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Why Celibacy is Perverse

I was taught and trained by Catholic monks and nuns for twelve years. Later on, I became a monk in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. I have experience of celibacy.

I took my vow willingly, and for several reasons. First, it was the price of admission to the spiritual elite of Tibetan Buddhism. Secondly, ignominiously, I hoped to escape the agonies of love and my social ineptitude. Thirdly and more hopefully, I craved the payoff promised by my teachers: increased meditative energy, greater clarity, Enlightenment with a big, beautiful capital E.

After eight years of celibacy I landed back in the real world with the emotional maturity of a teenager. This affected not just my ability to relate to women but my relationships with everyone, and with life itself. I was half a man. It took me decades to grow whole. Many of the former monks and nuns I knew were, and some still are, similarly damaged. You might blame this on the celibate life, but more likely these are the reasons they adopted it in the first place.

The sex drive is built in to our animal body, but
there’s also the mammalian drive for intimacy

I admit I was concerned on the day of my ordination, but I was also blessed with great powers of denial and rationalization. If others could do it, I figured, it couldn’t be that hard; it must get easier with practice.

We sanitize eating and defecating, but you can’t do that with sex. We dance around it with courtship rituals and legal agreements, but the act itself reduces us to our animal nature. For those who need to maintain the illusion of being a rational, chosen species, that’s problematic.

Civilization’s most crucial virtue may be non-violence, but celibacy is its toughest. The enemy is within, never really vanquished — and it doesn’t end there. The sex drive is built in to our animal body, but there’s also the mammalian drive for intimacy. We need to connect, to trust and to love. It often scares us.

If celibacy is pure, then sex must be dirty

Which moves some people to thwart those drives. It’s certainly a sacrifice — but is it healthy, and where on earth does purity come into it? If celibacy is pure, then sex must be dirty. Catholicism supposedly sanctifies it within marriage, but that’s just a way of buying off the laity; the priesthood remains de facto superior. The other Abrahamic religions, Judaism and Islam, mostly consider celibacy unnatural.

Asian religions place it in even higher regard. For Buddhists and Hindus celibacy not just a source of moral purity but also of meditative prowess. In the tantric traditions, to lose semen is to squander spiritual energy. Women, of course, are hardly in a position to retain their semen, but that’s of no matter in misogynistic cultures.

For the first time, celibacy is under general attack because it’s become public knowledge that many ‘celibates’ aren’t avoiding sex at all. Some are evil and duplicitous about it, but many are basically decent people unable to master their own drives and tortured by guilt. Add to that the burden of having to be paragons of virtue, and you can only imagine the toxicity they exude. The communities in which they operate have built-in safeguards against discovery that are only somewhat less effective in these days of total exposure. They continue to encourage denial and spread deceit.

Celibate teachers think they’re sublimely qualified to lead
sexually whole people on their quest for the purpose of life

When scandal does finally erupt, people like Cardinal Keith O’Brien and Father Tom Donovan are simply characterized as failed, weak individuals. The recent  exposés of teacher Sogyal Lakar and Sasaki Roshi, and the revelations of the abused young Kalu Rinpoche reveal as much unchaste havoc in Tibetan and Zen Buddhism as in the Catholic church. Some commentators claim the issue is not about sex at all, but about mistreating people. This is a weak attempt at apologetics. When shrouded in guilt and secrecy, frustrated sexuality fosters bad behavior. The two are connected.

The blame falls rightly on the priests and cardinals, the Tibetan and Zen masters who can’t keep their libido to themselves, but to close the case at that point is an abdication of responsibility. Both those who attack and those who defend these individuals restrict the debate to the assignment of blame and, at best, mechanisms of prevention. No one questions the practice of celibacy, or its sanity. It’s so ancient an institution that to challenge it threatens catastrophe for the traditions that enshrine it.

Celibates shove a part of themselves into the
shadows and then claim to pursue the light

Whether the target is one person or a whole complicit community, you never hear anyone within these traditions suggesting that celibacy is a sick idea, that spiritual teachers and leaders need to experience intimate relationships. Sometimes intimacy goes wrong and sometimes it’s a celebration of life, but what do celibates know of this? Those who promote abstinence for ulterior motives, as I did, who spin it as a source of purity or of power, shove a part of themselves into the shadows and then claim to pursue the light. They think they’re sublimely qualified to lead sexually whole people on their quest for the purpose of life.

In a recent interview with Piers Morgan, the Dalai Lama portrays sexual thoughts as ‘dirty,’ and makes wisecracks about marriage being troublesome. He’d be wiser to cite his lack of experience and say, ‘no comment,’ rather than describe marriage in such a cartoonish way, but he really doesn’t have that freedom. The monastic tradition he represents is a society founded entirely on celibacy. He’s as cornered as the pope.

I long ago declared myself unable to follow Christ within the Catholic Church, or Buddha under the constraints of any Buddhist tradition. It was the only decision for me, but there are those within who are able to rise above it. Thomas Merton comes to mind, and Gendun Chopel. Unlike the Dalai Lama, these were not institutional leaders but low-profile monks who maintained their integrity and pushed the envelope in ways that are not available to those at the top. Where are their modern-day equivalents?

P.S. As some people have noted here and elsewhere, I was imprecise in this post with my examples, Neither Sogyal nor Sasaki were ever bound by monastic vows, so their abusive behavior can’t be blamed on failed celibacy. I included them because they are nevertheless examples of what happens when sexuality is disconnected from one’s spiritual and moral practice.


