As a life long celibate (by most definitions) I thought it might interest some of you to get a few tips 😉 Yes, this is largely a tongue in cheek post, as I’m sure most of you are NOT celibate. Celibacy has a respected history in both Buddhism and Roman Catholicism. Like most people today I have mixed feelings about the institution.
On the one hand I feel the best spiritual teachers are celibate: I have trouble taking Stephen Batchelor and his wife (both former monastics) seriously for instance. On the other: staying away from the issues of relationships, kids and all that does leave more room for ‘spiritual development’ (whatever that means).(#)
For me personally: I stayed celibate to avoid bad relationships, but it has left me lonely. [And no, that is not an invitation… So far men who try to pick me up online are not the kind I’d want to see in real life.]
I’ve heard of celibacy as the cure for sexual addiction too, for instance. It makes sense: nobody expects alcoholics to get cured without staying off alcohol completely either.
On the other hand: as a method for teens to avoid teen-pregnancy I’m not a fan. I think it’s better to educate them and give them condoms.
Without further ado, or those who choose to stay celibate, here are a few pointers:
Well, first of all it helps if you’re simply not attracted to anybody. This is obvious perhaps, but the main issue here isn’t your own attraction, but the mutual attraction that builds up… Nothing more attractive to woman than a man who is attracted to her. This goes both ways of course.
If you ARE attracted to someone it becomes tricky. Monastic robes will keep some women (and men) off, so it diminishes the problem. Still, as the example of the Batchelor’s shows, that won’t kill it off completely.
The first instinct of anybody who has been in this situation will be to ignore the person they’re attracted to. This will work in a bar or in the train station. It will not work if you have to face that person on a regular basis. They will notice that they’re being ignored, start to guess at the causes etc. Still, as a first precaution it is not a bad idea: the other person may simply decide it’s not worth the hassle and lose interest. This will in turn make it easier on you to forget about them.
How tricky ignoring is as a strategy is shown by the fact that one young man of my acquaintance bragged that he used it as a pick up tactic. I won’t go into details, but it worked.
On the other hand: going into a single-sex monastic institution works too of course. Avoiding temptation will keep you safe. However, most monastic institutions I’ve heard of these days do allow women in as students so even that’s no guarantee.
Back to normal life scenario’s: it’s much more effective to just treat that other person as though you really don’t care that much. Greet them casually, talk to them normally, but never let a hint of sexual attraction into your demeanor. Don’t look into their eyes longer than you would anybody else, but don’t avoid their eyes either. Don’t seek them out, but don’t avoid them either.
Again: It’s easier if you really don’t care.
One thing to absolutely avoid is intimacy of any kind. It is not for nothing that Buddhist monks are not allowed to be in a room alone with a woman. Emotional intimacy with the sex you’re attracted to is equally tricky – best avoid it altogether. Emotional intimacy leads to more if both of you are available and the attraction is mutual as well.
This isn’t to say you can’t be casually friendly. Just never cross that line.
It’s not for nothing that facebook is now THE way people become unfaithful to their partners. It starts with a quarrel of course. One of the partners chooses to not talk it through, but grumble to a (single) ex. That leads to emotional intimacy. They decide to meet over coffee and next thing you know, they’re in bed together.
Because the hard part is not being attracted to anybody there are all kinds of meditations in Buddhist texts designed to do just that. Such texts were written by monks for monks avoiding being attracted to women. In the famous Bodhicaryavatara(*) for instance it’s recommended viewing women as consisting of piss and pus and all things vile. Obviously the advice can be adapted to women by recommending they see men that way, gays will also know what to do with this I’m sure.
This is actually a recommended meditation topic! It’s a way of turning sexual energy into meditative energy, but personally I would not go that far. After all (and this is part of the trouble in today’s world) men and women have to work together and it doesn’t help if each side is imagining the other side as consisting of piss and pus etc.
In short – staying celibate is only going to be easy for those few of us who really aren’t attracted to anybody sexually. Yes, I’m told such people exist. For the rest of us: I guess just dealing with that energy as honestly as we can, without hurting anybody, is the best we can do. Celibate or not. Also – but this is off topic – I’m told that an emotionally healthy relationship will help people avoid straying…
#) As I’ve now come to experience Buddhism first hand, I can’t help have a renewed respect for Stephen Batchelor: he deals with the challenges of Buddhism in modernity in a way that’s both honest and well founded.
*) ‘A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life‘ (Bodhicaryavatara) by Santideva. Translated from the Sanskrit and Tibetan by Vesna A. Wallace and B. Alan Wallace, Snow Lion Publications, Ithica, New York USA. This is otherwise a very inspiring text on the Bodhisattva Path. For the scholarly among you: the notes in this edition are great.
[edit Jan. 8th 2012] Since writing the above I was sent “A Couple’s Guide to Sexual Addiction: A Step-by-Step Plan to Rebuild Trust and Restore Intimacy“ for review. Which really is a great book that will help couples deal with sexual addiction. My Review.[/edit]