It is only an aberration of our own sorry generation to equate the absence of sexual gratification with the absence of full personhood, the denial of being or the deprivation of joy. 1
Despite what our culture says, I am no less of a man because I have never slept with anybody. Human happiness is not dependent on an active sex life. (In fact, it’s the insistence that it is that is the cause of so much human unhappiness.)
It turns out that my lack of a sex life has often been the passport to the deeper relational intimacy that many wrongly think is only found through having one. Sex often gets in the way of good friendships with people, and my commitment to not having sex often helps park that complication in my relationships with others – with both women and men.
I think that in this I am following in the footsteps of both Jesus and Paul. What is striking about them both is the network of intimate relationships they both had with women and men. Jesus was clearly emotionally and physically intimate (in a non-sexual way) with both male and female disciples like John and Peter, Martha and Mary. In Romans 16 Paul (the supposed misogynist) demonstrates that he was at the centre of a whole network of close relationships with people of both sexes – it’s worth noting that his long list of friends here is from just one of the churches he was in relationship with.
How did Jesus and Paul have the time and energy to give themselves to other people in these ways? Because they were single men, practicing sexual abstinence, and so were able to redirect so much time and energy into non-sexual intimate relationships. A life-long celibate man, Keith Clark, observes:
On the practical level, celibacy is a way of remaining significantly more available to cherish and nurture others' being and becoming because of the choice not to take on the responsibilities of establishing and maintaining one's own family unit...2
We should all be grateful that both Jesus and Paul made that choice – we wouldn’t be here as Christians if they had settled down, got married and had kids. We need to be more encouraging of others that are doing the same today (by design or circumstance) because we recognise the benefit to us (and them) of the time and energy they can give to a much wider network of people as a result.
I know that I could write my own Romans 16 style list of a whole network of intimate relationships that I have enjoyed with women and men because I am single. I also know that most of my married friends would struggle to compete because they have rightly had to focus their attention a little more than me. There will have been some pluses in that for them, but there have undoubtedly been many pluses for me in not being married, and the idea that sexual abstinence means intimacy starvation couldn’t be further from my own personal experience. In fact, as I’ve written elsewhere, 3 I often find married people to be more intimacy starved than their single contemporaries. Greater relational intimacy with a larger number of people is what a lack of sex has given me.
- Thomas E. Schmidt, Straight & Narrow: Compassion & Clarity in the Homosexuality Debate (IVP USA, 1995), p.168.
- Keith Clark, An Experience of Celibacy: A Creative Reflection on Intimacy, Loneliness, Sexuality and Commitment (Ave Maria Press, 1982), p.140.
- For more on this see ‘Misstep No.5’ in my book The Plausibility Problem: The Church and Same-Sex Attraction (IVP, 2015).