(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.
*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.