Celibacy: Everyday Presentations

Mon, 11 Dec 1995 10:59:05 CST

E. J. Sobo's interest in celibacy got me thinking; here are some
preliminary remarks on how celibacy is interpreted in everyday life.
The first form is Social Defeat. The appears to be an ancient
and persistent interpretation of spouselessness: witness the "rubbish
man" who can't get together the pigs needed for bridewealth in Papua New
Guinea, and the "old maid" who (presumably!) couldn't attract a husband.
A second--and remarkably different--form is Spiritual Victory. This is
recent, known especially in the Roman Catholic clergy: the single state
is seen as morally higher than the married one. Is this interpretation
always associated with monasticism? How old is it? Not very, I
suspect, in cultural-evolutionary terms. A third, recent interpretation
is Sexual Preference. This takes disparate forms, including the
standard homosexual form, "I'm gay" (which is taken to explain
spouselessness in the usual sense), and the homosexual form, "I prefer
to 'play the field'" (with related forms, usually said, third-person, of
males: "He's afraid of commitment"). Finally, there is the Statistical
Fluke interpretation. The current Batman movie has the memorable
specimen (as memory serves):"SHE: So why is there no Mrs. Batman? HE: I
haven't been lucky with women. SHE: Maybe you haven't met the right woma
n." Anyway, the standard line is "I guess I just never met the right
person." Note that this is nearly unheard of in second- or third-
person form! These, then, are common explanations of celibacy; but what
is the truth? One gets the impression that Spiritual Victory has been a
cover, at times, for sexual preference (individually) and for cohesive
control of a church's wealth (institutionally--as Leslie White noted).
One gets the impression, too, that these days Sexual Preference often is
a defense against acknowledging, or a reaction against experiencing,
actual social defeat. A woman may resort to homosexual relations as
preferable to loneliness; a man may resort to such relations because
they are easier (in some ways); and the supposed casanova "playing the
field" is probably sitting on the sidelines, especially in terms of good
sex. (There is research to that effect I believe.) As for Statistical
Fluke, probably nobody believes it, except about onesself; yet it is
perhaps often quite accurate, in the sense of a social fact, as when the
"marriage market" is biased for demographic and economic reasons. Any
reactions to this preliminary typology? --Bob Graber