By C.K. Persons
“Father what a waste” was a phrase used to describe a graduate school friend. Celibacy makes little sense to most people, but this description of my friend came from numerous budding theologians at a Catholic University! Most kinksters scoff at celibacy too. But I’d argue that Catholicism and kinky sexuality share a bit more in common about celibacy (and chastity) than meets the eye.
First, two important definitions: celibacy and chastity. Celibacy, at its most basic level, is abstinence from sexual encounters. But it means much more; it is a life without romantic, or exclusive relationships. As my friend would say, there is no “number one” in my life. (He’d then say, “But there are many number twos.”) Celibacy is currently a requirement only for ordained priests, and for men and women religious (e.g., Sisters of Notre Dame, Franciscans, etc.). Chastity, on the other hand, is a virtue that all Catholics are called to cultivate. Chastity is much harder to define, but in essence it is the integration of sexuality in one’s life. For instance, the genital expression of sexuality, according to the Catholic Church, belongs only in the context of marital relationships. Admittedly, there are serious problems with this viewpoint given, to name only one, relationships between gay and lesbian couples. Nevertheless, there is a tremendous value in chastity as a virtue, for it views sexuality holistically – and human sexuality is always a part of each person’s entire self.
To discuss the complete, complicated history of celibacy and chastity in the Catholic Church is far beyond the scope of this article, but there are some noteworthy theological and practical reasons for celibacy and chastity. Priests and religious, for example, pronounce vows of celibacy to focus all their energies on service. Celibacy makes them available to accompany others in a way that is harder to do for ordained priests who are married (and with families). (Married priests obviously can more easily relate to the vast majority of the world who are not celibate, however.) Chastity is meant to promote and maintain self-giving, loving relationships and communities. (It is also important to note that celibacy does not cause the unconscionable acts of sexual abuse. Furthermore, since only a very slim number of people can live healthy celibate lives, the Church must re-visit mandatory celibacy for ordained priests. After all, there were married priests for the first thousand years of church history. But there has always been and will always be a place for celibacy.)
Celibacy and chastity are not uncommon in the kink world. There are many people who choose celibacy in power exchange relationships (just for shorter time periods than a life-time, of course!). A submissive, for instance, may be put in “chastity” so that the submissive can focus all attention on the needs of the dominant. (Many elite athletes refrain from genital activity as well during their most competitive training and performance times.) Those interested in chastity play often mention the important role of sacrifice too. Their chastity (i.e., celibacy) is an offering to the dominant, not unlike how some priests and religious view their celibacy as an offering to God.
Ordained priests, religious, and kinky persons practice celibacy (and chastity) for some similar reasons, despite potential differences in theology and sexual beliefs. Such sexual practices make evident that at the very least celibacy and chastity are no waste.