Does the non-religious celibate community exist?

(Alternate title: “I don’t give a f–k for voluntary, non-religious reasons, but what’s that called?”)

EDIT (8/31/2015): This has been by far the most popular blog post that I’ve written. For those who are looking for more information, I’ve also written this page: “Voluntary Celibacy 101“. I’m still looking for more input on the questions that were asked in this post, because I still haven’t been able to find a resolution to them.

It seems like a strange question. As someone who technically identifies with ‘celibacy’ first (and am going to be speaking from that perspective for the rest of this post), I’m envious of how cohesive the asexual community is, even though I’m part of it too. Sure, there is the question of what counts as the ‘asexual community’, and there are significant divisions based on politics (i.e: compare AVEN’s vs. the tumblr community’s), and overall viewpoints. There are also major divisions based on language, as asexuality is conceptualized differently in different languages. Despite all of those differences, the asexual community as a whole, is fairly cohesive*, and clearly defined! Celibacy, when it’s for religious reasons, is also clearly defined, and has a series of cohesive communities. What about the rest of us though?

The non-religious (i.e: not abstaining for religious reasons) part of the celibate community is much harder to define, and might not even exist as a cohesive community.

There are a lot of us, people who abstaining, or not having sex, for non-religions reasons. We do have our own communities, and spaces, but even amongst ourselves, there’s no consensus on who counts as being celibate! As someone who is the admin of a forum that’s allegedly about celibacy, this is very relevant, with a current discussion about how to conceptualize our experiences.

This makes me think the non-religious celibate community doesn’t exist, because it’s not cohesive enough to. Or it could be argued that it does exist, but it’s very fragmented, split into different factions, with standards that contradict each other. What do I mean by that?

It depends on what distinctions matter:

  • Voluntary vs. involuntary
  • Religious vs. non-religious reasons
  • For life vs. temporarily

Starting with one the most inclusive definitions, I’ve seen some boards that talk about celibacy, with little, or no division by the 3 listed distinctions, and could count as general celibate communities.

There is also the Involuntary Celibacy (“incel”) community; a group whose abstinence from sex isn’t by choice. They want sex, and their community is geared towards helping themselves, and others within it, overcome the obstacles that are preventing them from having it. The incel community distinguishes between voluntary celibacy vs. involuntary celibacy, and uses those terms. Their definitions are self-explanatory, and that distinction is considered the only one that matters. By their standards, perhaps there could be separate involuntary and voluntary celibacy communities.

Asexuality isn’t celibacy, but nonetheless, the asexual community has its own standards for who counts as celibate (these may differ by language). In English, people who choose to not have sex, for whatever reason, usually count as celibate, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be for life either. They clearly acknowledge what the incel community calls voluntary celibacy. There doesn’t seem to be a consensus on whether they count the involuntary celibate, as celibate though. There also isn’t a consensus on whether asexuals can be celibate. From what I’ve observed, most do, but a lot of asexuals who could be considered celibate, might consider themselves to be, but don’t find it a very meaningful label for themselves.

Celibrate sort of takes a middle ground, defining sexual abstinence, and celibacy as separate things. Their definition of celibacy isn’t exclusively for religious reasons, but they are emphasized. It mainly focuses on abstinence until marriage, and is geared mostly towards a Christian demographic, but acknowledges and supports people who are abstaining from sex for any reason, and it doesn’t have to be for life.

What about people who are choosing to never have sex, or never have it again, making them voluntarily celibate by the standards of the incel community, and most likely recognized as celibate by the standards of the asexual community, but don’t see themselves as celibate at all? The self-identified antisexuals of ru.antisex, the Antisexual Stronghold and their offshoots use a definition of celibacy that excludes themselves, along with nearly everyone else! By their standards, celibacy is for religious reasons**, meaning that by definition, there is no non-religious celibate community! What you’re seeing, and what I’ve been trying to talk about, was an illusion; there are antisexual (which could be thought of as a specific niche within voluntary celibacy, though that concept doesn’t really apply here), religious celibate, and sexual abstinence communities, but no non-religious celibate community, and these are all clearly separate.

