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.


Author: Stephen Schettini

Host of The Naked Monk

97 thoughts on “Why Celibacy is Perverse”

  1. 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.

      1. Hi Stephen,

        Returning to this old thread, prompted by your colorful ‘Buddhist Mob’ post and the comment of ‘P. Tomei’…

        You wonder, above, about any legitimacy for ever considering celibacy as part of a deliberate practice. What I was getting at is expressed in my final paragraph from March 2013: ” 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. ” — In other words, one can decide to take this upon oneself in order to salvage and rebuild some mindfulness about the sexual arena that one has lost. It still is sexual behavior, regardless. I think maybe in past times, teacher-student relationships were more imbalanced and a teacher could notice an issue within a student and simply make a blanket prescription for his situation, later to be gradually reformulated in granite as un-circumstantial scriptural doctrine applicable everywhere and always.

        We are in charge, now, of which behavioral and psychological elements need to be integrated into our chosen spiritual activities. Indeed, noticing and becoming aware of these elements is an essential ingredient of any mindful awakening, I would say.

        It would be interesting to trace historically, as far as could be done, the roots of current abstinence thinking within original teachings or scriptures. And to try and puzzle through what was intended and what has become distorted. For both Buddhism and Roman Catholicism (priest-wise). Myself, I’m all for sexual expression. But I could say there have been times in my past when unchecked and unmindful excess (not simply in deed but in desire) have played havoc with my development.

        1. According to the framework laid down in Buddhism, someone who has reached full enlightenment as an Arahant must be free from sensual desire. Sensual desire is but one of the ten fetters which must be cut on the way to becoming one.

          Whilst celibacy is a requirement to don the robe, there’s certainly no requirement that you keep the robe on once you have donned it. If one’s sensual desires are so strong that you can’t help but act on them, then the path of integrity would require you to disrobe. The question is, why wasn’t the path of integrity followed by people who took a vow of celibacy and subsequently broke their vow?

          In the monastic code, there are four offences which result in the automatic “defeat” of the monk (the four Parajikas):

          (1) having sexual intercourse,
          (2) stealing,
          (3) committing murder, and
          (4) making false claims about their attainments.

          A monk who commits any of these offences is automatically disrobed for the rest of their current life. Even if no one else finds out about their offence, the defeated monk will be living a lie and will be a monk in appearance only.

          So it’s clear from the scriptures that celibacy is, and was intended to be, a core component of the Buddhist path for monastics. It’s not until the third of four stages of Enlightenment that sensual desires and ill will are finally conquered, and getting to that stage may take several lifetimes according to the scriptures, even if you have “entered the stream”. That’s a pretty clear indication that it is understood just how difficult it can be to overcome sensual desires.

      2. Celibacy is sadly all too often a dysfunctional behaviour usually adopted by those who are fearful of intimacy and regard their abstinence as moral virtue. I’ve known many religious nuns who at their deepest psyche are bitter twisted and envious of women who are not part of their chosen communities. They don’t understand their own bodies and often suffer multiple psychological complex I’ll health. They are not essentially more spiritual either and I witness attitudes and actions more associated to childish ways, one would expect to experience in a 3 year old…vety sad.

  2. 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.

    1. All I said about Sasaki was that he ended up at the center of a sexual scandal; more here. As for him having ‘helped so many people,’ I’d bet that those people probably helped themselves but just couldn’t believe they did it on their own. The guru is more a projection than a real entity.

        1. Any perceived help from anyone is always you helping yourself, nobody can help you..my experience shows me this is so. And through meditative practice I have done more harm than good, I’m now sort of asexual and uninterested in sexual things anymore.. I’ve become depersonalized.

    2. However, Jaime, you’re quite right. 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.

  3. 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.

    1. Because celibates are not involved in the raising of a family, their time is freed to pursue religion.

      Freed from what, though? What is it about family and working life that makes it inherently irreligious? I’ve learned more about my mind and transformed more of my reaactivity and delusive thinking within family life than I ever did in the monastery. What counts is one’s attitude towards the life chosen, not the lifestyle itself. 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.