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67 responses to “Why Celibacy is Perverse”

  1. Rob Stolzy

    This was a thought-provoking article, thanks.

    I see the problem from a slightly different angle. The problem with the celibacy is whether or not it is fully conscious. By this I mean: how well does the aspirant understand the purpose and meaning of the celibacy? Also importantly, how well equipped is he/she to cope with the psychological battles likely involved? And is the topic taboo from hence forward, or can counsel be shamelessly obtained? I think you’ve generously described your own inner state about this particular ‘tenet of faith’, and that honesty is commendable.

    The period is past when any kind of spiritual practice can legitimately be justified purely because of obedience to authority or prescribed tenets. This in a nutshell is what is wrong, out of step with modern consciousness, with all inner religious circles. They are too conservative, and the people involved automatically think in terms of protecting their turf. Like everything else, spirituality evolves. The cutting edge does not lie within established traditions, but instead depends upon individuals cultivating their own consciousness and being responsible for their own morality, Things should only be done for reasons, with deliberateness and understanding, not received ‘wisdom’.

    I agree with your assessment of celibacy within traditions, but I am not as quick to accept that there is not a place or role for it elsewhere if chosen. All sorts of ‘natural’ urges can develop into automatic behaviors and automatic thinking (and feeling) when they are either overdone or underdone, and it is often an apt spiritual practice element to choose to become deliberate about one of them.

  2. lee rogers

    Well, you know … celibate here, celibate there….

  3. Jaime McLeod

    While I agree with your premise that celibacy is ill-advised for almost everyone – though some people are legitimately asexual – your argument falls apart when applied to the situation with Joshu Sasaki. The reason is Japanese Zen monks are not required, or even expected, to be celibate. Most Japanese Zen monks – and westerners ordained in schools that came from Japan – are married, including Sasaki. His students actually sent away to Japan for a wife for him when they first began to get an inkling that he was sexually abusing women, thinking that may help (I’ll set aside, for now, the disturbing connotations of finding what is essentially a mail-order bride for one’s Zen teacher …).

    In this case, people are genuinely hurt and upset by the fact that a man who has helped so many people come to realization is capable of sexually assaulting so many women who went there looking for his help and guidance, and that his closest disciples ignored and enabled it for so long. No one – or no one who understands Japanese Zen, anyway – is actually upset at the idea of Sasaki having sex in general (hell, at 105, if his activity weren’t exploitative of his female students, I would be cheering him on).

    Can forced celibacy cause clergy to act out their sexual urges in inappropriate or exploitative ways? Yes, I think it can. Is that what happened to Sasaki? No.

  4. A Tibetan monk

    If celibacy is merely the ‘thwarting’ of a desire an ‘animal nature’ that we have no hope of overcoming, as the writer of the article suggests, then I would have to agree with the conclusion. Likewise, if the existent of celibate members of the religious community means naively framing celibacy as pure and normal sexuality as dirty then I would also seriously question the validity of this.

    Another alternative way to understand celibacy is that it allows a form of livelihood that allows those who are very interested in their religion to practice it in a very dedicated manner. Because celibates are not involved in the raising of a family, their time is freed to pursue religion. This allows a group of ‘professional’ practitioners of the religion to sustain themselves. Thus, an ideal celibate should be one who has sacrificed something in order to practice their religion.

    Nevertheless, as in any institution, whitened sepulchers will emerge. It is very important that these people be exposed, even it is their students who do so, and generally it is useful that the concept of celibacy is challenged so that we may come to understand it further. Personally, I think a lot of reforms are needed in religious institutions to prevent the wrong kind of people from at masquerading as celibates, or acting as mere parasites, but that there is some justification for the idea of having religious celibates.

  5. sodis

    i could give you an endlessly long list of teachers who ASSUME celibacy or a clean marriage but are using their position to sleep with others…even our new young kalu rinpoche, was sleeping with his secretary (?) girl for manny manny years, in his former life time, which caused a scandal and basically brought her lots of trouble when she honoustly told so.assuming her evil.. ( and beware; i ve no judgement in the sense of..you did it yourself last time so this is what you get this life time..absolutely not!- sogyal rinpoche had a jane doe sue him, ( a whole group of women, which was settled out of court ) but he didn t stop after that. Then we have the Shambala center, of course dad did it publicly but his son slept with basically every female, a well hidden secret, and now he s got his princess wife..( not telling the women he slept with until a week or so before the marriage was officially anounced while he knew all the time…) All this hurt..then there’s more..i do not dare to tell for bringing hell over me so..but that is not the geste of this article..i think indeed it s a whole world of contradictions with the intimacy thing ..i sat so so manny hours myself…alone..manny years..but in the end i too had this problem you are describing…plus handling stuff alone and interacting with people i could do both really well, – i did Gurdjieff training first- but the sitting alone , seeing one person a week for an hour , for 10 years stopping all other activity, (this is a bit overdone in writing, but generally it was so ) makes one a weirdo at best..haha a sad story… regress instead of progress? and/or does the brain have difficulties with extreme contradictory worlds’ perceptions living together? how well were we actually made? how well can we experience the non exsisting source with all this streaming … and yes, i agree, a good teacher knows what he can and cannot teach..so let he then sent them to other sources for answers…! the problem is our stupid and self-loved awe for these beings and our fears and dependancy s our parent and perfection and guilt and other projections that all serve to keep our own persona intact..survival of species s quite strong..it would be nice if you want to eleborate more on the (solitary/ intimacy ) contradiction..? celibacy isn t nessecery solitary and the otherway around.. but intimacy and solitary…

  6. Matt

    Great post. Though I was a bit confused about your comment regarding Merton, who I think was very much caught in the mores his time and the Trappist abnegation of the body. His brief breakout from that pattern and subsequent transformation I think are a testimony to his evolution on the subject. Perhaps abstinence of any sort is best pursued on cyclical (as opposed to intermittent) basis.