By their standards, all 3 of the distinctions mentioned, matter. That’s actually where I learned of the latter two distinctions. There might be a fourth one too, mainly for asexuals***: Deliberate decision/conscious rejection of sex vs. simple lack of interest in it. Their standards also distinguish antisexuality (rejection of sex; is voluntary, for non-religions reasons, and for life) from celibacy (religious vow to not have sex), and sexual abstinence (not having sex for other reasons), as well as being distinguished from asexuality and prosexuality.

By the time I joined AVEN, I already knew of these communities, and their contradicting standards (i.e: concepts, terminology, definitions). And because of whose I’ve been using the longest, and feel the most familiar to me, this was very hard, and AVEN’s standards were yet another contradiction. I’ve switched between them over time, but attempted to reconcile most of the differences. When I created the “‘Voluntary celibacy’ support thread” on AVEN in the spring of 2013 (I’d link to it if AVEN weren’t down yet again), I was using what resembled the incel community’s standards, as a way of taking a third option. I believed that the incels, voluntarily sexually inactive asexuals, and self-identified antisexuals could all be part a cohesive non-religious celibate community, organized on a involuntary-voluntary continuum. I thought that these groups could all be unified under the celibate label, with the involuntary vs. voluntary distinction, gray areas included, being the most important.

Over the months though, my doubts grew, and by September 2013, I strongly went back to wanting to identify as antisexual again. It’s what I was so used to in the first place, and I just couldn’t see myself as celibate anymore. I realized that my experiences are too different from most of the responders on threads about celibacy, including the one I made, which is why on AVEN, being told by others “Don’t you mean celibate?” bothered me. I believed that all 4 of the distinctions mentioned mattered, instead of just voluntary vs. involuntary. Because of the “deliberate decision/conscious rejection of sex vs. simple lack of interest” distinction, I can’t see myself in the same group as most other asexuals who choose to not have sex****. I also found AVEN’s approach towards so-called celibate people (anyone who isn’t having sex) unsatisfactory, lumping us all together as a monolith, and speaking over us, and telling me I’m using the wrong definitions and terms.

How can all of these contradicting differences be reconciled? Can they? Where should we draw the line, in determining who is part of the non-religious celibate community, if it exists? These are questions I wanted to ask much sooner, I didn’t feel like there was a place where I could ask these questions. I attempted to on AVEN, but got too intimidated to try. I’m struggling with this, even in the board that I admin, because some people there identify as antisexual, others identify as celibate. If it’s said that celibacy can be for non-religious reasons, isn’t that imposing a label on some people who doesn’t think it fits them, and if it’s said that celibacy is for religious reasons, would that be taking a label away from a lot of people who do identify as celibate?

At this point, I’m starting to think would it’d be better to go by self-identification, so only people who identify as celibate, are counted as part of the non-religious celibate community, and that those who don’t identify as celibate, are counted as a separate community. It’s not an elegant approach, and in fact, it may make things more confusing, but that’s the best option I can think of that doesn’t impose any labels on people. I’m definitely looking for others to discuss this with. If I confused everyone, my apologies, because I haven’t been able to discuss this until now.


Footnotes:

*In some languages, at least. As harris-hijiri explained in the AVEN thread linking to their Asexual Agenda interview, the asexual community isn’t very cohesive in Japanese, because a definition hasn’t been agreed on by the majority, or at least that’s what I remember before AVEN crashed again. Alloromantic asexuals (nonsexuals in Japanese) and aromantic asexuals (asexuals in Japanese) are considered separate groups.

**This may be due to language differences, because the Antisexual Stronghold and ru.antisex, originated in Russian. While there are English-speakers who adhere to their standards, they’re/we’re using concepts that originated in Russian. If the self-identified antisexuals are a separate community than the rest of the celibate people, then that’s a community where English is the alt-lang!

***Some use a definition of antisexuality that excludes asexuals, because they see asexuals having no sexuality to go against, therefore can’t be antisexual, because it wouldn’t make sense. Others say an asexual can count as antisexual, if the main reason they aren’t having sex is due to that conscious rejection of it.

****I’m still trying to include them in the forum I made, and they definitely are welcome to share their experiences, but I don’t know if they’d consider themselves part of this community though.

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17 thoughts on “Does the non-religious celibate community exist?

  1. Siggy

    Have you ever seen the incel community? One thing I learned from the Elliot Rodgers shooting was that the incel community is part of the manosphere. So yeah, I would say we should stay separate from incel.

