On the costs of celibacy

A reader writes:

I was surprised at how Kristor’s essay on the genesis of gnosticism roused me to anger as I read the sections concerning childhood disillusionment etc. “Surprised” because I never thought I would react that way to something I agree with so completely, and see my own capitulation in it. Perhaps it is because I, in my early thirties, realise that I am an adolescent too—despite the fact that I try not to be.

I’m not sure why, but the essay constantly brought my thoughts to an obstacle in life that I find impossible to overcome. Contrary to the main thrust of the essay, I have recently come to the view that I have found myself in this position because I have followed a Traditionalist lifestyle in the present social climate, not rebelled against it.

To put the matter more plainly: I have embraced the idea that it is an objective Good to be able to offer my future wife a level of intimacy that has not been shared with any other female in my life. I have also been of the view that “going steady” with a girl that I do not consider wife material is both potentially hurtful (misleading) to her and a waste of time (pointless) for me. I was under the impression that decent women would think along the same lines, i.e. that promiscuity was an exception to the rule of female culture. In this model, I would find a girl, or she would find me, and after reciprocating each others life long struggles (observing our “Limits”, in Kristor’s words), we would exchange their fruit—value for value.

Accordingly, unlike the men that surround me, I have dated rarely—only those girls I thought I could invest in completely. On those occasions I always observed my Limit. As a result I have gone through many years of anxiety, loneliness and an occasional anguish the description of which I cannot sufficiently convey in words. All the time, one thought has sustained me: I am investing in something that cannot be bartered or traded, something that I can give my wife that is hers alone and that will bind us both physically and spiritually at the moment it is exchanged. I have often felt that the point at which my marriage would be consummated, no matter how “awkward” the ritual, its emotionally transcendent aspects would be enhanced by reason of the exclusivity between my wife and me, an exclusivity that spanned time long before we even met.

I now find myself in this position: unlike all my male friends, I have no sexual experience. They’ve had their fun, and I’m living in a culture that places value on their behaviour and makes me an oddity at best. From the comments and conversation I hear among my female friends, they see limited sexual experience in men as a sign of weakness and failure. I hardly need to add that these female colleagues live the Sex and the City lifestyle, hardly something that rouses me to marriage proposals. I feel tremendously cheated because I cannot find a woman who can exchange with me what I have to offer her. And if I should just “get over it” and settle, then that makes my fifteen years plus of efforts completely meaningless—the entire worldview I have adhered to crumbles. All this because what I thought was Good and True has turned out to have no currency in today’s age. It is a burden, not a boon.

This is from where my anger stems. I am royally disillusioned, and feel like I haven’t moved on from my biological adolescent years. I am coming to the realisation that I should have just capitulated to my instincts and avoided all these complexes I’m experiencing now. But that, of course, would mean surrender to degeneracy. The only way I can see decent men and women being able to lead healthy lives is in a society where Traditionalist principles reign supreme—any public deviation from Traditionalist principles will invade and impoverish the personal lives of those who want to be decent in their thought and conduct. That means it is becoming increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to mature from adolescence to manhood in today’s West.

- end of initial entry -

Laura Wood writes:

That is a very beautiful essay.

His chastity has a sacramental quality to it. It is not only a gift to his future wife, but his future children. They will be moved and changed by what he has done. When he is discouraged, he should think of them.

Harry Horse writes:

To the Reader, trapped in an existential crisis of this world (which is really a rite de passage for The Next): Luk 12:7 But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not: ye are of more value than many sparrows. Cheers,

John K. writes:

I am writing only because I feel tremendously for the Reader who wrote the letter to you that you titled, “On the costs of chastity.”

1. Chastity is to be distinguished from celibacy. Everybody, at all times, is to be chaste. It happens that our dear Reader, in order to practice chastity in his current state, must practice celibacy. And it is important that I can trust in his efforts to persevere. Any chaste single person is a model and a potential rebuke to me as a married person. [LA replies: You’re right, I used the word “chastity” incorrectly in the title of the entry. I’ve changed it.]

2. On the other hand, single people may sometimes not understand how difficult marriage can be. It can get really, really bad, and yet you’ve promised to stay. A single person is not going to court someone who makes them feel sexless and loveless. But there are circumstances in which a marriage can be both sexless and loveless, through sin, or even through no fault or sin of the spouse (severe illness, e.g.). A single person can be rejected, maligned, continually berated, even attacked by a love, but then it can end. You can walk away and get on with your life. Yet, sinned against or no, ceaselessly maligned, berated, rejected or not, as a married person, your whole body is still for her alone and your life remains intertwined with hers, no matter what. And that is chastity, too.