  7. lee rogers

    Ikkyu broke any number of these orthodox precepts** & still taught good zen. But he was quite open about it & made sense of Buddhism for the layperson.

    ** the geishas, sushi, masturbation, marriage

  8. Celibate Layman

    I’m 27 years old and am currently about nine months into a self-imposed celibacy experiment. No sex no masturbation no romance. I’ve been practicing the dharma since I was 22. I’ve had steady, healthy sexual relationships, with woman and myself. My celibacy experiment is to see what happens. But I didn’t choose it out of the blue. Many sages have pointed to great benefit. To this point it’s been fascinating. My sexual energy has still been churning, but my resolve is so high that I’m more inspired by it than handicapped.

    Could I do it with equal resolve my whole life? Maybe. My gut says yes. But it would be ignorant to speak of a future I have not lived. Moreover, I’m not a monastic, so I probably will re-enter the sexual world at some point, and unlike your experience, I find myself becoming MORE emotionally mature, interacting with women without constantly having the sex question loom over our heads.

    I feel your article is founded on a very poor argument– ‘why celibacy is perverse.’ Perhaps the tibetan position is perverse. But my experience (and those of many before me) is one of a deepening sense of will, of a greater capacity to live my intentions, of equanimity, of an ability to not color my interactions with my cravings. Is that perverse?

    You state, “If celibacy is pure, then sex must be dirty.” Why must we such silly logic, phrasing things in terms of good and evil? Is not celibacy about karma? If you sit around having a bunch of sex, you’ll think more about sex, you’ll crave more sex. Celibacy is not pure nor impure. Celibacy is non-responding to an impulse. It’s cultivating a more pure mind state. How is that perverse?

    You state, “The sex drive is built in to our animal body, but there’s also the mammalian drive for intimacy.” In “The Art of Intimacy,” intimacy is defined as the experience of connectivity. You don’t need to stick your genitals in another persons to have connectivity. You can do with an old friend, a mountainside panorama, a puppy, a cup of orange juice on a cool, autumn day. Furthering your point, you state, “The enemy is within, never really vanquished — and it doesn’t end there.” Why call a sex drive an enemy! It’s an impulse, it’s a sense of energy in one’s pelvic area, an intermittent wave in the sea of your mind. Yes, it’s a drive built into our body, but it’s just an impulse. Isn’t that what we learn on the cushion? How to ‘sit with’ our internal longings without reacting.

    Of course, one can be engaged in a healthy, sexual relationship and still live the dharma. Celibacy is not a prerequisite, but it can certainly help. Of course, to keep it up over the long run seems very difficult. You present ample evidence. But don’t call it perverse or dismiss it’s strength because people fall short, or, importantly, they entered into it with disjointed motives, such as,

    “First, it was the PRICE OF ADMISSION to the spiritual elite of Tibetan Buddhism. Secondly, ignominiously, I hoped to ESCAPE the agonies of love and my social ineptitude. Thirdly and more hopefully, I CRAVED the payoff promised by my teachers: increased meditative energy, greater clarity, Enlightenment with a big, beautiful capital E.”

    The Thomas Mertons and Gendun Chopels are among us, but as you say, they are low-profile, they don’t evangelize their celibacy. Why? Because it’s a secondary issue. The dharma is what’s important, and in that spirit, I thank you for your writings and your genuineness.

    celibate layman

    1. Martha

      Celibate Layman – Merton had a fling at the end of his life. That was bracketed with womanizing and a so-called illegitimate child before his conversion. He was human. I applaud your commitment and know the freedom of not objectifying the opposite sex; it is quite freeing for all concerned.

      Stephen – I prefer celibacy because I know the difference. I agree to a trade-off regarding possible emotional stagnation, however, there’s the blessing of self control and mastery, a lack of distraction, and commitment to the divine spouse. Thanks for your contemplation on this which motivates me to re-examine my motives, as I do realize the simplicity of of this life can indeed be an easy way out of full participation.

      Keep sharing, much appreciated.

  9. choice

    My foray into celibacy, which has lasted over thirty years, was not religious. It was a natural development that arose after a youth of search and experiment, and because it was based on no vow, it was just a choice made each day, day after day.

    Frankly, I had always thought that it would be quite difficult to be married. Where I lived, the state could compel you to testify in court against your parents, siblings, and friends, but not your spouse. Somehow, treating one person that differently from all others seemed like something alien to my very being.

    Sex was the same. It presented a world of discrimination, of deciding whom you will kiss passionately and whom you will not, what degree of physical intimacy you will allow, when and in what circumstances. When sex is not an issue, none of that mars the impartial friendliness we can remember from childhood.