      1. You raise a good point. While family and working life can be religious, most religions advocate a period of solitary introspection. In Buddhism this is called hearing, contemplation and meditation but it has counterparts in Christianity, as exemplified by Jesus’ time in the desert.

      2. It’s a false idea to imagine that becoming exclusive and celebrate can make you holy. More is challenged in our humanity when we live within a family. Relugious communities have so much reported and documented histories of sexual emitional and physical abuse perpetrated by the leaders as to shake you up and want to ask the deeper questions as to why? Denial of basic drives and needs isn’t a sensible or even wise way to manage them. I’m not suggesting promiscuity but more to take responsibility for the way spirituality and our sexuality are integrated and expressed in a wholesome and caring way.

  4. 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…

    1. I do not dare to tell for bringing hell over me…

      Sodis: I hope you’re joking, but even if you are, it’s a sad joke. Teaching people that celibacy is pure is also teaching them that sex is impure, and that sex is a source of shame. Add unqualified loyalty to teacher and community, plus the belief that mystical practices trump ordinary morals, and basic honesty goes out the window. Buddhism is all about being honest with what one observes, inside and out. Take that away and nothing’s left but an empty shell.

  5. 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.

    1. True Matt. Ghandi was even weirder in his approach to chastity, but both he and Merton did push the envelope of the day. As Rob comments above, abstinence has its place, but as with everything else motives are paramount and should never be beyond scrutiny. My big question is still, “What’s wrong with embracing one’s sexuality?” Answer: It upsets the illusion of purity — which of course is utter claptrap.

      1. I am not a religious teacher, but ‘the illusion of purity’ is not my understanding of celibacy (see my previous comment). I would be horrified if someone came away from talking with me, or from reading my writings, feeling dirty or feeling guilty about their sexuality. I don’t believe that the compassionate Buddha, if there is such a being, would condemn people for ’embracing their sexuality’

        All religions, if they deserve to be called this, should consider dear the psychological welfare of their followers. Anything taught that leads to psychological trauma is misunderstood or simply wrong. I would encourage anyone here who leaves a religious teaching feeling so, to approach the teacher and clarify what was said. Buddhism is founded in rational thinking, so that which cannot be justified rationally should not be accepted.

  6. 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

  7. 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. Thank you Celibate Layman. I admire your experiment and wish you well, but I still find any talk of ‘purity’ to be a denial of the reality that the Buddha was so eager for us to accept.

    2. 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.

  8. Sexual desire is the ultimate goal of almost all human effort. It knows how to slip its love-notes and ringlets even into ministerial portfolios and philosophical manuscripts.” —Arthur Schopenhauer

  9. 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. 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. 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. 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.

    1. Thanks Monica, very thoughtful. There will always be those for whom sex doesn’t require intimacy, but sex with intimacy is a one of the great gifts of life. Each one deepens the other.

  13. 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. 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. 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!

    1. Dear Drikting: I’m all in favour of breaking a rule that makes no sense in a particular situation, as long as one understands the rule and knows exactly how one is breaking it. However, allowing someone high in power, status or rank to break a rule by decreeing that he/she must have a good reason is bad logic and bad practice.

  15. 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. 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?

    1. You say, “…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.

      Well Chad, you seem to have it all under control; no wasted time in your life; no wasted passions; no addictions. Why bother with anything since we’re all going to die anyway?

      1. Hmmm. I would never say I “have it all under control”. Not much is under my control except my intent,. attention,. and actions. I am not sure if “wasted time” or “wasted passions” or “addictions” are meaningful terms. There just “is”, and you can label “what is” any number of ways. “Why bother with anything since we are all going to die anyway?” Well, there is the known, the unknown, and the unknowable. And part of knowledge and wisdom is knowing what goes into each category, and then transforming the unknown into the known. If your level of experience/knowledge says that “death” fits into the unknowable category, then I would say:

        Whether human life/existence is a completely temporary event of nature, or a serious and important part of an eternal existence, you can’t fail betting on the latter, for if you place your bets on the former, any determination is as good and futile as any other determination.

