and marital vocations call people towards this sacrificial love, even if this love manifests in slightly different ways.

8. For the most part, continue to keep anything about sexual romance or hormone induced relationships away from your vision. Make a list of all you have wanted to do. You do not have a mate holding you back, so take that trip or write that novel.

Let’s merge the “Hide in a hole” strategy from Tip #7 with the “Keep extra busy” strategy from Tip #4. Honestly, how does labeling the romantic attachments of others as “hormone induced relationships” do anything for cultivating deep and meaningful non-sexual relationships with people? Positioning yourself as Superman focused on building your resume will only bring you so far before you absolutely, positively, completely hit burnout. And when your human frailty catches up to you, you’re likely to find no one around you because they got tired of your always looking down on them and their ways of life. “Tip” #8 is, universally, a bad idea.

9. Doing things alone will help you to grow and challenge yourself on why you wanted to be celibate in the first place. Self empowerment is a powerful thing when used humbly.

Because celibacy necessarily means relegating oneself to the life of a hermit. Somehow, not having sex and discerning a way of life as an unmarried person means doing many things, or everything, alone. It seems the contributor of Tip #9 was thinking more along the lines of “how to accept the realities of being lonely” than “how to live a life of celibacy.” And, “Self-empowerment is a powerful thing when used humbly.” What’s that supposed to mean? Empower yourself, but only do it in a humble way?

10. If religion is part of your decision to be celibate, read the Bible or other religious book for guidance and strength. Turn to your Priest or religious community in times of weakness and need.

Uhm…if a person has decided to become celibate for religious reasons, it seems likely that he or she is already reading his or her holy text for guidance and strength in addition to receiving some sort of guidance (helpful or not) from a religious leader or member of a faith community. This isn’t bad advice, but it’s basically the same as telling a student, “If passing the course is part of your decision to take it, study the textbook and meet with the professor in times of confusion.” Is it really so difficult to figure this one out?

11. Celibacy can be practiced in a relationship, if both are in agreement.

We agree with this one. No sarcasm here. However, living celibacy within the context of a partnered relationship is not as simple as Tip #11 makes it sound. Trying to develop a sense of celibate vocation as a couple takes much more than “agreement.” Sometimes, both partners can be in agreement about celibacy and the relationship can still fail. Even if the relationship is working out well for both partners, certain aspects of a celibate vocation might not come naturally. Being committed to a celibate partnership takes dedication, tenacity, and willingness to work out the difficult parts as they arise.

12. You can then both be each other’s strength, and learn something together such as an instrument which will keep the mind busy.

Seems we cut the sarcasm a bit too soon. Of course, this is what our life together as a celibate couple looks like. We spend every day finding new, random hobbies to practice together and mutually increasing our strength to avoid letting our minds and hands wander in the direction of each other’s genitals. Piano and tambourine all the way! *Massive eye roll.* We have to ask, if a celibate partnership is supposed to be so focused on “keeping the mind busy” and presumably distracting each other from having sex with each other, what is the purpose of living in such an arrangement? If it’s all about avoiding temptation, wouldn’t it be easier not to have a partner? The suggestion that celibate partnership is valuable because it can keep both people’s minds out of the gutter is absolutely ludicrous.

13. The joy of learning and focusing more into engaging in other activities of life will help you to occupy your mind. It will also tire you out and make you sleep well.

Because a celibate vocation is all about distracting oneself from anything and everything that could possibly lead to sex. And by the way, sexually active people don’t experience the joy of learning and have the worst cases of insomnia. Had no idea. Next, please…

14. Celibacy is said to be a great way to improve mental powers and concentration.

Maybe if we commit to celibacy for the rest of our lives and do it the “right” way according to this article, one day we’ll wake up with telekinetic powers like Matilda.  Or better yet, we’ll discover our hidden abilities at levitating feathers, speaking parseltongue, and blowing up our annoying relatives. We’ve been celibate for a good while now…where are our Hogwarts letters?

15. Celibacy allows a romantic relationship to grow and develop tenderness, maturity, and self-giving. True love takes a long time, and staying away from sex makes a relationship more stable, not less. A man is impressed by a woman’s sweet and gentle “No,” if he has pushed her. It increases his respect and trust in her. It makes him want to be a better man, even if he’s been a player in the past. The delightful erotic tension is the beginning of legendary love stories that make for good marriages.

Wait a minute…is this article on the topic of “how to live a life of celibacy,” or is it more about, “why it’s better to be sexually abstinent until marriage”? Seems counterproductive to be talking about the value of erotic tension and preparing for an eventual marriage if the whole point of this piece is to advise folks on living lives of celibacy.

16. Understand why you want to take this vow before you do so. There are many reasons why people take this vow. The most common is to avoid sexually transmitted diseases, and to engage in intense studies as celibacy frees an enormous amount of time from your schedule. It will save you some money too, especially on a student budget.

Yep. Every day, we hear the stories of vowed celibates proclaiming, “Now I don’t have to get those embarrassing STD tests anymore, and I’m smarter and richer to boot. Celibacy is the best thing since sliced bread!” Not so much.

17. Meditate on this decision and do not be rash about it. This is a lifelong commitment you are about to make.

<Temporary snark break> Great advice, Tip #17. By the way, this applies to a marriage commitment as well.

18. Be sure to tell everyone around you that you are taking a vow of celibacy. It is very important to tell those who are closest to you about your decision and convince them to support you every step of the way.

And we’re back. This is exactly what we want to do. Shout it from the rooftops: “We aren’t having sex! If you don’t support us, you really should!” Such an approach is sure to go a long way with making us more welcome among people in our Christian tradition who remain skeptical of our partnership.

19. Avoid temptation and concentrate on other important things. To keep up the commitment, go back to school, get a new hobby, or buy a pet. Keep yourself as busy as possible.

In case the main message of this article isn’t clear enough already, we’ll spell it out for you once again: the only way to remain celibate is to busy yourself to the point of exhaustion so you’ll not be at risk for dropping your pants every five seconds. Groan.

20. Always reassess your vows every four to six months to make sure that you want to continue to do this. If you have decided that you do not want to live this lifestyle anymore, go ahead and do what you desire.

Because vows aren’t real commitments, and most human beings are unable to live a particular vocation from more than four to six months. Why don’t we start offering the same advice to married couples? Let’s not try to encourage people to work out their salvation within their chosen vocations. Why not give up on celibacy at the first bump along the road? Heck, why not tell married people they should consider abandoning their spouses after the first significant conflicts of their married lives? It’s all about “what I want in the moment” anyway, right?

To find so many misconceptions about celibacy packed into a list of 20 tips/steps for living a celibate life strikes us as absurd, especially when said tip list is the very first hit when a person searches for “how to live a life of celibacy.” Presumably, this article was written because so many people were using this particular search term. (Sarah has some insight into this as Sarah once worked as a freelance content writer for similar sources–not wikiHow.) The likelihood that every person who takes to the internet to begin researching celibacy as a way of life for himself or herself sees this article first is disturbing and saddening.

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