3. Our beloved Reader hasn’t gotten married yet not because he’s celibate, but because he doesn’t know how to court. And the itty-bitty secret of courtship is that its (eventual) goal is S-E-X, as any lady with the slightest bit of sense will blushingly acknowledge. Courtship is about turning a woman ON, helping her feel excited, desired, challenged, and safe enough to give herself to you without reservation. The mere fact of your celibacy, however much you sacrifice for it, is NOT a turn-ON in the courtship game. That’s just a fact.

4. Put differently: the fact of your celibacy might even intrigue a woman momentarily. But it’s not going to give you sufficient SEXUAL VALUE to her for you to court her successfully. (“Successfully,” as in “close the deal”). Let’s face it. Some bald, fat old geezer with no money and a bad smell can promise her celibacy too, and why would she agree to courtship with him?

5. On the other hand, it might be a good opening to walk up to someone, smile, take her hand, look deep into her eyes, and say, “I just want you to know, I’m not going to have sex with you until we’re married … ” and just keep looking at her and smiling and wait to see what she says, and maybe you two can get somewhere from there….

6. But I digress. In sum, our dear Reader should not confuse not having Game, or being a beta male, or some combination thereof, with the value of celibacy. To be adequately human, our dear Reader should strive to be chaste, always. But to get married, he needs to learn how to court successfully. And sorry, it’s not the girl’s job to teach him how.

7. Particularly, he needs to separate the skill of courtship, from the constant virtue of chastity. What our dear Reader implicitly senses is that, yes, it really is about S-E-X. The goal of courtship is marital S-E-X. But he is confusing sucking at courtship and becoming a bad guy, but only because both courtship and being a bad guy have something to do with S-E-X. “One of these things is not like the other…. “

8. Because, dear Reader, you are past your wits’ end, and sorely tempted to chuck it all, you currently seem to be under the moral imperative to GET SOME GAME. You must non-suck at courtship, and soon. For you, of course, Game will be for the purpose of courtship, for the goal of MARITAL sex, not for the goal of casual sex—risking all the temptations that an increase in self-confidence, including sexual self-confidence, will bring.

9. Nothing for it. You’re the boy. Man up, and go get ‘em.

Lydia McGrew writes:

I hope to write more about this another time—perhaps a whole blog post along these lines. Briefly, I was moved by your reader’s account of his discouragement regarding having kept himself for his future wife. It seems to me that here we are reaching the limits of “being good because being good will bring you a better life in this world.” There is truth in that idea. As discouraged as he is, doubtless some of those guy friends he is now envying have acquired sexually transmitted diseases, heartbreaks, and nasty experiences of various sorts that he has avoided. So undoubtedly, even in his situation, there are this-worldly advantages to his having followed the requirements of Christian morality.

However, at this point he has to start asking himself questions like, “Would it really have made you truly happy to have lived like them?” where “truly happy” has a deeper meaning. And once we move to that deeper meaning, we are moving into deep waters that have nothing much to do with not fornicating because you’re saving yourself for your wife. Rather, they have to do with the ultimate meaning of the life of man and with what constitutes man’s true happiness. As Augustine said, “Thou hast made us for Thyself, oh God, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.” In the end, God doesn’t ask us to follow His laws because that will give us a happy marriage ten years down the line. God asks us to follow His laws as part of a whole life of loving and worhiping Him on the way to our greatest happiness in the beatific vision. Most of us just want to be happy in our own, ordinary way. God wants us to be glorified, sanctified beings. We may feel we could do without the honor. But the only other alternative is eternal misery, so we might as well get used to the idea.

I realize, of course, that your reader may not be a Christian, though I would guess that he is. But that’s sort of the point: He’s miserable and discouraged and wondering if there’s any point in doing the right thing, because he’s not getting the this-worldly rewards he was expecting in return for continence and has missed out on the this-worldly rewards (such as they are) of being sexually promiscuous. That might be a good time to start asking if there’s something more to life than this-worldly rewards.