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    1. Aqua Post author

      Yes. I was just using the basic definition of “involuntary celibacy” for this post, but I’ve also known of the incel community for years, have seen parts of it, and how the most visible part is part of the manosphere. The incel community originated as a support group for people who had social issues that caused them to struggle with forming relationships, and was inclusive of all genders and sexualities, before a more extreme faction took over the label. There was a post I saw about this forgotten history, but sadly, the blog I found it on got deleted recently. But what matters is the present, and what the incel community is like now.

      On AVEN, I’ve met a few incel people; they said they identified as incel. They were fine people who were just down on their luck with finding romantic or sexual relationships, much more like the original definition. I felt bad for them, knowing that they’re overshadowed by the extremists, and I know how difficult it is to associate with a label that got taken over by extremists, or is associated with them.

      Besides, I don’t think an all-encompassing non-religious celibate community would’ve worked anyways, because the division between the involuntary and voluntary celibate factions would be too much, and they’re advocating for very different things.

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  2. Laura (ace-muslim)

    I find that most discussions of celibacy that try to narrow it further than “choosing not to have sex for an extended period of time” tend to exclude me. For instance, I am religious, but my celibacy is not “for religious reasons”. Although my religion says that as a non-married person, I should abstain from sex, even if it had a different teaching, I would still not be having sex because I don’t wish to do so!

    For this reason, I found the thread you linked to at the Outside of Sexuality forum unhelpful because most of the definitions proposed exclude me from a label I have chosen, either because my celibacy is not for religious reasons, or because as an asexual I have no innate interest in sex to “struggle against”.

    I find the word “celibate” to be a very useful description for me (given the broad definition I listed above) but I don’t necessarily have a lot in common with people who join celibacy communities, which is why the asexual community is so important to me and is one of the first places I found where I am accepted as I am in regard to sex and sexuality.

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  3. harris-hijiri

    Hello Aqua,

    >As harris-hijiri explained in the AVEN thread linking to their Asexual Agenda interview,

    Is this?
    http://www.asexuality.org/en/topic/106277-on-2nd-july-i-made-the-speech-at-aichi-university/
    I posted it to AVEN 31st August, and the interview of Asexual Agenda was uploaded at 1st September. I did not link from AVEN thread to Asexual Agenda interview.

    To tell the truth, I don’t understand why you so stick to celibacy. Perhaps this is difference of each cultures.

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    1. Aqua Post author

      It was that thread, and I got a lot of things mixed up. Sorry about that. I couldn’t remember the date of that thread, or if it predated your Asexual Agenda interview. I couldn’t check, because AVEN was down at the time, but thanks for the correction. I was trying to refer to the points about members not unifying, that you made in that thread.

      There are cultural differences in how the term “celibacy” is used. In Anglophone countries, it’s often used a lot more informally to refer to anyone not having sex for a long period of time, but in other contexts, it can still be loaded with religious connotations. In Japanese, is there any kind of community specifically for people choosing to not have sex, whether asexual or not, and if there is, is there a preferred term they use to refer to themselves?

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  4. Pingback: Linkspam: September 26th, 2014 | The Asexual Agenda

  5. Asexuality Archive

    In my writing, I distinguish abstinence and celibacy. Abstinence is the deliberate choosing not to have sex, while celibacy is the state of not having had sex for some time. They are separate concepts, and it’s possible to be one, and not the other, both, or neither. It’s also possible to be asexual or antisexual and any combination of abstinent or celibate. In my writing, I do not apply a religious motive to either, but more on that later.

    I strongly disagree with the standard AVEN phrasing of “Unlike celibacy, which is a choice, asexuality is a sexual orientation.”

    First, celibacy is not necessarily a choice. Regardless of the current usage of “incel”, it remains that there are some people who are involuntarily celibate (and aren’t whiny entitled MRAs). People in prison, people at remote work camps, people who don’t have time to date, people on the space station… These are people who might want to have sex, but no sex (or no desirable sex) is available. Beyond that, there are people who did not choose not to have sex, they’re just not having sex. I’m in that camp. I’m asexual, I don’t care about sex, so I haven’t been in a situation where I’d be able to have it in over ten years. I never said “I’m gonna stay away from that”, that’s just how my life is.

