By Jonalyn Fincher
Why is it so hard to be celibate or a virgin today? Why does virginal or “born-again virgin” status (as commentor, Meghan, pointed out, not all celibate people are virgins) make headlines (Lolo Jones or Sean Lowe). Why is virginity something some stations hide (ABC)?
Is it just the tall-poppy syndrome where anyone with self-control in the sexual department gets cut down to size to make us all look better? Is celibacy as rare as we are told?
What do Virgins Know about Sex?
I’ve been studying sailing the last few months. I read books about the different vocabulary for the sails, knots and windpower. But I have never sailed.
In the same way, virgins can know a lot about sex, either through paying attention to their own body and soul, through reading, through listening to their friends' experiences, to simply praying about sexuality.
It’s unfair to say that a virgin cares nothing for and knows nothing about sex. Just as it would be unfair to say I know nothing about sailing.
Sailing or making love will most definitely add experiential knowledge, but the experience is not the final word on knowledge. If it were, sex books wouldn’t ever be written. In fact, some sexually active adults know less about sex than some self-aware virgins.
My favorite example is Karol Wojtyla, later known as Pope John Paul II. A celibate man who wrote extensively about the bodies of men and women, sexual intimacy (everything from the value of climaxing at the same time to enjoying a person internally during sex), and sexual self-realization (read more).
But my celibate friend, Brandon Hoops, also knows about sex. He knows sexual desire, he knows his sexual organs, what it feels like to face the hunger of not enjoying sexual intimacy, he knows when he’s pushing his own boundaries for purity.
The Road Less Traveled
Choosing to be celibate is rare, especially as you get older. Hoops comments follow in italics
I think what gets harder as you get older is that you become the butt of jokes. Think 40-year-old virgin jokes. Think of Lolo Jones from this past Olympics who said she was a virgin and people thought she was ridiculous. I don’t like talking about my celibacy not because I’m a prude, but because I don’t want to be misunderstood.“Virgin” has so much baggage.
Celibacy is one way I honor God, it’s not evidence that I’m a sexual joke.
Second, the church makes it very hard to be a virgin when they tell me it will be so hard to wait so just get married ASAP. I don’t hear another voice saying you can’t live without sex so go hurry up and get married.
So, rule number one, don’t assume your friends that are virgins are prudes about sex. Don’t rob them of being part of your sexual conversations. It’s a skill to be able to talk about sex without it being weird. It’s a humility to realize how much virgins know about intimacy. Include celibate people in your conversations about sex.
Is celibacy all about avoiding sex? As commentor Mandy K asked in Part 1, “I do believe that celibacy can be a beautiful discipline, but have absolutely no idea what its practice looks like apart from abstinence.”
So how does a celibate person steward their own sexuality? Is it all about stifling your hunger, or is there another way?
From comments and testimonies all around the world, I’m convinced that the “just wait” campaign is not taking sexual hunger seriously. The drive toward ‘doing’ it is massive, and it feels very good, healthy, right, fitting.
So the church ends up pulling out sharp tools: shame, frigidity, fear, disgust. Here’s a tip, church leaders, you’re not doing young ladies a service by demonizing the male organ. And then, I’ve heard too many stories of women who foreplayed it up and then learned to shut off (to stay virgins) so now, they cannot enjoy their husband’s bodies (one example). Sexual hunger is serious, it’s not something to dismiss or squelch.
A married person and a celibate person steward their sexuality from much the same starting point. We must be honest about what we desire, who we fantasize about, how this is helping or hurting our capacity to be more fully human. Sexual stewardship often will involve self-discovery, even self-stimulation, exploring and sometimes climaxing on your own (aka masturbation). I make this claim because I, contrary to many vocal Christians, believe it is possible to masturbate without lust (disagree and want more? Check out behavioral scientist, licensed family therapist, medical family therapist, and certified sex therapist, Tina Schermer Sellers’ post). If, as a single man or woman, masturbation disgusts you, then consider that you may have some fears about loving your body and enjoy pleasure.
We could even speculate that Jesus who was neither afraid nor disgusted by sensual pleasure (Mary anointing his feet) or physical celebration (turning water into wine) encountered his own wet dreams and understood how his body worked sexually (Heb 4:15). At the very least, the doctrine of full humanity that Christianity teaches (our bodies, not just our souls, are saved in the resurrection of the dead) means that our bodies are good aspects of who we are. Every aspect of our bodies, from the way we slurp a cold smoothie to the way our skin tingles when touched by one we love is good. Our sexual organs will be part of the resurrection. God doesn’t plan to erase them.
As we steward our sexuality, the root of why we are afraid or addicted or disgusted is worth bringing to God. For years, I lusted about (imagined having sex with) men afraid to know WHY God called that sin. It wasn’t until I opened up my imagination to the possibility that lust really did hurt me, that God called faithfulness and chastity good, that I found a cure. And in the process, as I’ve grown, God didn’t ask me to turn off my capacity to admire and appreciate men.
I didn’t stuff away or erase my sensual appreciation, I merely re-ordered it so I was mastering it and not it mastering me (more on that in this presentation of Dale performing The Red Lizard from C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce. Go to minute 18:06).
So for me, a married woman of 11 years, sexual stewardship means I communicate what I want sexually with my husband. It means, I admit when I feel desire/attraction for other men, first to myself, then to God, then to Dale. Distinguishing between sensual attraction, sexual attraction and romantic attraction is very key in these moments. An example from my friendship with Hoops will help. I’ve often noticed how men have distinguishing parts of their bodies that are lovely. I am sensually or (if that term bothers you), aesthetically attracted to them. Wanting to make love to them is not part of it. But something smiles in me when I see or hear it. Bono’s voice, Nick’s feet, and (wait for it) Hoops’ legs. Don’t worry, I’ve already told Hoops. In fact, it’s his ankle bones in particular. They’re just lovely. I’ve even pointed them out to my husband. But I now know, I’m appreciating Hoops, not lusting after him.
I’ve experienced the same thing. When I was in Honduras I shared with a woman there, “You have very expressive eyes.” By the way she responded, I could tell it impacted her. Most people are unhappy with how they look.
So part of sexual stewardship is noticing our bodies and re-building our self-concept of our bodies in community, with good cross-sex friends.
For me, as a single, celibate man, it’s easy to think sexual stewardship means to stop masturbating and turn lust off. But, it actually means being more engaged in the dialog with others about desire. Trying to write this post with you on “Sex and Singleness”, preaching about sex last spring, reading Sex for Christians by Smedes all helped me. It was good to find safe people to share what I was wanting sexually, to let myself openly talk about it.
So are you saying you’re finding more roads to understanding your sexuality than the glitzy orgasmic one?
Yes. And I suppose I’m learning sexual sins are not roadblocks to God’s power. When I was in Zurich in November, the Grossmunster church had these huge doors, covered in artwork. In particular, on the bottom of the main two there are four cubes, each with the picture and name of women from the Bible. Bathsheba and Rahab, from Matthew’s account of the lineage of Jesus, are included. We don’t think of them as sexual screw-ups or castoffs but today they would be. It struck me how the Bible doesn’t hide the Rahabs and Bathshebas, but the church wants to hide the sexual screw-ups.
It’s time to change the way we use the church doors.
This article was first published at RubySlippers, a resource of Soulation. Comments welcome at RubySlippers.org