Saturday Symposium: Celibacy vs. Singleness

Hello to all our readers on this fine Saturday morning. Happy Memorial Day weekend to all our US readers too! We’ve been forgetting to announce that for about two weeks now, A Queer Calling has had its own Facebook page. We’re excited to communicate with you there as well as on Twitter and in the blog comments. And as always, we’re working on getting back to all the emails we’ve received within the past couple of weeks.

Now it’s time for today’s Saturday Symposium question:

How this works: It’s very simple. We ask a multi-part question related to a topic we’ve blogged about during the past week or are considering blogging about in the near future, and you, our readers, share your responses in the comments section. Feel free to be open, reflective, and vulnerable…and to challenge us. But as always, be mindful of the comment policy that ends each of our posts. Usually, we respond fairly quickly to each comment, but in order to give you time to think, come back, add more later if you want, and discuss with other readers, we will wait until after Monday to respond to comments on Saturday Symposium questions.

This week’s Saturday Symposium question: This week’s question comes from one of our followers on Facebook. Amanda, who reads the blog regularly, would like to discuss celibacy vs. singleness this week. We did one post in the past on the question, “Is celibacy the same as singleness?” and in writing this week’s “How to Live a Life of Celibacy While Missing the Point of Vocation,” we remarked that the authors of the piece we were critiquing were conflating celibacy with temporary singleness. You can share your thoughts on those topics and/or think about the following additional celibacy vs. singleness questions: what are some differences between the concepts of celibacy and singleness? Similarities? Why do you think people often conflate the two? Is a person who is living celibacy temporarily cultivating a celibate vocation, even though he/she knows that vocation will not last forever? Other celibacy vs. singleness issues you find interesting?

We look forward to reading your responses. If you’re concerned about having your comment publicly associated with your name, please consider using the Contact Us page to submit your comment. We can post it under a pseudonym (i.e. John says, “your comment”) or summarize your comment in our own words (i.e. One person observed…). Participating in this kind of public dialogue can be risky, and we want to do what we can to protect you even if that means we preserve your anonymity. Have a wonderful weekend!


Sarah and Lindsey

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6 thoughts on “Saturday Symposium: Celibacy vs. Singleness

  1. Celibacy is a commitment. Plain Singleness is a non-commitment. Celibacy is to refrain from sexual relations and marriage. Plain Singleness is to be free to engage or not to engage in sexual relations even sans marital commitment. Celibacy is special grace given by God. Blessed Singleness, as distinguished from Plain Singleness, is the initial stage of discernment toward celibacy or marriage.

    “Blessed Singleness” and “Plain Singleness” should be distinguished. Blessed Singleness is also a commitment – commitment not to engage in any sexual relations sans marriage. But it is still open to future marriage.

    So for Catholics, the choices are: marriage, blessed singleness, and celibacy. All are commitment to holiness. All are special graces from God. Plain singleness is not a moral option for Catholics.

    • Thanks for sharing from your perspective as a member of the Catholic tradition. We would agree that there’s necessarily some intentionality behind the single state of life if one is using that time for growing in holiness.

  2. I haven’t thought very much about celibacy, but I do understand it in terms of long-term commitment, not merely a temporary state.

    With singleness, I’ve noticed that it tends to be thought about as an undesirable and inherently temporary state – that it’s actively looking towards being coupled. That it’s painful and difficult (see for example posts about how Valentine’s Day is difficult for single people), and that single people wish they had partners.

    Clearly this is true of many people’s experience of singleness, or there wouldn’t be so much talk from this angle. But it isn’t mine. For most of my life I’ve found myself in a gap between the ideas of celibacy (as commitment) and singleness (as seeking coupledness). I have never made a permanent commitment to celibacy, but I have also never sought out marriage or any other form of partneredness, and my personal experience of being unpartnered has not been painful or difficult.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience, Estel. We know many people who have never made formal commitments to celibacy, but have also never sought out partnerships or marriage. It’s an interesting question, how to talk about this “gap” between singleness and celibacy.

  3. I’m back with more thoughts.

    Our society has a basic assumption that everyone needs a romantic-sexual relationship, and that it’s impossible to live a full, rich life without one. Depending which circles you’re in, this may be assumed to be marriage, or may be assumed to include unmarried forms of relationship. This assumption has various consequences.

    It leads to people finding celibacy-as-permanent-commitment incomprehensible, and probably to the idea of celibacy as a temporary stage, not really distinguishable from singleness.
    It leads to people being unable or unwilling to believe that there are people who experience themselves as asexual (not experiencing sexual attraction to other people).
    It leads to the assumption that singleness is always fundamentally looking forward to a future coupling.
    It leads to (or comes from? or is hardly distinguishable from? In any case, is intertwined with) the assumption that people who are not in a romantic relationship must be sad or lonely.

    These are distinct issues but I think they can be traced at least in part to that same root assumption.

    • These do seem rooted in the same assumption about the necessity of having a romantic relationship in order to experience fulfillment. There are some other assumptions that come to mind for us too: that it’s abnormal not to see sex as an important part of life, that one’s worth is determined by one’s ability to find a good partner, that there’s always “hope” for a celibate to “change,” etc.

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