“We need to watch these numbers. If they dip too much lower, you’ll probably experience mood swings, depression, and a low to non-existent sex drive. So stay on the supplements,” my doctor advised.
I nodded. Of course I am concerned about staying healthy and will follow whatever guidelines necessary. Mood swings and depression are not symptoms I want but honestly in that moment, a low to non-existent sex drive didn’t sound too bad.
It’s difficult to be a 31-year-old woman who enjoys sex and is also celibate. I was celibate before I married and I have been celibate since my marriage ended. But when I was married I was (happily!) not celibate and would have gladly stayed non-celibate for the rest of my life.
Aside from the strictly biological purpose of procreation, I think the whole point of sex is to draw people together. It’s a deep and almost uncontrollable tug towards a closer relationship with another person. It’s a desire to know someone else more intimately. Sometimes sexual desire serves as the fuel to the courage we need to risk being vulnerable with another person.
I am celibate for religious and personal conviction reasons and I know how strange that may seem. I also find it strange sometimes. Sex is a natural and healthy desire that I am choosing not to indulge. I believe my sexuality and ways of expressing it are part of what makes me who I am. I affirm that a healthy sex life is part of being a whole person. And personally, I believe that abstaining from sexual relationships is currently an expression of healthy sexuality for me.
This personal conviction does raise a lot of questions. From other people and even from myself. Thankfully, I’m not the only one who has looked for answers to these questions. And in this new season, I have been drawn back to the wise words of monastics who have long wrestled with what healthy celibacy looks like.
Kathleen Norris’ book about contemporary Benedictines The Cloister Walk explores this part of monastic life. Monastics describe the wide-ranging friendships they have been able to develop (with both men and women) because they are focused on connecting in deep meaningful ways rather than personal sexual gratification.
One Benedictine sister describes celibacy as freeing her up to love all and to love all well. Rather than focusing her love on one person (as one would in a monogamous relationship), she is free to love more broadly. No one holds claim to her love exclusively.
These monastics are not disparaging sex or sexual relationships and often compare the disciplines of a celibate life with the disciplines of fidelity in a marriage. They do not believe themselves to be more holy because they are celibate and in many ways regard it as an honor to make the commitment.
In my personal experience, I have seen how my friendships have both deepened and broadened since my divorce. Some of this came with the vulnerability I felt free to live with after losing everything I thought I was protecting. Some of this came with my need to depend on others in ways I never had before because I was so personally weak and depleted. But I also think a large part of the change I experienced in my relationships was because I was not focused on intensely loving and caring for one person and had the capacity to love more widely.
And yet even with all the benefits I know I have experienced, I still miss sex. And there are still days I wonder if there is any point to unfulfilled sexual desire. Why is this part of who I am if it is not being engaged? How can I live in a sexually whole and healthy way as a celibate? Will I feel like I have missed out if I continue to be celibate for the rest of my life? Is the intense love and relationship that I miss found only in marriage or can it be channeled to other passions and people?
I don’t think there are easy answers or maybe any answers at all but I believe they are still worth asking and living into the tension they present. So yes, I am staying on my supplements and trying to take care of myself physically, emotionally and relationaly. Even if sometimes it feels easier to be out of balance.