January 29

Kristor writes:

Dear Reader:

Thank you for this profoundly moving comment. I suffered with you as I read. The only thing I can think to tell you is that marriage has taught me that while marriage is for sex (and for all that sex entails: children, mutuality, and so forth), it is not about sex. Ditto for your manhood; not just your sexual organs, but your very masculinity. They are for sex, and express sex, but are not about sex. This in just the same way that while your life is for you, it is not about you. Your life and all that is therein are about the love of God.

What if Providence has destined you for lifelong celibacy? This it might have done for no reasons that have their origin in you. You are reserved for some purpose, secret in the bosom of the Lord, that might entail your celibacy. Would you cavil at that? Worse things could happen to you; many involve sex. I hope you are willing to entertain the possibility that, no matter what is in store for you, it is likely to be pretty painful, one way or the other. Will you writhe under your chastisement, or will you bear it patiently, rejoicing the while?

Your life is hid with Christ in God. All your life is from him, in him, and about him. The sex part, and the math part, and the part where you cook something; all about him. Let it be about him, then. Everything will then fall into its proper order, and you will discover that at bottom you have no complaint, even should you find yourself destined, not only to celibacy, but to torture and martyrdom.

Love God. The sex—such sex as is providentially proper to your station in the history of this world—will then happen as best it properly can, all things in this world considered. It may not happen at all. If you love God, that hardly matters, in the long run. If you love God, you will be happy, however you suffer. Perhaps then you may relax about sex. This will make you much more attractive to women: blithe, care-free, and precious—and, therefore, strong. Nothing is so attractive as joy.

Andrew E. writes:

I think that the responses to the Reader’s comment, though of high quality, are missing one of its central points, perhaps the central point. That is, I didn’t get the impression that the Reader sees the problem as essentially one of how to court and win a worthy bride though that may certainly be a part of it, but that worthy candidates for his courtship DO NOT EXIST (at least in noticeable numbers) in today’s society. I come from the same generation as the Reader and I would have to say, based on my personal experience that I concur for the most part. I reject the Gamers because of their materialist determinism, but I think they have it right when they say that the proportion of marriageable, Western women in modern America who adhere to traditional notions of sexual virtue (ie. who wait until marriage to lose their virginity) is not significant. I could be wrong but the experiences of my twenties tell me otherwise. Would this really be that surprising, when virtually all single women adore either Sarah (“there’s nothing wrong with my daughter’s situation nor my parenting of such”) Palin or Hillary Clinton? I don’t hear the Reader saying he feels cheated because women aren’t attracted to his virtue but that he feels cheated because the marriageable women he’s encountered do not have the same virtue to offer him. I sympathize completely.

What to do then? I see three options short of abandoning one’s traditionalist principles which is what many of the Gamers would advise. In fact, Roissy has advised just this on several occasions in my recollection. Men in this situation can press on in their search for likeminded women, targeting and networking with conservative Christian church groups, at least to start. Or they can give up their search and devote a part of their energies to remaining celibate. Or they can re-calibrate what is acceptable in a potential bride and begin to include those women who do not have a spotless sexual history but nearly so, to start anyway, and are likely to be traditionalists going forward. I understand this last option is tough to swallow for someone such as our Reader who has struggled so mightily, but perhaps someone more spiritually in tune than I can offer a perspective to help overcome the difficulties involved.

James N. writes:

Andrew E. writes:

“they say that the proportion of marriageable, Western women in modern America who adhere to traditional notions of sexual virtue (ie. who wait until marriage to lose their virginity) is not significant. I could be wrong but the experiences of my twenties tell me otherwise. Would this really be that surprising, when virtually all single women adore either Sarah (“there’s nothing wrong with my daughter’s situation nor my parenting of such”) Palin or Hillary Clinton?”

Oh, no, my friend, it’s not at all surprising, but it’s not because they adore Sarah and Hillary. They adore Sarah and Hillary BECAUSE they have found marriage impossible at the normal age for beginning regular sexual activity (16-18), and hence pursue marriage’s simacrulum, serial fornication with its associated heartbreak and eventual misandry, and look to women as role models who have (seemingly) escaped the predicament in which they find themselves.

Certainly, there are some for whom a celibate third decade, or even a celibate lifetime, is possible—because that’s the station to which they are called (not necessarily by choice). But the NORMAL human pattern, everywhere and at all times, is for semipermanent male-female pair bonding to begin in the mid-teens. To distort this pattern to permit education through grade twelve was, as it turns out, possible, although not without its dramatic and/or humorous aspects.

