Welcome to #AskCam, a column where sex and intersectionality are not divided but welcomed together.
I’ve always been a sexual person, but I haven’t been dating in the last few months because of life – school, work, family, that kind of thing. Because of this, I’ve been unintentionally celibate for a few months, and sometimes I feel like something is wrong with me. Is celibacy still valid even when you don’t plan for it or have a super deep meaning, like for religion, attached?
Celibacy doesn’t often get enough love in the sex education world, but sex positivity means empowering everyone to make the best choices for themselves by providing information on everything. And if other sexual acts can be pleasurable and valid, why can’t celibacy?
For those who are unfamiliar, celibacy has a variety of definitions, but it’s best known for being interpreted as the abstaining from sexual activity. Google dictionary defines it as “the state of abstaining from marriage and sexual relations”, but that seems very detached from how we regard other forms of sexual expression in our lives. Where sexual activity is often connected with other parts of our lives, celibacy is too often seen as separate, disconnected, and “less than”. It’s a looked down upon choice because the norm in our society is that everyone should want to and be able to have sex. That simply isn’t true.
I also want to point out here that celibacy is different from asexuality, which is a sexual orientation that someone doesn’t choose. People who are asexual can engage in sexual activity if they wish, though the focus on this orientation is more on how the desire to engage in sex isn’t there. With celibacy, it is a choice and can be part of a lifestyle, but is not an orientation. Celibacy doesn’t inform your sexual orientation in any way.
Celibacy and asexuality have also been used to weaponize racism and ableism in our society for decades. Because our society is centered on able-bodied individuals being the norm, the cultural attitude is that those who are disabled are undesirable and by default, are assumed to be asexual or at best celibate. This is harmful because it continues the ableist assumptions that sex is for certain people or that sex can only be done in certain ways (often with assumed masc/femme gender roles and penetration involved), discounting the wide variety of ways that sex can happen.
We’ve also seen celibacy and asexuality used to uphold racism. It was assumed during slavery and Reconstruction that Black women were “unrapable” because their race and gender deemed them as less than human, and if they are less than human, consent isn’t necessary. Today we see how racist stereotypes of hypersexuality are harmful towards communities of color, where femmes are more at risk of being survivors of sexual violence than white femmes, but we also rob these communities of body autonomy when we invalidate their right to choose how and when they engage in sex.
Your question here brings up the valid point of choice; where does choice lie in the decision to be celibate or not? Involuntary celibacy – when someone wants to engage in sexual activity but they do not or cannot due to circumstance or other reasons – also happens, and we often don’t leave space for these individuals to talk about their experiences as well.
We often discount the ways that our identities and experiences create definitions for things that may differ slightly from how we have always been taught to view these things. Celibacy is no different; how can we allow space for our identities and intersections to come together in redefining celibacy into an active and valid lifestyle choice rather than one associated with desperation and undesirability? We also have to do better in allowing people to make their own decisions, and that starts with providing as much accurate, validating information as we can.
People engage in celibacy for a number of reasons, just like there are many reasons why someone would want to be sexually active. Though religion is often seen as one of the main reasons why someone can choose to be celibate, it isn’t the only reason. From the individuals I’ve talked to and my own experiences with short-term celibacy, the choice to disengage from sexual activity can help to bring clarity towards other aspects of your life. It can help on self-love journeys, give space to focus energies on other things like school, career, or caretaking; it can be a part of a healing process from trauma or any impactful event in your life. But it can be none of these reasons, and someone can be celibate simply because they want to try it out and see how it makes them feel.
There is no time limit or even minimum time you need to be practicing celibacy in order for it to be “valid”. It’s valid from the moment you make the decision to practice it in your own life, period. But if you’re struggling with feeling like you’re alone in your journey, finding community and talking to others about your struggles can be helpful too. Support groups, whether they’re in person or online, can be just as helpful as reading articles, books, and spending time making your own definition to celibacy.
Being honest and open – even if it’s just with you – about your expectations and goals with celibacy can make it easier to navigate how your journey is taken.
#ASKCAM WILL BE BACK ON AUGUST 18!