By Naomi Marsden
‘I honestly don't know if I will ever lose my virginity. Which, I have to admit, is pretty depressing if I stop to think about it... which is why I usually try not to.’
‘There is a large community out there that is profoundly hurting and believes that society views them as nothing more than a freakish joke.’
‘I just feel extremely alone, and, I guess, forgotten, in this world.’
These are some comments featured in a recent BBC article, The sadness of living without sex. As I read through these experiences of celibacy, I indeed felt sad. But this was eclipsed by my frustration at the message underpinning the entire article: that a life without sex is, frankly, awful.
Not one of these stories was positive. If you’ve never had sex, reading this article would just confirm that you too should be depressed. If you have had sex, reading this article would just confirm how glad you are to have lost your virginity because at least you aren’t this weird.
Like these individuals, I have never had sex. I dislike the word ‘virgin’ because it conjures up images of some sort of angelic cherub in a nappy, or an uptight, asexual Mary Poppins. I am far from being either angelic or prudish. I’m just a 31-year-old woman who has chosen to be celibate.
However, rather than feeling ashamed or depressed about this, I am, generally, content.
As I’ve mentioned before, this choice does not stem from a desire or resolution to remain single. It is also not because I dislike sex, fear it, or imagine it to be somehow beneath me. In fact, I regard it very highly.
I believe that sex is one of the most powerful and beautiful experiences known to humankind. There are few other things that possess the same pleasure and sense of intimacy with another human being. However, it is precisely because it is this precious that I feel it must be protected. This will undoubtedly sound archaic, but I don’t believe that something this powerful can be left without boundaries—it needs the safety and security of lifelong union to be sufficiently protected. Sex is, by its nature, an act of great vulnerability. You are naked and exposed to another person who can reject or accept you in a moment, and you are physically joined with them. There is nothing that protects that better than marriage; a promise of faithfulness, protection and commitment is the safest place for sex.
Although marriage isn’t 100% failsafe – marriages do end, and abusive sexual relationships do occur within marriage – the potential for disaster is far higher outside of it, when there are no legal, moral, or even social-expectation ties to keep you together for longer than a night. If sex can unite two people so powerfully, severing that tie is going to hurt.
I’ve yet to be proved wrong on this. I’ve never seen any friends seem genuinely happier following a casual sexual encounter and I’ve witnessed the aftermath of many broken sexual relationships, even supposedly committed ones. Friends describe feeling like they have been torn into little pieces, like parts of themselves are fragmented. Perhaps I’ve not experienced this first-hand, but I’ve had enough of a taste of it to know that it hurts, a lot. It all feels so empty because, let’s be honest, what we really long for is a genuine and lasting connection with someone, not just to feel good and wanted for a brief moment.
It is naïve to think sex can be treated casually without consequences, but it might just make you numb enough that you don’t recognise that anymore.
Living a full life without sex
Now, all of this is not to say I find celibacy remotely easy. Over the years I’ve had various opportunities to have sex and it’s often been immensely difficult to say no. This was exacerbated by working in the acting industry, where normal working relationships are non-existent and everyone is half-naked most of the time. Not an easy environment to stay celibate in.
Some might accuse me of repressing my sexuality, but I fervently disagree with this. Repressing something involves quashing the desire of it. On the contrary, I do not repress my desire for sex; I celebrate this desire because sex is a good thing. I just believe the fulfilment of this longing can only flourish in the right context. Believe it or not, this kind of life can actually be fulfilling and joyful. Trust me, it’s possible.
It’s possible because there are other kinds of intimacy available to us in human experience. There are other relationships where we can be loved and vulnerable. I have found this in the comfortable stillness of being with old friends, the warmth of my family gathered round a table as we share a meal together, the hugs I receive as I walk into church each week. I can still experience intimacy in companionship with others; I can still be deeply known and cherished.
Then there is pleasure. I would question the extent to which the physical experience of sex is worshipped in our society. Instead, I believe pleasure is a multitude of experiences and senses. Nothing can quite surpass the first time I held each of my sleeping nieces and nephews in my arms, the night I sat mesmerised by the clearest and brightest blanket of stars in the expanse of a Greek sky, the velvety hot chocolate I sipped in Pushkin’s favourite cafe in St Petersburg, watching La La Land on a rooftop on my 30th birthday. These moments were transcendently happy and pleasurable. I defy anyone to claim I have not lived a full life because I cannot include sex in this list. In fact, to do so would be to invalidate the lives of those who may be unable to have sex because of health or disability. You can live a great life without sex.
A better kind of intimacy
But far surpassing all these moments is the intimacy and pleasure I have found in my relationship with God. Sex is an expression of unconditional love where you are accepted for all your flaws. This is what a relationship with God is like, but it’s a thousand times more beautiful. When I first met Jesus, I felt the greatest closeness I had ever felt with anyone, and that feeling has only increased as I have walked through life with him. Jesus himself was celibate and never had a sexual relationship, yet he lived the fullest life anyone has ever lived. Christianity celebrates singleness and celibates and gives us dignity, where others make us feel like we are repressed losers.
Celibacy isn’t just a theoretical stance for me; it’s a decision I have to make daily. It’s immensely difficult holding true to my beliefs in a world where the appeal of casual sex is an almost constant onslaught on my senses. Even recently I was challenged in being determinedly pursued by someone I found very attractive, but who I knew was not someone I wanted to marry or who would be good for me. As much as I may have wanted to have sex with this person, I knew deep down that this was really a misplaced longing for intimacy with God. For just a moment I felt lonely and I wanted to feel desirable, but I knew that sleeping with him would not truly satisfy me, so I chose to walk the other way. I have no regrets or shame about that—the moment passed and, amazingly enough, I don’t feel like I missed out by not having sex.
Your desire for intimacy is because you were made for an even more intimate relationship with a God who loves you. Living life without sex does not need to be sad because we are not alone and forgotten in this world. In fact, it is quite the opposite.