Voluntary celibacy 101

version 1.3 (updated 1/16/2016 – removed the link to the article “Reasons for Rejecting Sex” under the “Reasons” header since it’s no longer publicly available)

version 1.2 (updated 7/21/2015 – thanks to luvtheheaven with suggesting tweaks to the wording, which were added)

Introduction

(note: The statistics on this page cited from the 2014 AVEN Community Census preliminary results refer to the asexual spectrum, or asexual, gray-asexual and demisexual respondents combined)

Some people don’t have sex, and have differing reasons for it. Some don’t like that they’re sexually inactive, but others have chosen to not have sex.

This is a diverse group with different reasons, and different backgrounds. Some are asexual, others aren’t; some have never had sex, others have given it up by choice, including those who feel free upon knowing that not having sex is an option. Some do want romantic relationships without sex, others don’t want romantic relationships, for different reasons.

For this page, I will mainly use the term “voluntary celibacy” as an umbrella term to refer to people who choose to not have sex, for whatever reason, because it is one of the most inclusive terms. See the “terminology issues” section for more details.

Why awareness matters

The near lack of recognition of voluntary celibacy is directly a part of compulsory sexuality and sex-normativity.

People who aren’t having sex are generally assumed to either be abstaining involuntarily, or have religious reasons behind it. The idea that someone could both choose to not have sex, and not have religious reasons for it, isn’t considered, and isn’t considered a “valid” reason. Part of compulsory sexuality is that everyone by default is expected to seek out, and have sex, because it is seen as normative, or the “proper” and fulfilling thing to do, which leaves someone having to, or being pressured to justify opting out of it.

Abstaining until marriage, or taking a religious vow, are usually the only reasons that may be recognized and accepted by society as a whole (though not everyone even accepts and recognizes those reasons), which puts the pressure on those of us who want to abstain longer, or for life, and for non-religious reasons, to have to justify ourselves.

The pressure to justify opting out of sex can be a driving factor behind sexual coercion, committed or enabled by people who claim that whoever doesn’t have a “legitimate” justification to not have sex, is just “making excuses”.

We may be accused of being “repressed”, or be accused of being afraid of sexual intimacy by people who want to change us. We’re not repressed, because we sincerely chose to not have sex, and we are being true to ourselves with that choice.

Reasons

Our reasons for voluntary celibacy, are varied, and include, but aren’t limited to the following: 

  • Concluding that the drawbacks outweigh the benefits: The underlying reason related to nearly all others.
  • Finding personal freedom in not having sex
  • Ideological rejection: Ideological reasons against sex are also varied, and include the voluntarily celibate who feel like sex is nothing but power over another person, something that they can’t or won’t ever envision themselves consenting to, a tool for manipulation, or one more way to be dependent on another person. Ideological reasons against sex are mainly concerned with ethical issues, such as the devaluing of consent, and the normalization of sex as a tool to manipulate others with. 
  • Disillusionment: Used to enjoy sex, but grew disillusioned with it.
  • Asexuality: Not all asexuals are celibate, but for those who are celibate, they often cite their asexuality as the “primary reason” for not having sex. See “Intersection/overlap with asexuality” below.
  • Physical repulsion towards sex
  • History of sexual violence: Survivors are affected differently, but some never want sex as a result of sexual violence.
  • Religious reasons: The motivations behind religious vows of celibacy vary, but some people who may or may not want to get married choose to be celibate, giving up sex until marriage, or sacrificing marriage as well and usually all romance as well as sex in the process of devoting their lives to serving their community.

Terminology issues

There isn’t a set term used to identify ourselves, which in turn makes defining the boundaries of the community difficult. Different terms are used for different reasons. The term “voluntary celibacy”, and its definition of choosing to not have sex for whatever reason, come from the Involuntary Celibate community, which sees that celibacy can also be involuntary.

Not all people who could be considered voluntarily celibate, identify as celibate though. Some instead identify as antisexual, nonsexual, abstinent, sex-repulsed/averse, sexually inactive, or use no label.