To distort it to permit college, graduate education, and female career development without the rise of serial fornication has proven to be impossible. And this is not at all surprising, given a proper traditionalist view of human nature. The power of the birds and the bees over mankind (not every man, not every woman, but most, most of the time) is irresistible. The project of delayed marriage to the late 20s or early 30s is a failure, and it’s caused, and continues to cause, untold heartbreak.

Let them marry first, and sort the rest out later. It is better to marry than to burn. It’s even better to marry than to fornicate, break up, and fornicate again. THAT isn’t working for us at all.

LA replies:

James is saying that the historical typical age of marriage in pre-industrial Western society was the mid teens, i.e., age 16. I am not knowledgeable in this area, but that seems unlikely. I found one abstract which said that the average age at marriage in 18th century Europe (or England—it’s not clear which) was 17. The context indicates that the reference is to the age of the woman. Since husbands have always tended to be between two and four years older than their wives, even with girls marrying at 17, the boys would be marrying at 20.

Here’s another article which puts the average age at marriage in 18th century England as much higher. The subject of the article is the tremendous population growth in England between the 1790s and the 1860s:

… Research suggests that rising birth rates were more than twice as important as improving life expectancy in accounting for growth in the eighteenth century. It also appears that changes in marriage practices (nuptiality) were the main force behind the growing birth rate. Couples were having more children because they were tending to marry some two or three years earlier (on average) than they had in earlier centuries. The average age of marriage for women fell from about 26 to 23 years and for men from 27 to 25. As most births occurred within marriage this was important in adding three more child-bearing years for each couple….

I very much doubt these figures. Average female marital age in 18th century England at 26? That seems impossible.

I also saw a chart of average age of marriage for males and females in different regions of 18th and 19th century Japan and it ranged widely from late teens up to mid twenties, with the preponderance in the 20s.

Again, this is not an area I’m familiar with, but I think James’s notion of females and males marrying in “mid teens” is not correct. Even if it were true of the female, it’s not true of the male.

James N. replies:

I think the harmful effects of delayed marriage are much greater on females. I would be happy with a situation where females married at 16-18, and males at 18-22.

Your correction with regard to the typically older age of males at first marriage does not detract from my point that the status quo is unsustainable without near-universal fornication, and its inevitably bad outcomes.

LA replies:

I wasn’t addressing your main thesis, which certainly seems plausible, just wondering about the historical age of marriage.

Tim D. writes:

I think the gentleman who advised the celibate fellow to begin to woo women had it right. Sexual relations are normal. Seeking sexual relations with women you love is normal. I do not propose to argue this assertion; I could not persuade someone of this who believed that sexual relations are in themselves sinful or inappropriate outside of marriage-for-life. I just say to the poor fellow: change your beliefs. They make you a very poor suitor.

I find those who argue for principled sexlessness to be akin to arguing that breathing or urination are somehow tainted with sin. I heave a sigh of pity for the fool. No one gives a damn for his sacrifice. It is irrelevant. It is tedious for him and off-putting for the woman subject to his attentions. He has convinced himself of something profoundly untrue. So did Marxists. Folly and error does not make their sacrifice valid.

Get out there and try to breed, boy. The woman or women will determine whether you can or not. Stop taking upon yourself something which is not yours to bear. I am a father and a grandfather, and I did not reach this status by pining for a world which does not, and cannot, and should not exist.

Bill W. writes:

I was moved by your reader’s account of his frustration, probably mostly because I’ve experienced similar things. It’s a terrible thing to feel that all of your efforts toward virtue—whether sexual or other—ultimately meet with nothing but frustration. As someone who has already “run that race,” in a sense, I hope that I can provide some comfort to him in his plight. Several years ago, I found myself in a similar situation. Fresh out of the Army, a southerner living in Boston, working feverishly to get into grad school, I found life a bit lonely as well. I would wander around Harvard Square, play chess at night against the old Russians in Au Bon Pain, or else read in bookstores around the city, often arguing politics with graduate or professional students. Sometimes, through various acquaintances I would find myself at a party, but in the miasma of modern, young, hip-n-happenin’ folks, a traditionalist like myself either faded to nothing in the background, or else some issue would come up (say, abortion, or socialism) and my reluctance to join the crowd in berating Bill O’Reilly or George Bush (though I have significant disagreements with both, probably different ones than they did!) made me stand out as an oddity. One girl I took out to lunch carried on relentlessly about the evils of Israel toward the Palestinians and America’s treatment of the Indians, and I didn’t have the will to bother arguing with her. Another confessed to me hesitantly that her last relationship had been with a woman! Egad.