    Sex inevitably involves one person wanting to get something from someone else other than the pleasure of that other’s company. When one does not deal in such wanting or being wanted, serene and simple friendliness emerges as a natural outcome.

    But I am really writing in response to the notion of seeing celibacy as pure and sex as dirty, for the notion can be differently conceived.

    When I was in junior high, our girl scout troop leaders felt they needed to tell us the facts of life, so at one troop meeting, our leader, a Mrs. Barnes, did that, mixing sex with marriage, loving, and a result of pregnancy and childbirth. Most of us already knew these facts, but one very physically underdeveloped tomboy who had three brothers, Wendy, was completely amazed.

    Wendy just burst out, “You mean they put that thing inside you? That’s disgusting! They go to the bathroom with that thing! Oh, Mrs. Barnes!” she went on, “How could you?”

    This had not been my first reaction to the facts of sex because I had no brothers. But it is perhaps what any girl would naturally think of sex with boys unglossed by long socialization via romantic fairy tales. And I still remember Wendy with fond humor over 50 years later because of this small story.

  10. Tammy

    I enjoyed your article. It’s clear that in many religious traditions, the vow of celibacy is not always maintained, or is mishandled as a power tool.
    I spent 2 years living in the Tibetan exile community in India. While it’s all very hush hush, I can assure you, the monastic community is less than innocent. While this is not the true teachings of Buddhism, like all organized religions, some who use the name of “holy” are anything but!

  11. slozen

    When I was young I thought about becoming a monastic and talked to a hindu sage in his 70’s, he laughed and said “you’ve read a lot of books but this life of renunciation would be a forceful condition that would not be enlightenment, come back when you are past 50 and it won’t be renunciation it will be vacation!” When young we are wired from the ground up and the route from the hips to the brain has few limits but given another 30 years of life and broken relationships, failed experimentsm and that flow is slowed tremendously. Now add the reduction of hormones and intimacy takes new forms and I don’t mean that in sex negative way but as a whole bodily feeling.

    Nice article. Thank you.

  12. Monica

    Fascinating discussion on a very complex and controversial subject. I am over 50 years old and have been married for over 30 years. Growing up, sex has been somewhat confusing at times although I think the drive had more to do with desiring intimacy or security and family in my younger years. I am blessed to have spent many years caring for others … my own four children, my husband, our aging and dependant parents, the poor in our community and those with emotional struggles. In our western, materialistic society to NOT be overly driven by sexual desire can mean there is also something the matter with you. I don’t think that is true either. I enjoy intimacy with my husband. I especially enjoy connecting with him at a soul level over coffee or a breakfast. I recognize a handsome man or beautiful woman as just that. I admire them like I would anything beautiful but have no need to possess them. There is so much more to life than just sex. You have all made such wonderful comments here and in such a good spirit too. I think these kinds of discussions are helpful. So much on the computer is not helpful. Thank you.

  13. Mal

    Isn’t marriage often troublesome? Don’t single people have experience of marriage through interacting with married people? Might not this “unattached” perspective be useful in helping married people sometimes?

    1. Ivy

      Marriage can be troublesome, though any inter-personal-relationship (with family, friends, or romantic) can be. To single out long term romantic commitment as “troublesome” and ignore that other relationships in life can be equally if more so is much the same as ‘putting your finger on the scale while weighing’, it is a skewed view.

      ‘Single people’ is a misleading term, or at least non-specific term.
      A single person may have been married at one point, or have had a variety of relationships, including perhaps types of relationship that someone who is monogamous and married hasn’t. But I am going to treat this as if we are discussing those with very little experience or none.

      To answer your other question: “Don’t single people have experience of marriage through interacting with married people?”
      Do cognitively normative people have a full understand of what it is to be autistic, because they interact with people on the autism spectrum?
      Can a sedentary person have a full understanding of a physically intensive sport like wind surfing from watching and talking to surfers?
      How about if they are not sedentary, let’s say they play football, does one sport automatically mean you understand them all?
      Let’s go dark to parallel an abusive relationship: Can a person with no addictions, viscerally understand what it is like to be addicted to crack, just because they interact with crack addicts?
      The answer to all of these, and your statement is: no.

      They may glean a lot, and they will be able to logically understand, and they will be able to extrapolate from their experience with other relationships (assuming hey have some friends or family that they interact with) what some of the interactions are like.
      Most have empathy, and anyone who has empathy can learn patterns of experience, this will allow them to have a partial understanding, but they will be seriously limited. When your experience is not guided by your own choices it is even harder to control what you can gather information from, you are limited to whatever people are most interested in sharing about.
      Which often means negative experiences, since they have to be dealt with as they are problems, where as the day to day pleasantries that mostly make up a marriage, tend to get forgotten and have no reason to be mentioned. Like, touching your spouse on the shoulder as you talk by, which is part of that comfortable and comforting level of consistent contact that permeates every day with a sense of closeness, and is often maintained without thought.
      Along with a myriad of other little things which might not seem important enough to mention to someone else, (especially not someone who might be perceived as being harder to explain to, because they don’t even have the base point of having relationships themselves,) but those things still are a part of what relationships are.

      Having a personal, and visceral understanding of anything is going to be far more in depth than a peripheral one.

