On AVEN a year ago, I had discussions with some members over what ‘voluntary celibacy’ was. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll use that term in this post as a catch-all for anyone (whether they identify as celibate or not… more about that later) who by choice, isn’t sexually active, as opposed to involuntary celibacy. It started when I created the “voluntary celibacy support thread”, and asked some questions to get some conversations started.
I got quite a few responses, from asexual and non-asexual respondents, and the two questions that had the most intriguing responses were:
“Motivations for giving up all sex, and what factors in your life do you feel influenced this decision? (i.e: religious reasons or not? Are you sex-repulsed, had bad experiences, sex was just never on your priorities, no incentive to pursue it?…)” and “Have you always felt that way, and at what age did you make this decision?”
The main motivation for many of the asexual respondents was tied to not having any incentive to pursue sex, because of not having any desire for it due to their asexuality. Not all of the respondents who answered like this are sex-repulsed. Most didn’t pinpoint a time that they decided to never have sex. While they still chose to not have sex (hence the voluntary celibacy), it wasn’t a conscious or deliberate decision that needed to be made. Some respondents said that they never really thought about it, therefore they never felt any need to reject sex. I’ve seen similar responses in related threads. They’re not involuntarily celibate, but is it accurate to say that they’re voluntarily celibate?
To those who chose not to be sexually active primarily due to their asexuality, what do you think? Is ‘celibacy’ (with or without the ‘voluntary’ qualifier) a meaningful label to you?
I was surprised by those responses at first. I had thought that voluntary celibacy was always clear-cut, that it always entailed some conscious rejection of sex, even among asexuals. That happened to be the case for me personally, and it was the responses to my questions that made me realize that to consciously reject sex is unusual for an asexual person, making me some sort of outlier!
My understanding may have also been skewed, because most of the ‘voluntary celibate’ people I knew prior to getting involved in the asexual community were people who rejected sex for life, because they knew they didn’t want it, and are totally sure of that decision (though they identify as antisexual, and don’t see themselves as celibate… this further raises the questions of what is the celibate community, who is part of it, and if it even exists?), and my experiences were more like theirs; those who are ‘voluntary celibate’ in all but name! One of the non-asexual respondents was just like this, and another one pretty close.
How did I reconcile this with the more ambiguous answers I’ve gotten from some of the asexual respondents on AVEN? I tried to come up with a model, showing that there are degrees to which a voluntarily celibate person is confident that they can and will stay voluntarily celibate for the rest of their lives.
This is what I originally came up with, but it could use some re-working:
• Highest degree of confidence: Actively rejected sex, and completely ruled it out as a future possibility.
• High degree: Most likely actively rejected sex, considers their decision unlikely to change.
• Medium degree: Prefers never having sex, might have actively made that decision or sex just didn’t cross their mind, but doesn’t completely rule it out in the future.
• Low degree: Is fine with never having sex, but probably didn’t actively make that decision, and may expect that to change in the future (i.e: if they enter a relationship, might be willing to do it to please their partner)
• Lowest degree: Is ‘celibate’, but doesn’t want to be
Some respondents found it helpful, but I realize now I was conflating degree of confidence, with whether someone considers their celibacy voluntary or involuntary, which is a separate dimension. I’m more familiar with the high and highest degrees of confidence, so that’s why they seem the most accurate. The question of how freely-given of a choice the decision to not have sex is also a separate question.
Another thing I found interesting because of that proposed model, is that some of the asexual respondents said that while their voluntary celibacy is largely tied to their asexuality, and assumed that they might not be voluntarily celibate if they weren’t asexual, but still rated themselves as having a high degree of confidence.