    And secondly, the phrasing sets it up so that asexuality and celibacy are exclusive concepts, which is not the case at all. I know that’s not what they mean, but that’s what it comes across as.

    I’ve long wanted a term to describe where I (and many other aces) land in all of this. To many people, “celibate” requires a religious motive. To many people, “celibacy” requires a deliberate choice not to have sex, thereby making it synonymous with “abstinence”. I don’t fit that. I just haven’t had sex in almost twelve years. It wasn’t a choice, it wasn’t forced upon me, it wasn’t religiously motivated, it just is. It’s roughly the same as the fact that I haven’t played baseball in more than fifteen years. It’s just how it is. Additionally, most people take celibate to mean that there is no experience of sexual feelings of any kind, and that even masturbation is a disqualifier.

    Right now, I reluctantly use the word “celibate” (but not “abstinent”) to describe my state, although I deeply dislike the connotations. I want a word that has no religious undertones, does not imply whether it was a choice or not, and just describes the state of not having participated in partnered sexual activity for a while, for whatever reason.

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  6. Pingback: This is a shout-out to the visitors interested in celibacy! | Cake at the Fortress

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  8. Dawen

    You ask at the end about whether “If it’s said that celibacy can be for non-religious reasons, isn’t that imposing a label on some people who doesn’t think it fits them?” and I have a thought about that.

    My experience in minority communities is pretty much exclusive to Tumblr, so that’s where I’m drawing from. (This is also an article that’s two years old; perhaps opinions have changed over here, too.) But I think your question relates pretty closely to how Tumblr defines the queer community, and to a lesser extent the trans and nonbinary communities.

    For the most part on Tumblr, anyone who is not heterosexual, heteroromantic, and cisgender (all three at once) is welcome in the “queer” community. But those people also make a point of stating that even if you /qualify/ as queer, you can choose to not identify as queer, for whatever reason (such as the q-slur problem, or perhaps like me – my asexuality doesn’t feel queer to me, so I don’t automatically reach for it as a description). I see similar thoughts with regards to the trans community, where it is defined as anyone who doesn’t identify with the gender assigned at birth. The nonbinary community takes this a step further, as anyone who doesn’t identify 100% of the time as 100% the gender assigned at birth (for example, genderfluid people may experience the gender assigned at birth, but obviously not all the time). This means that any nonbinary person can also identify as trans. They make a point that no nonbinary person is /required/ to also identify as trans (again, like I don’t, even though I’m a shade of nonbinary). (None of this means that some nonbinary people who still strongly present as the gender assigned at birth don’t face some backlash from the binary portion of the trans community; I strongly suspect they do and it’s a primary reason I don’t identify as trans.)

    My rambled point is, there isn’t pressure to identify as something even if you “qualify” by the community definition. You have the agency to decide how and as what you identify. Just because the secular voluntary celibate community (if there ever is one) defines it as voluntarily not having sex for non-religious reasons, and you happen to voluntarily abstain from sex for non-religious reasons, doesn’t mean you /have/ to identify as a member of the community.

    But again, this is all based on Tumblr. It might not apply to AVEN or the WordPress communities or anywhere else, because Tumblr is pretty special.

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  9. Bren

    I am new here. Very interesting to me. I am choosing celibacy after many years of debating and I do not have religious affiliation. I would like there to be more cohesion in the celibacy community.
    Bren

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    1. Aqua Post author

      Welcome! I’d like there to be more cohesion too. Have you met other people in the celibate community, and if you have, did you feel a strong sense of community or solidarity with them?

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  10. caseation

    I’m starting out in exploring a life of voluntary non-religious celibacy, so I’d be interested in understanding more of how others conceptualize this and live the experience. For me, it comes from simply deciding that relationships have been too painful and that I have derived very little benefit from them, so I would rather just devote my life to other things than to continue to seek out romantic relationships and be disappointed. Romantic relationships are simply frustrating and infuriating and lead to hardship, and I would be better off without them.

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  11. Tonja

    Hello…is anyone still watching this wonderful thread? I’m sooo very interested in speaking with others who understand my chosen path…no sex until marriage & possibly not even much after, for personal/spiritual, but non-religious reasons. My 1st go-’round was three years and this time it’s going on seven, so far…and I have found NOBODY to talk to about this which can feel very lonely. I’m hoping someone is watching and open to discuss with me. Thanks, so much!

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