      Can ‘”unattached” advice be useful? Well, it could be. Any advice that comes from outside a situation can be useful, but not all equally useful.
      There is also a certain amount of understanding that is more easily felt than logically deduced. Thus, I think a keen observer (highly self aware and hyper aware of others) who has a lot of empathy, and was unattached, could possibly offer good advice, but, might be matched by a moderately self aware individual who had personal experience instead.
      In the case of relationships, it is so much about the emotional attachment that to not know that sensation, to have not had that, is a serious disability when trying to understand or provide wisdom.
      So much so that it would take probably thrice the effort and attentiveness, give or take depending on the person, to learn from outside.
      Certainly not impossible, but it will be of a different cadence, but almost definitely with less nuance.

  14. T.

    Buddha taught us the precept of not committing evil conduct.

    What you heard or read are heretical ideas that go against the teachings of the sutras. Our master H.H. Dorje Chang Buddha III does not utter such ideas.

    Before further slandering the Buddha-Dharma, please consider the following evil views carefully

    Excerpt of “Brief Explanation of Evil Views and Erroneous Views” as expounded by H.H Dorje CHang Buddha III. Below translation from Chinese has yet been approved and therefore provided for your reference. https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/77650359/FINAL%3D8the%20PA.doc


    Those with this view think that it is permissible to violate the precepts of the Three Vehicles that they have received. They think that under certain karmic conditions or with a special dharma practice it is acceptable to deviate from the precepts of the Three Vehicles. You must bear in mind that no matter what the circumstances may be, the precepts of the Three Vehicles may not be violated. Everyone, including eminent monastics and holy dharma kings, must strictly adhere to those precepts. Otherwise, one is a heretic in the guise of a Buddhist practitioner.

    As long as you received a precept, you must abide by it fully. You must abide by each and every precept you received. It is unacceptable to think that you may just abide by one of them or some of them and need not abide by certain others. Any thinking that not all precepts must be observed is not only wrong but also evil.


    May all have correct views and understanding!

  15. FoX

    I am against what you have written here….
    I am celibate myself for long time and idea behind celibacy is to sublimate the sex energy not to suppress it….
    In Hindu tradition it is already told that celibacy is hardest virtue to follow… it is uphill battle… it is like swimming againt the strongest current in river but all this battle is worth it.
    You should read some books written by Swami Shivananda like ‘Practice Of Brahmacharya’….
    At starting celibacy may feel like unnatural but as time goes by it becomes normal….
    There is no argument against celibacy which may prove it wrong or unnatural….
    It is only question of who have willpower to follow it…

  16. Chad

    The author misses the entire basis of celibacy. I have been celibate for over 25 years (25-50+), and I don’t have “suppressed” desires or urges, nor do I live that way out of any formal duty, even if I am a “normal” male. The author is a universe away from understanding the basis of it, and therefore, is using false premises justified by irrelevant arguments.

    Celibacy may exist as the author describes, eg, as some kind of effort requiring dedication to “conquer” our human nature, but that is not really celibacy. That is an effort, a fight, a problem to deal with. But true celibacy is not a conflicting matter whatsoever, and is 100% effortless. It is simply the result of being sensitive and dedicated to matters that are beyond physical reality. It is a side-effect that has so many rewards that the thought of “physically pleasuring one’s self” never even enters the equation.

    Ultimately it comes down to the “ego”. If you see yourself as an average man, then celibacy can only be an effort and struggle. But if you see the physical aspects of life as something passing, illusory, and of little consquence, and your efforts in life are geared toward knowledge, understanding, and the development of your “being”, and you are focused on the essense of experiences and are essentially without “ego”, then celibacy is just a natural side-effect that is hardly noticed, and when noticed, a positive experience.

    When a woman hits on me or engages me, it is the experience that is stimulating for me, and when that is stimulating and without aternate purpose, sex simply just does not enter the equation. Sex enters the equation when people are unable to enjoy the current experience, and seek/desire a physical stimulation, and then behave/manipulate to that end. It really comes down to dissatisfaction with the present in the hope of sexual release and sleep as a “fix”. The sexual behavior of people today is not different than the life a junkie, eg, “I am not satisfied, but I know if I get my fix, I will be satisfied …”

    However, it’s just a game for fools, because in the end, there is no satisfaction for the junkie, and the next day, he finds himself in the same predicament, only to repeat the process for no real purpose. And it is the same for modern sexuality. It’s just a fix that leads nowhere except a circular habit that limits the true breadth of experience, knowledge, and development available to us in life.

    I am not celibate because I make any effort to do so. In fact, if I ever met a woman capable of love at a similar level, I might end up engaging in sex as genuine expression – I can’t know. Unfortunately, people tend to live somewhat of a drone-type existence dictated by the systems they live within and can’t imagine much more than masturbatory stimulations as a release from the drudgery of life. There is no real communion, experience, or understandings beyond the physical/material in the modern world, so the article fails from the start, as well as the understanding of the commentors. The physical/material world is 99% of what people relate to, and the other 1% is imagination/fantasy. But that 99+1 is excluding most of the entirety of experiential existence which has become oblivious to most all. After all, we are animals, what more is there to know?