Some who are known to have a lifelong rejection of sex, identify as antisexual. Generally, they consider the rejection of sex to be a deliberate decision, a significant part of themselves, and have ideological reasons for rejecting sex. There is a range of viewpoints under this label; there is a consensus in believing there are more negatives than positives to sex, but to what extent, and the specific viewpoints vary from individual to another.

Although there is no consensus on what nonsexuality is among the people who identify with that term, some whom identify as nonsexual report that they’re asexuals who are sexually inactive due to the lack of interest for sex.

Many asexuals who are sexually inactive by choice indefinitely or permanently, don’t feel a need to use a label for their sexual inactivity or the choice behind it. They might not consider it as significant part of their identity or experiences as their asexuality.

*For more information:

Overlap or intersection with asexuality

According to the 2014 AVEN Community Census, 87.6% reported being sexually inactive. They are more likely to be sexually inactive, and repulsed by sex than the general population. Asexuals are the most likely to be repulsed by sex, with 55% reporting that they’re repulsed, along with 27.4% of gray-asexuals, and 15.9% of demisexuals (the percentage for allosexual respondents still has yet to be given).

Another gray area for voluntary celibacy is whether asexuals whose main reasons for choosing to not have sex are primarily due to their lack of interest as a result of their asexuality, are considered to be voluntarily celibate, and whether they count themselves:

  • Some say they don’t count, but aren’t involuntarily celibate either, since they didn’t choose to be asexual, and their asexuality is the main reason for choosing to not have sex, but they don’t feel like anything is missing by not having sex.
  • Some say they do count as voluntarily celibate, because although they didn’t choose to be asexual, they still could’ve chosen whether to have sex or not, and chose to be celibate.
  • A smaller group of asexuals say that they’re voluntarily celibate despite their asexuality, and still feel like they would be if they weren’t asexual.

Only 11.9% of the sexually inactive respondents identified as celibate. Of those who don’t identify as celibate, the largest percentage identified as sexually inactive, followed by nonsexual.

The most common reason given for not identifying as celibate, reported by 70.8% of the respondents is “I think celibacy suggests deliberate effort in not having sex [that wouldn’t apply to most asexuals]”.

The voluntarily celibate are subject to some of the same misconceptions as asexuals, including:

  • being accused of being “repressed”/ashamed/in denial of their sexuality.
  • automatically being assumed to be a sex-shamer, or imposing their views on others.
  • assumed to be incapable of forming any meaningful relationships.

*For more information:

  • Mercenary from unknown lands, part 1“: Post about the intersection of asexuality and voluntary celibacy, and the obstacles both sides have towards understanding each other, despite the overlap in experiences.

The boundaries of the voluntary celibate community

The boundaries of the general celibate community are difficult to define, and it is more accurate to say that it is composed of factions with contradicting definitions of celibacy, and contradicting ideals. The goals of each faction are different. The involuntarily celibate, who are sexually inactive not by choice, have their own clearly-defined community.

The border between voluntary and involuntary isn’t always clear, such as with people who abstain from sex for medical reasons. It could be argued either way that their celibacy is voluntary or involuntary, so it may be up to these individuals to determine how to identify themselves.

Among the voluntarily celibate, it is much less clear. It is unclear if it is only composed of those whose celibacy is for non-religious reasons, and/or is intended for life. Some people in celibate groups mention that they may be abstaining temporarily. It is also unclear if those who don’t identify as celibate, and asexuals who are sexually inactive by choice, but mainly due to their asexuality count themselves, or would be counted.

Despite the lack of cohesion, the difficult to define boundaries, and lack of set term, what could bring voluntarily celibate people together despite those differences are their shared experiences. We all must navigate a world where sex and sexual relationships are seen as normative, and we feel pressured to justify ourselves, so we should support each other in our fights against this pressure.

For more information:

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One thought on “Voluntary celibacy 101

  1. Pingback: Celibacy, and its use by asexuals | The Asexual Agenda

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