        And if your level of experience/knowlege says that “death” fits into the unknown category, then I would say “death” may be worthy of transforming from the unknown into the known.

        And if your level of experience/knowledge says that “death” is known, then you wouldn’t even be asking such a question. What you call “death” is just an assumption you are making without evidence. You don’t know that *you* “die”. And maybe you can know, or maybe not . Some things (non-physical/material matters) you just need to find out for yourself … for example:

        1. Dreams demonstrate that you can see without eyes, and well as experience “life” without a physical body, without time, and in your true nature.

        2. There is no part of your physical body that contains “you”. I can cut off your arms and legs; replace your heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys with those from other people; and there are even people that have been born without a brain (cerebrum) that are 124IQ mathematicians – but still, “you” will exist/percieve. It is a mystery as to what part of our biology, if any, is responsible for “I/me/perception”.

        3. The only thing that exists in our field of perception is here and now. People are always concerned with things that don’t exist (past or future), but what good is that? Does perception of “here and now” ever end? Most people can take a meaningless guess, but maybe some people can do more than that. Better to spend time in reality (here and now) if we desire truth. And maybe then we will know more of reality than we know now. Maybe the more time we spend in “here and now”, the more we will learn about it, and how and when “here and now” begins and ends.

        So … in part, that is why I bother with anything since we are all going to die anyway. Heheh 🙂 If I say to everyone that when your body dies, that you will hardly even notice, and that you will feel the same as always (except there will not be thinking, since you will have no brain), then you can choose to believe or not. But to know is something that can only result from acquiring such knowledge on our own. My point about sexuality today is that it typically demands a short-circuit leap into fantasy and the future and un-reality soley for the purpose of a temporary physical “high/fix”, and rarely follows communication that remains in the present and fixed in the enjoyment of another non-physical being, somewhat oxymoronically considering that people call it “love” … I would not disagree that it is fitting for most people to think of themselves as animals.

        1. To tie things up in regards to your article, my point was that celibacy is a natural outcome of fully living in reality, here and now (and not an effort/problem) … and that living in this way is more (spiritually) rewarding for some than sex, to the extent that the perspectives on sex/love are completely different than those of the average person/animal. It’s just a matter of where your “heart” is centered. If it is centered in things of the physical/material/animal-natue world, then you will view sex in the physical/material/animal-nature way. If your “heart” is centered in a non-physical/non-material/non-animal-nature world, then of course, perceptions on sex/love will be quite different.

          To a very large extent, I would guess that it is a matter of an individuals nature. I wouldn’t think you can just jump from one type of person to another. Most likely, most celibate people knew they were different than others from the earliest ages, and most likely, they were not “people people”, but more observant, spiritual, objective, independent, introspective, and curious to know about the nature of all things. Most likely, it is not something they “jumped into”, but more of something that “fell into their lap” as a natural consequence of their pursuit of knowledge and self-awareness (which led them away from animal-nature/life).

          1. Ha ha…Well your celibacy sure does give you a lot of spare time to waste writing nonsense in an attempt to justify it’s uselessness…

            “It is a foolish dimwit who doesn’t realize it a waste of time unless a thing concerns fucking!”
            Pietro Aretino c.1527 (Philosopher; writer; and critic of religious stupidity…)

          2. This isn’t appropriate. Celibacy is a perfectly valid choice if it suits your drive and temperament. It’s when you have a healthy libido and deny it for “spiritual” reasons that things get perverse.

          3. Hey Chad. Thanks for your comments, they really got me thinking. I’d love to have such healthy celibacy! I’ll take some tips from your comments and try to apply them. I think you might be right about people not being pleased with being with other person in present moment and resorting to sex to at least get some pleasure, heh. I *hope* it’s not like that for everyone. But it rings true. Also ‘compared notes’ with my mom (lol) and her ‘oh yeah, I didn’t even liked him, just wanted sex, he looked good’ says all, huh. I only wish it’s just us being mean bitches and not whole humanity, lol. I honestly wish anyone who is in relationship all the best. So, I’ll work on enjoying guys’ company and not being such a bitch, your take on celibacy really sounds effortless and inspiring.