  17. Francy

    I have been celibate for nearly 8 years and have been in a relationship with the same man for 14 years.I am now 33 years old. At first ,because of certain physical problems on his part, it was involentary,but as time went on i began to take notice of many positive side effects. i was able to look through the eyes of an unemotional perspective and found i could see much more clearly.Due to the fact i was diagnosed with bipolar i find the less emotionally charged i am the better.I am calmer and have simply found other means of creating an ideal relationship for us.Yes i have the choice to leave and find a relationship that is sexually fullfilling,but that would be to give up on someone i love to easily.Willpower and determanation keep me on a stable course,wich is what is most important to me. If i were to be thrown back into the real world you called it, yes i would feel emotionally immature after so long but that is what i am willing to risk.

  18. Maria

    I like buddhism thinking about love etc but I think celibacy is SO WRONG. Why did mother nature give us our sexual organs …..a penis and a vagina if we not should use them?? why did nature make woman able to carry a child for 9 month ??Why did nature create man and woman ??? it doesnt make scence att ALL. Think about it…. if everybody would be in ceibacy like munks and think that sex is a sin…then the planet would quite empty of people 🙂 I think most people who is in celibacy suffer in silence because they go against natures law. Sex and love between a man and a woman is the ultimate reason for living….and living without it…worth Nothing.

  19. Gina

    I have recently left a two year relationship with an ex Tibetan Monk … I feel that he has been so brainwashed by the intimacy part of life and how it is so wrong that we became totally disconnected … He would say that sex is dirty, a weakness and that people who have sexual relationships can become peadophiles, leaving me totally messed up and in turmoil … after ejaculation he would leap out of bed and wash himself as if he had been dirtied … He never kissed me or showed me any kind of affection, which has been heartbreaking … It seems to me that this whole non attachment thing goes way to far and can make the other person in the relationship so un confident and unworthy … he would say to me that seeing me was inconvenient , a waste of time and energy, that music was rubbish, moan about anything I did and watch my every move questioning everything, as far as I am concerned a loving sexual relationship is the most natural thing in the world and can teach us much about life, love and compassion … now I need to re adjust my way of thinking again as I have been brainwashed myself into thinking this way and I feel very sad indeed!

  20. Ganesh

    What counts is one’s attitude towards the life chosen, not the lifestyle itself.

    As you are saying, its attitude then what’s wrong in being a celibate with right attitude.

    You may argue with the following,

    Because that’s how most people live, and any meaningful transformation of society will have to take place in society, not outside it. While there is a tiny minority of people naturally suited to celibate lifestyle, it’s more typically a cop-out.

    Celibates are also part of the society. In the Vedic varnashrama system the society is divided into four ashrams in which student life, householder life, retired life and renounced life. Only voluntary and capable people can go directly from student life to renounced life. Celibates have a role to play in the society by being spiritually vibrant, compassionate to others, being strict in their discipline. You may say its difficult but don’t say it is not necessary.

    Just because something is difficult to do for many doesn’t mean has no purpose. In my own life, a celibate monk inspired me and inspiring me and many by his example of simple pure life devoid of any craving for recognition or selfishness.

    “Before giving up this present body, if one is able to tolerate the urges of the material senses and check the force of desire and anger, he is well situated and is happy in this world.” BG 5.23

    So tolerating happily by being engaged in the service of the lord is the only way to transcend this craving whether you are a married man or a celibate. Celibacy is just a vehicle. Some may have a cycle, some may have a car. Idea is to reach the goal.

  21. Gaur

    I am so excited about the article, well done to you Stephen. You have articulated your thoughts well. Also, it brings me joy that even in such technocracy times there are people who think, write and discuss about topics such as celibacy. Just wanted to share something which my friend told me. It sounded well for me, so I thought of taking an opinion from Stephen.

    According to Bhagavad Gita, world has a purpose behind its creation. Sex desire is that which distracts one from this purpose.

    At the same time Bhagavad Gita also says,
    “dharmaviruddho bhutesu kaamo asmi bharata rsabha” BG 7.11
    “I am sex life which is not contrary to religious principles, O lord of the Bharatas [Arjuna].”

    So, what God wants from us is to focus on “why we have come here?” He is not saying Sex is bad or good. He is saying don’t get distracted just use it to produce children but otherwise focus on your goal to develop love for Him.

    There are numerous saints in India like Sant Tukaram, who were married, had children still were very highly advanced in their love for God and other living beings. Also there were many like Namacharya Srila Haridas Thakur, a complete celibate who always chanted the names of god and developed love of god.

    Spiritual advancement is not related to having sex or not, however it is very much related to being sincerely striving to love and serve God. Having said this doesn’t mean one can continue to be sex monger and be sincere in his search for God(of course, if u believe in him). Spirituality and sense gratification goes ill together. Satisfying one’s needs and wanting to gratify one’s greed are not the same.

    Your article says, abstinence may leave one inefficient in handling dealings with other people and one’s own self however there were very great examples of spiritualists like Jesus, St.Francis and many others who were celibates still extended themselves for those who were needed their attention. I don’t think Jesus was affected by the celibacy.

  22. Ganesh

    ” What counts is one’s attitude towards the life chosen, not the lifestyle itself. ”

    As you are saying, if its just attitude then what’s wrong in being a celibate with right attitude.

    You may argue with the following,

    “Because that’s how most people live, and any meaningful transformation of society will have to take place in society, not outside it. While there is a tiny minority of people naturally suited to celibate lifestyle, it’s more typically a cop-out.”

