celibacy, sexuality, etc.

Judith M S Pine (jmsp@U.WASHINGTON.EDU)
Tue, 19 Dec 1995 17:07:52 -0800

Although looking at the definition in the OED I note that celibacy is
equated with the unmarried state, I think most native English speakers
use the term "celibacy" to refer to the absence of sexual intimacy. In
other words, a celibate person, in popular usage, is some one who does
not have sex. Generally such condition is voluntary for one reason or
another. The connection between celibacy and marriage is etymological,
but not part of the current meaning as I use it (using myself as a
more-or-less average educated speaker of American English). There are,
for instance, folks advocating celibate marriage as an ideal sort of

If one defines sexual intimacy as sexual intercourse, perhaps one could
justify the heterosexual focus of the beginning of this thread. If,
however, we are talking about the meaning of celibacy in English as it is
spoken today, I don't think you can limit intimacy to heterosexual
intercourse. I think it would be an enormous stretch to equate
homosexuality with celibacy, with the implication that homosexual
sex is somehow not "real" sex (although I am sure there are homosexual
celibates, just as there are heterosexual celibates and bisexual
celibates). As I mean the term when I use it, celibacy is not about
sexuality, but about the absence of or avoidance of sexuality. It seems
to me that analysis of the way the term "celibacy" is used in various
discourses would be very useful.

I am curious about the way this discussion seems to have taken monogamous
heterosexual marriage as some sort of norm. Even in my own culture,
where such arrangements are the ideal, most members practice serial
monogamy and do not limit there sexual activity to those practices which
are legally or socially acceptable. It seems to me that an understanding
of the practice of celibacy (or the various practices of celibacy) must
first take into account the context of sexual practice, both ideal and
actual, in the society under discussion.

Judy Pine