Circumstances took me back down south, and I while I was happier being around a less-hip, more traditional crowd, I more importantly took the step of devoting myself to attending church regularly, and getting involved socially with the people there. Within a few months I had a brief relationship, and shortly after that ended, I met THE ONE—the woman I would marry (about a year later). It’s a truism, but the simple fact is that if your reader wishes to meet “nice traditional girls” then he must go to where nice traditional girls are. I know of nowhere better than a good traditional church.

Now, I don’t know who your reader is, or what his other values are. I have to predicate most of the rest of my comments on the idea that he is likely a Christian. Although I think that celibacy outside of marriage is best, I readily admit that it doesn’t make even the slightest bit of sense for a non-Christian. Of course one avoids STDs, unwanted pregnancies and all of the froth and drama that promiscuity brings. But a reasonably intelligent and self-controlled person can easily protect himself from most of that and still have a lot of fun. And while the uniqueness of giving your virginity to a spouse is certainly a kind of joy, it’s not clear to me that outside of the spiritual considerations, that this joy outweighs all of the pleasure that someone might unnecessarily forego. In short, I think that celibacy is deeply desirable from a Christian point of view, but outside of this, it’s rather pointless.

But if he is a Christian, I think there are good things that he needs to consider. Firstly, celibacy is a Christian duty outside of marriage, and there is simply no getting around this. And as with all Christian duties, it is always important to remember that everything is life must be done with spiritual considerations in mind. Specifically, although celibacy is a wonderful and deep preparation for Christian marriage, it isn’t a “special thing” that’s done to prepare for marriage. Celibacy is a rejection of the secular values of the world, and of sin. It is part of a daily struggle—not to prepare for marriage—but to fend off the world and the devil. In short, celibacy must be contextualized in the greater Christian picture, and thought of as a part of one’s worshipful experience of the Lord. And this is a hard thing to do, no doubt. So much of life, and of the Christian walk, is coming to terms with the fact that in a strange way, our lives don’t really matter, that our achievements and our happiness are of far less consequence than the orientation of our hearts to God. Of course being a better Christian will make you a better husband—it will make you a better boss, or worker, or friend for that matter. But all of those are secondary, and when we begin to think of Christianity as a patent medicine, I think we go wildly astray. Christianity is not, ever, firstly about making people happy or making good families or societies. It is firstly about saving our souls, of putting us into the right relationship with God. Morality—sexual morality too—is part of this, but it’s not the point. As C.S. Lewis said: “Morality is a mountain which we cannot climb by our own efforts; and if we could we should only perish in the ice and unbreathable air of the summit, lacking those wings with which the rest of the journey has to be accomplished. For it is from there that the real ascent begins. The ropes and axes are “done away” and the rest is a matter of flying.”

I hope that this might be of some comfort to your reader—though I could hardly hope to add to so much wisdom and likable common-sense that your other posters display.

January 30

Van Wijk writes:

Bill W. wrote: “In short, I think that celibacy is deeply desirable from a Christian point of view, but outside of this, it’s rather pointless.”

So our only choices are Christianity or decadence? As I recall, Stoicism predates Christianity by several centuries, and the teachings of Socrates predate Stoicism. Men recognized the fundamental virtue of abstinence and restraint without benefit of Christian dogma.

From Book I of The Republic, Cephalus is speaking to Socrates: “I remember the poet Sophocles in particular. I was there when someone asked him about sex and whether he could still make love to a woman. ‘Hush,’ said he. ‘I am happy to have left all that behind. I feel as though I have been liberated from a savage and relentless slave master.’ I thought then it was a good answer, and now I think so even more.”

If I might offer my own advice, it is this. We are living through the end of a civilization, and the last phase of any civilization is that of decadence. The fact that decadence is now commonplace does not give it virtue. Virtuous people who find themselves living through this phase will be expected to endure trials and make sacrifices that their forebears could not have imagined. Simply put, you must be stronger than those who came before you. If your beliefs represent the truth, what value is there in casting them aside? I think you’ll find compromise to be a very fickle mistress.

Finally, sexual experience does not a man make. You have already shown a reserve of strength far greater than most of your peers, and you deserve to be addressed as a man rather than a boy.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at January 28, 2010 10:38 AM | Send

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