Ask Yourself These Questions Before Entering a Celibate Relationship

As you can probably imagine, many people ask us for advice about celibate relationships, how realistic that concept is, and how to make such a relationship work. Several people can be frustrated by our typical reply: we don’t think we’re very good at giving advice. However when enough people ask us the same question, we think we ought to address it to the best of our ability. We know a fair number of people who are living in celibate partnerships, have moved from celibate relationships to non-celibate relationships, or have experienced failed celibate relationships. Newcomers to our blog often ask us if we think celibate partnerships could be a viable vocational option for LGBT Christians more broadly. In responding to that question, we have to keep in mind that we’ve seen so many people hurt within celibate partnerships. That this happens (and probably quite often) doesn’t surprise us. There’s no real guidance from any Christian tradition on what this way of life might mean or look like.

In our own lives, we’ve learned that reflecting on celibacy periodically helps us discern what God would have us do together. We wanted to share some of the questions we encourage others to consider when thinking about celibate partnership as a way of living out a vocation to celibacy. Since we do not consider ourselves capable of making judgments as to whether another person should enter a celibate partnership, we hope the questions that follow might support people discerning whether entering a celibate partnership is a good decision.

1. Is loneliness my primary motivation for seeking a celibate relationship? If the answer is yes, know that being in a relationship (celibate or not) with another person isn’t a cure-all for loneliness. Everyone feels lonely sometimes–even people who are in committed relationships. But if that’s why you’re seeking a celibate relationship, more than likely you’ll find that a significant other will not fill the void.

2. Do I have a strong sense of what my sexual ethic is? If the answer is no, it’s probably wise to take more time to discern your sexual ethic within the context of your Christian tradition before entering a celibate relationship. For any relationship to be healthy, it’s necessary that both partners can talk candidly about this topic, even if there are disagreements. You’ll need to know how committed the other person is to celibacy. If you’re entering an intentionally celibate relationship with a person whose sexual ethic differs from yours, it’s especially important to have your own sorted.

3. Have I come to a sense of peace and acceptance concerning my sexual orientation? We’re going to be blunter than usual with this one: if the answer is no, then you are certainly not ready to begin a celibate relationship. If you try, it is highly likely that you will both end up feeling miserable and the relationship will fail. We have seen this happen many times to people we know and love. We know what it’s like to have trouble accepting oneself as LGBT, and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to finding peace and a sense of comfort within your own skin. But if you’re not there yet, please don’t commit to a celibate relationship at this time.

4. Do I have an idea of what celibacy might mean for me? It’s vital that a person who chooses celibacy explores the meaning of this state of life. Some people choose celibacy because they feel called by God. Others choose celibacy in obedience to their Christian traditions even though they don’t feel called. People choose celibacy for the short-term, for the long-term, and indefinitely. Every celibate person is different, but willingness to ask, “What does it mean for me?” is necessary for living a sustainable way of life whether single or coupled.

5. Am I willing to receive and accept spiritual counsel within my faith community regarding my way of life? This one can be particularly tough because most humans struggle with pride, and many LGBT people experience fear after negative past experiences of seeking spiritual guidance. However, it’s necessary to ask this question because we can’t always see clearly the areas of our lives where we are failing to be Christlike. This is especially true when undertaking roads less traveled, such as living a celibate vocation in the same household as another person. It’s okay that saying yes to this one is hard, but if you aren’t willing to do it you are probably setting yourself up for failure by entering a celibate relationship.

6. Do I understand celibate partnership as a loophole within a legalistic celibacy mandate? If you read our blog regularly, you know that we prefer to discuss LGBT celibacy in terms of vocation rather than in terms of mandates. Some LGBT celibates do view celibacy within the framework of a mandate and are comfortable with that. Either way you understand celibacy, it’s not a good idea enter a celibate relationship if you understand the decision as “barely on the right side of God’s law.” This understanding of celibate partnership will likely lead to unhealthy obsessions with line-drawing.