          4. “Most likely, most celibate people knew they were different than others from the earliest ages, and most likely, they were not “people people”, but more observant, spiritual, objective, independent, introspective, and curious to know about the nature of all things.”

            I totally agree with this, it depends on how a person perceive (materialistic) things around. A person may get influenced by it if he/she is not spiritually in peace. And if that whole materialistic world doesn’t bothers him/her then that person is having higher consciousness, awareness. No doubt we all “normal” beings have awareness, but we get carried away by our sensuality.

            Sexual desire is a craving that never ends and needs to be transformed because no matter whatever “fix” it is to sleep with other person, it’s all temporary satisfaction, and not permanent contentment. Of course we will die anyway, resting at peace at last, but that doesn’t mean we should stop craving and have no purpose in our lives. As mentioned earlier sexual desires could be transformed into something beneficial for giving to the world, like for example for social welfare, or saving the environment.

  17. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. ” 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. 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. 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. You equate sexual urges with defecation as if there’s something wrong with both, but they’re just natural. What’s really gross is feigning superiority and pretending to be pure.

    2. 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 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. 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!

  25. 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. 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 promiscuity or celibacy.

  26. 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

  27. 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.

    1. I’ve been celibate my whole life and for reasons like you mentioned, it becomes two people just using each other to get rid of their craving for sex – but it comes right back! It becomes like this chore we must do in order to feel ok, knowing it won’t be long until that desire is back. With all the STDs and unwanted babies it’s just not worth the time. Sometimes I wish sex didn’t exist so people could focus more on human connections and emotional intimacy. It’s unfortunate.

  28. 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.)

    1. You can “accept” the four noble truths and treat the Buddha’s word as Gospel, or you can explore your own experience of suffering and follow in the Buddha’s footsteps. These are two very different things.

  29. Great article. You know, I have found that it is not just religions like Christianity, Buddhism, that promote celibacy but this also exists in the shamanic traditions. For example, when you read why many of the youth of native peoples in the upper Amazon will not carry on the shamanic traditions it is because they want to be part of modern life, and do not want to become celibate and have a special diet.
    There is also this emphasis in Central America with the Mazatec people who have curanderos and the magic mushroom, and other psychoactive plants, as their sacrament
    Now, could this presumed need for celibacy to be a shaman/healer (which is male dominated) be to do with the influence of the Christian invasion of their lands). maybe that is part of it, but have read where shamans have claimed the spirits have told them to lay off sex.
    This of course begs the question ‘what ARE spirits’ and why chould we believe these archaic traditions which seem superstitious. As in, yes, there may be healing, but healing can come in all different kinds of forms, including via western medical, but also ‘impersonal’ alternative ways like via ‘qi’, Reiki, hypnosis, placebo, and recreational
    psychedelic experience, nutrition, etc etc etc.
    So it seems to me that that we should question ALL traditions no matter how seemingly ancient, or how many people are members, and no matter what powers may be manifested by whoever. At the end of the day, life is a mystery, and all people are unique, and we must find our own way and not fall under the authority of other humans we think and/or are told we should look up to. This means again to question question question and feel YOURSELF what feels right. Such a freedom as this freaks out authoritarian hierarchical structures of power, but that is OUR power!