    Celibates are also part of the society. In the Vedic varnashrama system the society is divided into four ashrams in which student life, householder life, retired life and renounced life. Only voluntary and capable people can go directly from student life to renounced life. Celibates have a role to play in the society by being spiritually vibrant, compassionate to others, being strict in their discipline. You may say its difficult but don’t say it is not necessary.

    Just because something is difficult to do for many doesn’t mean has no purpose. In my own life, a celibate monk inspired me and inspiring me and many by his example of simple pure life devoid of any craving for recognition or selfishness.

    “Before giving up this present body, if one is able to tolerate the urges of the material senses and check the force of desire and anger, he is well situated and is happy in this world.” BG 5.23

    This is the RIGHT ATTITUDE for tolerating the urges,

    So tolerating happily by being engaged in the service of the lord is the only way to transcend this craving whether you are a married man or a celibate. Celibacy is just a vehicle. Some may have a cycle, some may have a car. Idea is to reach the goal.

    1. Skeptikal

      Catch phrases, mumbo-jumbo and an attempt to bamboozle with asinine religious dogma. Same old…same old…

      Sorry. I don’t live in an ashram…and couldn’t care less about Vedic varnashrama.

      What makes me laugh is that the advocates of celibacy as a means of harnessing the “devious sexual manifestation of the ego” are simply replacing one (natural) egotistical pursuit (sexual urge) with another unnatural one…it’s repression and denial! Probably spending a lot more “energy” in doing so.

      But why do they pick on sex? These same individuals still enjoy many of the other “good things in life”…good food, an expensive holiday, the latest consumer goods, etc. Maybe sex is just too difficult…

      Of course, celibacy is a convenient, “holier-than-thou” cop-out for those who have given up on (or never attained the skills) of dealing intimately with members of the opposite sex in real world.

  23. Patrick Tomei

    If you’re going to post on of these comments, post this one. But, wow, I’ve never read such a poor rationalization of visceral urges equatable to defecation. If you wish to engage in sexual intercourse, you are free to. But, sexuality is for the weak-minded, and lower organisms, make no mistake about this. I’m sorry, you did not have the will to overcome this condition. Also, your argument: sexuality is natural; therefore good, is what’s called an appeal to nature. The urge to kill is frequently more powerful in high-testosterone males, than the urge to mate, so perhaps, we ought to condone this behaviour as well.

    I do find it offensive that you proceeded to Psycho-analyse celibates, by insinuating that celibacy is a result of an inadequacy or inability of some sort. Is a non-alcoholics choice to not drink alcohol a result of his inability to purchase or afford it?

    1. Jason

      You are a convoluted hypocrite. Did you just not say “sexuality is for the weak-minded, and lower organisms, make no mistake about this.”

      Who the hell are you to judge? At least the lower organisms are getting on with life…and us “weak minded” guys are enjoying what women have to offer!

      Yep…the way you talk I’m inclined to say that it discloses a very big “inadequacy or inability of some sort” all right…

  24. The Buddhist Mob | The Naked Monk

    […] mobster this week appeared on my post Why Celibacy is Perverse., which is in part a provocation. In his comment, Patrick Tomei compared intercourse with […]

  25. Gangadhar

    The root imposter ego if discovered to be non exist, the trunk and branches of sexual urge and imagination will dry away.

    sexual drive rest on ego. As long as ego exist even an advanced sadhaka will be getting occasional sexual nocturnal wet dream.

    It is the ego that has to be attacked first not sexual drive. otherwise you will fighting soldiers for ever and ever , get the king ego the game of life is over/

    1. George

      Do you even understand what you are trying to say?… “ego”…”sexual urge”…”attacked”…WTF?

      Why can’t so many men just enjoy what this short life has to offer? The beauty of women and sexual intimacy is a normal, natural blessing…only a dysfunctional individual would regard it as something to be “attacked” and repressed!

  26. George

    Celibacy is a stupid and unnatural practice espoused by those mired in religious nonsense as a means of “differentiating” themselves from normal people. Part of the ritual and hokum…and false promises.

    How is abstinence from a natural (and wonderful) biological urge supposed to promote inner peace and enlightenment? It’s actual effect is no doubt quite the opposite for most normal men…unless a man’s sex drive is so low that he doesn’t realize what he’s missing anymore anyway…

    Yet another reason to keep as far away as possible from religion and it’s balderdash.

    1. 01

      Hi. I became celibate when I was atheist and completely non-religious and anti religion. Secular celibacy does exist. I wasn’t unpopular either, quite the contrary. I was and am really beautiful woman and get a lot of attention that I don’t really want, lol. My celibacy stems from my natural disinterest with relationships. Not asexuality by any means, but I never wanted a husband or even serious boyfriend, never wanted kids, etc and to be honest I’m sick with society not really accepting free choice in that regard. I mean, even asexuals are in relationships, heh. By society standards if someone doesn’t want man-woman relationship there’s something wrong with that person, etc. Everyone trying to ‘make me happy’, not taking into account that maybe I actually enjoy my lifestyle. Look, not everyone is the same. Most people seem to have strong need for relationship, some sort of security and intimacy in that relationship, lots want kids but can’t and all that in-vitro drama… But some people simply never wanted any of that. So for me it’s either promiscouty or celibacy.