7. Is fear of being sexually active my primary motivation for seeking a celibate relationship? If a friend told us that he/she had chosen celibacy either temporarily or permanently because of fearing sexual relationships, we would gently encourage that friend to seek counseling. If that same friend mentioned thoughts of beginning a celibate relationship in order to avoid dealing with these fears permanently, we would do everything possible to discourage that decision. Fear of sexual intimacy is often linked to fear of other types of intimacy. Entering a celibate relationship will not shelter you from ever having to experience intimacy with someone else.

8. Am I seeking an arrangement that is effectively a same-sex marriage without the sex? It’s possible that there are some celibate couples who do view themselves as celibate marriages, or marriages minus sex. We’re not here to judge those people or those relationships. But the healthiest celibate partnerships we’ve known among our friends have been those that come from very different places than desire to imitate marriage. Controversial statement here: if you do view your celibate relationship as “marriage lite,” it’s unlikely that the relationship will remain celibate. Before entering a celibate relationship, consider how you might learn from monastics and singles as well as married people as you continue to discern your vocation.

9. Do I envision being part of a celibate relationship that is inwardly focused? If the answer is yes, you’re envisioning something quite different from a vocation. Any relationship that is totally focused on itself with no concern for the broader world will likely have difficulty manifesting the Kingdom of God. We believe that this is true for celibate partnerships, other ways of living celibacy, and marriages. If you’re interested in a relationship that involves romantic dates but no greater purpose than making each other happy, you’re missing the point of vocation entirely.

10. Am I willing to take both the good and the bad when it comes to doing life with another person if we decide to live our celibate vocations together long-term? Anytime people commit to living the rest of their lives together, there will be seasons of fast and seasons of famine–spiritually, financially, physically, emotionally, in every way. This is true for marriages, monastics, and other ways of doing life in community. If you’re seeking a long-term celibate partnership, you must have a willingness to be there for the other person even during difficult times. If you can’t do that, you’re probably not ready for a celibate partnership or any lifelong vocational commitment.

11. Am I prepared for the reality that I will make mistakes? If you think life as a celibate pair will be perfect, free from all sin, and ideal in every way, think again. You’re human. You will make mistakes. You will sin against others. If you’re in a celibate (or non-celibate) partnership, you will sin against your partner, yourself, and God at some point (and no, we are not necessarily talking about sexual sin here). If you cannot accept the fact that celibate partnerships aren’t sin-free, you are not ready to enter one.

We’ve found that many people are interested in exploring celibate relationships before they stop to consider their own motivations for desiring these kinds of arrangements. In our own lives together, we’ve realized that entering a celibate partnership and keeping the focus on celibacy takes considerable intentionality. It’s not impossible, but doing so involves commitment to prayerfulness, mutual support, and (sometimes brutal) honesty. We thought through all of our own questions before we decided to explore the possibility that we, as Sarah and Lindsey, would make a good team for the long haul. And we expect that there will be seasons of life in the future when we will need to return to our previous responses for further reflection.

The comments section is open, and we would love to hear your thoughts!

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11 thoughts on “Ask Yourself These Questions Before Entering a Celibate Relationship

  1. Speaking as someone from the outside looking in, this seems really sensible to me. I’d like to hear more about #4, I think, since of course it’s impossible to predict what celibacy will *end up* meaning or becoming for you as you live into it (same as w/marriage–we can ask couples to consider what marriage is to them, but we can’t expect them to *know*). Maybe examples would help, of possible ways of understanding celibacy which provide sustenance w/o being so rigid that they can’t adapt to changing circumstances and understandings? Or maybe break this question down into smaller questions??

    I’d maybe also add a question, Have I considered the difficulties and challenges of partnership–and the ways partnership can help me become the person God is calling me to be–which *don’t* concern sex and sexuality? LGBT people in the churches are often viewed as hypersexualized by others, and we can easily start to view our own challenges as primarily surrounding sex and sexuality, because that’s what everybody else is telling us.