  30. As the Buddha taught: “Desires is suffering!”

    In my personal opinion as a person who has a strong sex drive, wallowed quite a bit in sex (swinging-open marriage) in my younger days and later practiced celibacy: I practiced Zen as a lay person all along, experimenting with truth and desires. The problem with spiritual practice is not sex itself but that if it forms a distraction, then let it go. If you want to engage in sex and marriage Japanese Buddhism is an available route. You don’t have to give up sex there to buy into a spiritual practice. You can have a family and can be a Japanese Zen Priest. The problem with sex is that like addiction to shopping and drugs, to satisfy desires does not lead to its cessation, it just fuels more desires. Sexual intimacy (casual sex not counted, but casual sex is devoid of substance and empty anyway) leads to very strong attachments and expectations from the partner. Expectations is a form of desires formed by attachments. If one can gain enlightenment through still engaging in sex I’m all for it. The Buddha allows monks to disrobe 7 times and come back. If your attachment to physical desires is so strong then disrobe and experience sex and emotional intimacy. Sometimes it helps to understand samsara a little more before you find that you can do better without it. It is my experience that real intimacy comes from total honesty, the ability to be open and vulnerable, not sex. To see yourself and others through openness, ability to accept life as is without filters, sex complicates this dynamic. When acting on this desire it creates attachments which distort reality. If anyone is accomplished enough to be in sexual and emotional relationship without being attached, I applaud them. Having lived in a marriage and practice Zen in a lay setting, I find it demands too much of my time. Spiritual practice requires long periods of mediation and contemplation which is hard to be carried out with a full time job and a spouse (Which complains I spend too much time alone. I choose to have no children too for this reason). Not to say progress can’t be made but it can be slower. After 10 years of marriage, a full time job and part time Zen I am happy to choose Zen as my full time occupation and celibacy to not be distracted.

    Sometimes I practice fasting to see my attachments to food. Preferences and attachments to certain food. After a fasting experience I realized why the Buddha taught his followers to be beggars and can’t choose what food they receive. Celibacy is a choice one makes to live in relinquishing physical desires that isn’t as essential like food and water. Obviously you haven’t experience the kind of spiritual estacy (Jhanic states) that comes with the meditative practice of “letting go”. It is way more better than sex, even during a loving and very sexually satisfying phrase of my marriage I found that I had no desires for sex when experiencing the higher meditative states. Yet in Zen we let that go too for the calmness of nirvana (freedom from desires).

    Celibacy is a choice needed to be made free from repression of desires but from finding that it is unsatisfactory and letting it go. This is where spiritual path is not the same as religion. If you want spiritually, live honestly and acknowledge your own desires. Give into them after you admit to it if you wish but don’t live life with a lie. I once told a male student that I can’t be his teacher anymore since I have strong physical attraction to him (even though he was attracted to me first and I didn’t act on it). I declared the truth to my other students. Our relationship was even better after we acknowledged and got over the physical desires part and not acted on it. Honesty is the best policy as we all experience physical desires at times. I feel it is inappropriate to label celibacy as an abhorrent practice just because it is practiced wrongly by some (or yourself). I took Zen 5 lay precepts as a kid and have broken them all one by one to realize the unsatisfactory and suffering nature of not abiding by them. I renew my precepts again with full understanding that it served to protect me from suffering and straying from the path. Celibacy in my opinion and experience, is the same. I do not view sex as dirty, but something that fuels desires, create attachments and complications for myself which I do better without.

    Good luck on your quest for wholeness!



  31. 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

  32. 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.

  33. 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.

    1. Renunciation is not about giving up or denying pleasure. It’s about letting go of outcomes.

      “If, Mahāli, forms, feelings, perceptions, inclinations and consciousness were exclusively suffering (dukkha), immersed in suffering, steeped in suffering, and if they were not also steeped in pleasure (sukha), beings would not become enamored of them. But because these things are pleasurable, beings become enamored of them. By being enamored of them, they are captivated by them, and by being captivated by them they are afflicted (saṅkilissanti).” [PED, p. 421. · trans. S. Batchelor]

  34. You all spend too much time pondering everything to ever be happy.

    Have sex or don’t have sex. Make a decision and move on.

    Examining everything to death is one way to ensure you never live.

  35. 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.

  36. I think the main problem is not celibacy per se. I think problems arise when celibacy carries perks (like social status, provide livelihood). This makes that people that would otherwise not choose to be celibate, take vows.
    In Tibetan monasteries, child abuse is rampant and Tibetan monks arrange to have sex with women, e.g. monks. Masturbation is allowed, but they don’t tell the Western monks about it, who thus suffer greatly and, moreover, are tortured by guilt. Dalai Lama no sex? Really? Guys like his likely successor do it with their so-called “sister”.