  27. mountain sage

    Wow there is so many miss concepts about sex and spirtuallity. First of all sex alone is no more spiritual or showing of a weak will then taking a poo or breathing is. It is a biological imperative for most beings and can’t just be willed away changing your sexuallity usually takes medication or surgery. For most of nature there is 5 forms of sexuallity 1 a sexual 2hetrosexual 3homosexual 4bisexual 5 morpodite and is found in most all species this is natures way of hedging its bets. There is no size fits all for this topic that’s why its a 4 thousand year old debate but it comes down to this if having sex is impeding your spiritual growth stop it. If not having sex is stopping your spiritual growth do it. That’s why the religious creates left it open ended the road is yours and yours alone no one can or should tell you what’s the right path and Any religion that stops your growth because of a blanked rule isn’t worth following

  28. questions

    I’ve been celibate for just over two years for both spiritual and other reasons. I value intimacy and at first was giving myself space from a dysfunctional relationship so that I could leave room for that true intimacy. Now I don’t know. I’ve healed so much more in the last two months of not trying to exist only for another human that I couldn’t imagine going back to the way I was. I feel closer to earth and the universe. Yes I crave sex. But when sex becomes mechanical and detached from intimacy it’s akin to those repetitive ticks you see in mental patients. When I was married there was no intimacy just two people trying to get physical pleasure and it hurt me to continue that relationship. Sex became a burden not a joy. I think a lot of people feel that way. I would have a relationship with someone but it’s interesting how many fewer suitors come around when sex isn’t a given. It’s almost like currency. I don’t know. Any way I would like to think that I’d only sleep with someone I loved that felt the same way I did and genuinely wanted to give and receive that kind of pleasure but that is rare. Love is easy but vulnerability is hard.

  29. donjoe

    I’m by no means an expert on Buddhism, but I’ve heard and read enough to be convinced that the way you’re presenting the problem of celibacy/abstinence betrays a lack of understanding of even the most basic things about Buddhism: that it’s a path for those who acknowledge that ordinary human life is affected by existential suffering/dissatisfaction and that said suffering arises from craving/attachment. Once you understand and accept these first two of the Four Noble Truths the understanding of the role of celibacy/abstinence should be much more accessible (the way it doesn’t seem to be to you). But if you haven’t even accepted the first Noble Truth it’s hard to see why Buddhism is of any interest to you in the first place, since it’s all more or less just a method of resolving the problem described as the first Noble Truth. (And if you don’t, you should fully expect your comments to not bear much relevance to Buddhism, relying as they do on a fundamentally different, non-Buddhist, way of understanding life.)

  30. whatever@whatever.com

    You sound like just another bigot who can’t accept that asexuality exists…

  31. yo yo Fnzeee

    well i love celibacy
    so much happy with it
    and practice it throughout the life
    well i’ve accepted it as mine lifestyle choice..

  32. stuart

    different strokes for different folks…seasons of life….as was stated, all is in accordance with what u think about it…stating this will cause someone to state that..just another exercise in duality consciousness

  33. Lotus

    Being an asian Buddhist all my life and literally growing up attending so many temples and monasteries, I can tell you that most of the asian monks broken their vow of celibacy at sometime in their life… many live a double life having wife, mistresses and kids while pretending to be celibate. The more honest ones disrobe. I was even directly hinted or proposed by several monks about sex when I was a teenage girl and these men were in their late twenties…Ugh….. Needless to say I was shocked! At a famous monastery in France, the rules are that monastics have to travel in pairs so one can keep check on the other to not break their vow. Obviously you can’t trust them alone!? Why bother with forced vows of celibacy when majority of the Buddhist monastics do not keep it? The ones who told me that they managed to keep their vows, told me the opportunity never arose because the women they liked never liked them back.

    It is unnatural for people to go against an innate drive that is built into us. If anything, being in a relationship, a sexual relationship… can teach you something. I’m not against voluntary celibacy but I don’t feel institutions should enforce it as a requirement to become a monastic/priest, because of this, many fear being kicked out of the order and live a life of lies. I can see why it is good to be celibate when you’re living in an institutionalized setting and learning, but when you graduate, should you go out and experience what real life is like to learn from it? Catholicism’s clergy celibacy was invented for the protection of church’s land. The pope didn’t want the clergy to secretly squander church land and wealth for wife and children. So celibacy was enforced for other reasons, not spiritual.

    Not that I am saying the Japanese got it right by allowing the clergy to marry after finishing study, but I find that it ends the lie of having to live a double life. Living with truth in yourself is better than living a lie….. only the truth can set you free! …. whether you boink someone or not shouldn’t have anything to do with it.

  34. Sean

    I am surprised a Buddhist practitioner would have this perspective. The very essence of Buddhist Practice is liberation through overcoming craving and aversion. Sex like all other cravings does not give us what we seek. It’s not about sex being dirty or unnatural. As a Buddhist practioner we are learning to overcome our attachment with the “I” and it’s dukkha of craving and aversion. Renunciation is joyful when the ground work is done.

  35. Matthew

    Wow, what a great discussion. It’s nice to see so many spiritual practitioners expressing themselves on this topic. I am in my mid 30’s and have been celibate for 3 years. One lesson that I am learning is that suppression and guilt can cause a lot of suffering and a little acceptance and tolerance can help a sexually conflicted person such as myself (allowing mastrubation, not condemning sexual attraction). Can someone with experience share more about some of the distorted motives people may have for taking vows of celibacy? Thanks.

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