    • We would like to write more about #4, and many of these. You make a good suggestion about providing examples and breaking that question down into smaller bits. Give us a few weeks to think on that topic and we’ll come up with something. 🙂

      And your added question is a great one. We would like to explore that issue further as well.

  2. Thanks for all the wisdom here. I don’t know if this is something I will ever pursue, but it’s helpful to think about these questions as I think about vocations and what my life looks like. As I think about perhaps having these conversations someday I see something missing. Pardon me if I’ve missed your thoughts on kids somewhere else on the blog, but what are your thoughts about adding kids to a celibate partnership? Perhaps one partner already having a child, perhaps adoption/fostering, or using a donor? I certainly don’t think that it would be wise to enter a partnership with someone for the sole purpose of having kids, but I do think children would be something to discuss before entering into a partnership of any kind. It seems to me that bringing children into a home would be a powerful way to practice hospitality, though it certainly would have to be a calling in itself. Do you think that planning to add children someday would make the partnership more of a “marriage-lite” that you caution against? Do you know any celibate partners who have children? Do you think that a celibate partnership would be strong enough to endure the challenges of raising children?

    • Hi Faith. I have written one post on the topic of children, and you can read that here: http://aqueercalling.com/2014/03/17/children-connectedness-and-the-vocation-to-celibacy/. Personally, I don’t have any opinions on whether other celibate pairs *should* bring children into their families. I don’t like to make judgments when I’m not fully familiar with someone else’s life circumstances. But Lindsey and I have discussed the “children” question again and again. I have a very strong maternal instinct, which is one of the hardest parts of celibacy for me. Lindsey has never had any desire to be a parent. We’ve talked about future possibilities of providing foster care, and that’s something we would consider strongly. I do think adding children into the mix when there’s a celibate partnership could lead others to think of the relationship as “marriage lite,” particularly if they are already thinking of celibate partnership in this way. But an individual couple would need to decide how much that matters to them, and receive guidance from their spiritual directors on this subject. I don’t see myself as qualified to tell any person or couple that he/she/they should or shouldn’t welcome children into their lives. We know many celibate couples, but none with children. But we would be interested in getting to know such couples if they exist. I’m sure we could learn a lot from their experiences. -Sarah

  3. Thanks Sarah and Lindsey for this awesome post! You may think that you’re not good at giving advice, but this post is chock full of helpful advice about celibate relationships. When I get to the topic on my blog (Confessions of a Gay Evangelical Christian coagec.wordpress.com), I’ll need to refer to this post. I just posted about the origins of sexual orientation on my blog, and your point #3 about acceptance of sexual orientation resonates with me. Whether one views it as a manifestation of our sinful nature, which I do, coming to terms with who we are as we are is important not only for a healthy celibate relationship but also a healthy relationship with Jesus our ultimate groom.

  4. How about a celibate relationship with someone of the opposite sex? Wouldn’t that be easier— and take advantage of the complementarities between the sexes?

    • We’re not telling anyone what kind of celibate relationship to have, if that person decides to enter a celibate relationship. But I assume your question is about our relationship specifically. We don’t see how an arrangement like we have would be “easier” or not based upon the sexes and genders of the two people. We came into doing life together quite naturally, and it works out very well for us.

  5. This is probably an odd question to be asking here, however….I’ve never heard about this vocation or lifestyle anywhere else.
    My question is, do you know any mixed-gendered celibate partners? Personally, I’m opposite-sex attracted, but have felt called to celibacy in the past(the duration of my calling was never specified) and this idea appeals to me. Maybe the gender of my partner in question is irrelevant, but if it were a woman who is LGBT, I wouldn’t be able to relate to her in that way and maybe that would make things harder for both of us. Anyways, if you know of any non LGBT individuals who have embraced this vocation(maybe they have a blog like yours?) would you be willing to share them with me?

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