  37. We can’t derive moral laws from natural facts, so all the talk about natural urges is just nonsense, some urges and longings should be cultivated – others not.
    And fallen saints who broke their celibacy – you are essentially saying that they shouldn’t have raped or abused women, which is what celibacy is about. So celibacy is good. And their problem is that they weren’t celibates, not that they started being celibates.

    You become better with women the more you are with them. This is also no argument in favor of being with women. In the same way you become better with horses the more you work with horses. Just because something is hard doesn’t make it good. Sometimes fears prevent you from doing something, but just because you fear something doesn’t mean you should face the fear. The reason for breaking celibacy must come from something positive and I can’t really find any positive argument for it.

    “Love’s great (and sole) originality is to make happiness indistinct from misery.” -Cioran

  38. Actually, two of the four major sects in Tibetan Buddhism don’t require celibacy. Sakya and Nyingma “monks” are allowed to marry. So it seems that at some point, someone did perhaps dare to think that celibacy might not be practical, or necessary in order to live a spiritual life. Even so, the fact that some monks and lineage heads are married doesn’t prevent some of them from behaving in a predatory manner with their students.

    Gedun Chopel didn’t rise above celibacy, that I’m aware of. He gave back his robes at a young age, saying that he’d been “living a lie” as a tulku, and proceeded to spend much of the rest of his life in debauchery, while writing brilliant poetry and prose. If he observed perfect celibacy during his years as a monk, please provide a reference for that information, so that we might read about that aspect of his early life.

    Part of the problem with the lack of celibate discipline in the TB tradition is due to the fact that Tibet prided itself on the size of its monasteries, and the high percentage of the population that supposedly dedicated itself to those institutions and the spiritual life. Mass monasticism was Tibet’s claim to fame in the old days, as a spiritual realm.

    However, the monasteries gained their members through the mostly involuntary membership of children who had been given over to them. Most of the children weren’t suited to the spiritual life. This is the main reason that sexual activity inside and outside the monasteries was tolerated; it was a sort of escape valve for people who didn’t want to be there, and weren’t allowed to leave until they were 21. In old Tibet, the children of poor families were never allowed to leave in some instances; they were kept as monastic servants, part of Tibet’s slave class.

    So naturally, involuntary membership in monastic society bred a certain type of corruption; celibacy couldn’t be imposed, nor was it taken seriously by many monks. Even the Dalai Lama has said that “only 10% are suited” to the spiritual and celibate monastic life. Perhaps it’s time to dispense with the custom (which in old Tibet was a type of tax; every family owed one son to a monastery) of allowing children to be separated from their families and institutionalized among adults prone to sexual predation. If only adults past a certain minimum age were allowed to enter the monkhood, the quality of the monks might improve considerably. One would hope the time has come for the Tibetan community to value quality over quantity.

  39. I say that much, people who have the desire to get into a higher dimension after death or sth. similar have to understand that there won’t be animalistic drives anymore and having sex definetily isn’t a way to get there. Sexuality splits your left and right brain halfs.
    Tantric teachings are very new. They weren’t integrated in the teachings of buddha (the small vehicle).
    There is a reason why we all shouldn’t just simply connect, why we have own bodies, own minds, own souls, own ideas, own will. This is very complex level of existince. Making everything flow into each other and letting the boundries disappear is going back. It is death. And what is it about all of this we are light-beings bullshit? Don’t you realize that there must have first been space, which is darkness so that the sun could take place and give light? And besides that how should it be good for the development of children and for our society if man and woman who have kids together have sex with other people. Also the intense exchange of body-fluids and -secretions leads to the spreading of diseases.
    Reincarnation is for animals. You might reincarnate but in 99,9% of the cases not as a human but as an animal. The idea of the inherent reincarnation of humans will only lead you to thinking that there’s no punishment for you. No Abyss.

  40. Hi, Stephen Schettini! I’ve just finished reading your article and through all the comments… Thank you for your patience and solicitude felt in each of your replies… All the best to you.

