What Is Celibacy?

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What Is Celibacy?


Celibacy is a vow of long-term restraint from sexual intercourse, often until marriage. There are some instances that individuals vow to reframe from sex for a lifetime, for example, priests or nuns.

Other’s may decide to remain celibate for a specific duration of time, such as a few months or years, possibly until they are in a relationship with a partner.

It is considered "involuntary celibacy" when an individual is open to the idea of sex but is unable to find a partner. There are different ideas of what is considered celibacy. It can either be no sexual engagement at all, no penetration of any sort, or no penetration of a male’s genitals into a female’s.

The difference between celibacy and abstinence is that abstinence is not necessarily a vow. As a result of celibacy, a person remains abstinent, which is the action of refraining from sex with penetration. 

Reasons to Practice Celibacy

Celibacy is often practiced to uphold religious, spiritual, or cultural beliefs that often view sex as a sacred virtue to only be experienced once a person is married. A person is expected to remain a virgin until their wedding day. Virginity, in many religions and cultures, is seen as a representation of purity and innocence, especially for women. This is where the concept of a white wedding dress originated from. 

Celibacy is not always a choice related to religion. Some make the decision to be celibate because of personal beliefs, values, or curiosity. They may decide to wait to engage in sexual intercourse until they find a long-term partner.Celibacy is also practiced as a preventive measure to avoid possible undesired outcomes associated with sex, such as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), unwanted pregnancy, or emotional distress

Benefits of Practicing Celibacy

Celibacy has many advantages, that can help avoid both the emotional and physiological concerns associated with sexual intercourse with unfamiliar partners. It also broadens spiritual well-being and can help strengthen one’s connection with God. In addition, celibacy can enhance character traits like restraint, patience, and self-compassion.

The act of remaining celibate can help one to focus attention on other areas in life, and not be as consumed by thoughts of having sex. It can also make getting to know a potential partner a bit easier if you do not have to constantly worry about the pressure of when is the right time to introduce sex into the mix. 

Celibacy can also help one save money because they don’t need to worry about using protection. This means avoiding purchases such as condoms, birth control, or other contraceptives. It additionally removes the possibility of unplanned pregnancies and lessens exposure to sexual diseases.

Drawbacks of Practicing Celibacy

Remaining celibate requires a certain amount of self-restraint and willpower that can cause one to feel overwhelmed at times. This is why it is important to be nonjudgmental with oneself and make sure celibacy is really a commitment that you want to stick to.

There is a possibility of experiencing sexual frustration when celibate as if one’s sexual desires are not being fulfilled. A person can additionally feel self–conscious or left behind amongst peers who are having sex. Celibacy can also cause someone to feel insecure or inexperienced once they eventually do have sex.

The origins of celibacy have very sexist connotations existing for centuries. In the past, women were not often seen as sexual beings in most cultures. Although progress has been made over time, women are still associated with the concept of remaining pure and untouched, whilst men are viewed as sexual entities.

Men are sometimes praised when having multiple partners whereas women are condemned. This type of viewpoint can also create a lot of underline societal pressures and forced stereotypical behaviors from men.

How to Make the Decision to Be Celibate

If you are considering celibacy, review the following information for expertise on how to decide whether this lifestyle practice is for you:

  • Make sure the decision is yours: It is first important to be sure the decision to practice celibacy is for yourself. If celibacy is not something that you actually want to do, it will be even more difficult to remain committed, and can also produce a lot of confusion, resentment, sadness, and insecurities. It may be best to do some soul searching before officially deciding to be celibate.
  • Give it a try: If you think that celibacy may be something you would like to commit to for a certain duration of time or until marriage but are not quite sure, you can try it out for a certain amount of time first. Test out the waters a bit. You can give yourself a timeframe to remain celibate, and then determine whether this is a lifestyle that seems realistic for you.
  • Every celibacy story is different: Just because a person decides to remain celibate does not mean they are not sexually active in other ways. A person can decide to sustain from sexual intercourse but not all sexual pleasures. It is often assumed that those who are celibate do not still have a sex life of some sort. A person can connect with a partner in ways that are not considered intercourse. You get to decide what you're OK with or not OK with. Once you make those decisions, do your best to uphold your own boundaries.
  • Practice non-judgment: Making the decision to partake in particular sexual acts can produce feelings of shame and self-criticism for someone who is celibate. This is why it is very important to not judge yourself or to compare your experiences with others. Seeking to create a certain image of being perfect and pure is unrealistic to maintain.
  • Pressures of celibacy: There is a lot of pressure associated with remaining celibate. You may place pressure on yourself or you might feel external pressure from religious, cultural, or familial obligations.Try not to allow outside influences to make you remain celibate if you find that you no longer want to be celibate. This type of pressure can cause self-blame.
  • Do it for the right reasons: Evaluate why you are considering celibacy. If this is something that is being done to project a certain image of yourself or make others happy, these are not healthy reasons to make such an impactful decision. Do not choose celibacy for superficial or submissive reasons.
  • Understand that things change: You may realize that you no longer want to be celibate. Try to think about what made you change your mind and decided what you'd like to do moving forward.
  • Stay true to yourself: Do not allow outside influences to pressure you to break celibacy. Be sure to hold on to your voice and beliefs. Make sure to do what is right for you.

A Word From Verywell

The act of celibacy can sometimes be thrust upon an individual by their surroundings or social influences. It is important to assure the decision is yours because making a decision that you don’t really want to do can cause resentment and unhappiness. Sometimes, if the decision is solely based on religious obligation it may produce future resentment towards religion. You must also feel as an individual that this is the best choice for you spiritually, emotionally, and physically. If you're having a hard making this decision, a sex therapist may be able to help guide you.

5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Tiara Blain, MA
Tiara Blain, MA, is a freelance writer for Verywell Mind. She is a health writer and researcher passionate about the mind-body connection, and holds a Master's degree in psychology.