  41. All those people writing about their “long”, “happy” and “successful” celibate life… I wonder.. how on earth did they end up here on this page? )))

    1. Easy answer. Yesterday, I heard on the radio that the Leftists are complaining because of “Enforced Celibacy,” basically they want to sleep around, but can’t find enough people to sleep with them. So I was looking up about all the hoopla surrounding this new “social justice” campaign for those suffering from “Enforced Celibacy.” I am curious to see what solution the Leftists will propose for those suffering in this new minority. Surely, they cannot advocate for some sort of rape culture or sex slavery. As I said in my post, sex is the Golden Calf of modern times.

  42. With regards to the 5 percepts, it’s important to realize that they exist on multiple levels just as all reality does. We know that there is the grossest level of reality, apparent solidity, and the subtlest, atom vibrational reality, and that both are equally true. The 5 percepts, or 8, also function in this way. The one regarding sex at the gross level is don’t perform sexual misconduct such as rape or other unwarranted or forced sexual actions. At the subtlest level is don’t do anything sexual physically at all. There’s a whole crazy grey area in between with different levels of physical action. We are all somewhere on that scale and need to honor that.

    To think that one can go from having sex everyday to total celibacy is a little naive. Maybe through sheer determination they can grit it out but it’s going to be a lot of suffering and “relapse” might happen. A gradual movement from gross to subtle is healthy. Just like your mind gradually notices subtler and subtler aspects of reality as your practice deepens or just as a body gets stronger and stronger from exercise, one will move away from the gross levels of the percepts towards the subtle as realizations are made concerning their own existence and what drives their actions. You don’t sit down and meditate and realize the deepest truth concerning the reality of nature and existence in an hour and you won’t “rid” yourself of sexual action just by taking a vow. To reach these goals it takes practice in the right way.

    If your practice isn’t slowly lessening your desire (for all sensual experiences) over time something’s not right. Just because someone is a monk or guru or whatever doesn’t mean they have an effective practice. Just because you’re striving doesn’t mean your striving correctly.

    And why would you want your desire for these experiences decrease? Because they are meaningless and essence less. Because they bring harm to others and yourself wether you think so or not. And how do they bring harm? By building attachment. It’s not like people are having sex, detached, observing it as a passing phenomenon as it is. It’s not like theyre using the experience to build wisdom and understand reality at the deepest level. They are fully engrossed in the sensations not observing them objectively at all. It just creates more desire, more attachment to feeling good and less accepting as it is. Chasing sensual pleasures does not bring ultimate peace of mind. Maybe it does for a little bit if you’re lucky enough to get it, but it’s like all experiences, impermanent. So what are you left with when it’s gone? Suffering. How do you end your suffering? You get more of it. Endless cycle, samsara.

    OR you can choose to see it as it is and realize it’s the same as any other desire. Just as silly, although much stronger for some of us. Once you stop chasing you’re peaceful, nibanna. The cooling. We all have desires and different levels of desire for different things. The key is knowing them and working within your means so you don’t hurt yourself. Sounds like the author hurt themselves and is trying to warn others not to hurt themselves as well. What hurt you wasn’t celibacy though, it was your misunderstanding of where you were, not honoring that, and thinking that you had to be at the highest level to practice correctly. It’s like yoga, we all have different flexibility levels and if you’re not flexible and try to do what the super flexible do you are going to hurt yourself. Always honor your limits and work within them slowly moving forward, otherwise you’re in for a lot of suffering and maybe permanent damage. Sounds like the author received some damage that will that some serious rehab to get through. Sorry no one helped you out in regards to this. Hope this resonates with some!

    Be well everybody!! Listen to and honor yourself!!

  43. Being celibate is better than lying to others and using them as sex objects.

    I am a 35 year-old celibate Christian, firstly because I have been chasing many dreams and many careers, and I honestly do not want to be tied down. I’m not interested in marriage and I don’t believe in sleeping around. Secondly, I have not met anyone that was remotely a good catch or had enough in common with me to consider seriously. If God wanted me to marry, He would change my mind. Until then, I am NO WAY going out “experimenting” just because society thinks we should ALL have that “experience.” Sex is specifically for procreating and I’m too busy living and enjoying my life to slow down for that now. People are too focused on sex, it has become the modern equivalent of the Golden Calf.

    However, you do what you think best, it is your life.

  44. In Hinduism priests are NOT celibate. Only the sanyasins are celibate and typically a grahastha becomes a sanyasin only after he fulfills his married life. In fact, priests who perform Hindu weddings are supposed to be family men themselves i.e grahasthas. Celibates/Bachelors cannot officiate weddings. Most of the Upanishadic sages such as Yagnavalkya were married. Do read the Upanishads. They are a treasure trove of wisdom.

  45. I found a lot to consider in this article. I was a childhood victim of sexual abuse committed by my father, who practiced Tibetan Buddhism. There was overlap between the ragey pre Buddhist sexual violence and what became a distorted ‘little consort/student’ dynamic. He always resentfully identified as a householder who would often tell me he wished I hadn’t been born. He always made sure I knew that he would have gained enlightenment if not for me. Given he was trapped with a daughter, he decided to make pujas and the first noble truth part of our ‘secret.’ Life is suffering is the ultimate way to trap a rape victim in a state of compliance. I spent years trying to zen my way into out of wishing my father was a safe loving parent.

    His practice became a kind of salve to his conscience and he spent a lot of time lecturing me on how he deserved my ‘compassion’ (which meant cooperation with his desires and forgiveness afterwards.) I spent years being coached on how to meditate, which only made my trauma related dissociation worse, ensuring I’d never be in a fit state to report him.

    His own Friends of the Western Buddhist Order community contained a leader who was later exposed as a predator who sexually assaulted young men who sought refuge. As a child, that man was seem as a kindly man I could trust. I believe that my father was a damaged, lonely man whose male dominated Sangha only reinforced his dysfunctional ideas about women and sex. Tibetan guru Buddhists set men up in yet another version of the secular misogynistic culture where power comes from lack of empathy, renunciation, self delusion.

    I’m left with a deep sadness and a gap in my own practice where I spend the bulk of my meditative time weathering body memories so intense I vomit. Ironically, mindfulness features in all the therapy offered to me as a sexual trauma survivor. Being able to sit with my own self in non judgment and with acceptance has kept me alive, though it is hard work. I wonder how we have got Buddhism so skewed that what has at it’s most humble essence worked to heal me has been warped into such a poisonous narrative.

    1. Dear Anon: This is a moving story, and a testament to how beliefs can be distorted to validate any behaviour. There’s plenty of evidence to show that the Buddha expected his teachings to get ‘skewed,’ as you say. He understood human nature. However, Buddhism does not own mindfulness. It is independent of all belief systems and scientific methods. It’s a natural quality of the wakeful human mind. It cannot be polluted, only obscured. Forget about Buddhism and explore your own mind. Perhaps these guided meditations will help. Thanks so much for your contribution. I wish you well.

  46. If we have a look at what Buddhist scriptures say about the stages of enlightenment, it’s not until the third of four stages that a person “within the stream” is free from sensual desire. A person who has reached the first stage and has “entered the stream” isn’t free from sensual desire at all, nor have they attenuated their sensual desire in the way that a person who has reached the second stage has.

    The scriptures also say that a stream-enterer has up to a further seven rebirths in the human or heavenly realms before they will become Enlightened (with a big E). So according to the scriptures it’s entirely possible that a stream-enterer won’t have reduced their sensual desires at all within their current lifetime.

    If someone has made a vow of celibacy and isn’t able to make progress on reducing or abandoning their strong sensual desires, then the most prudent course of action would be to disrobe and practice as a lay person. There’s absolutely no shame in that, and at least your integrity remains intact. Being honest with yourself about where you are at is an essential part of making spiritual progress, and for those who have strong sensual desires a vow to abstain from sexual misconduct would be a more appropriate commitment to make.

    Celibacy isn’t perverse per se, it’s unrealistic expectations combined with a lack of integrity that lead to perverse outcomes.

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