My brain’s been churning with ideas lately, all centered around celibacy and living a celibate life. This post probably won’t be that cohesive or fleshed out because I’ve very much in the exploration stage of these thoughts and I’m a little excited to get them down in words.
First of all, it’s occurred to me that living a celibate life is something that deserves a person’s full consciousness just as much as sexual activity deserves it. I think it’s too easy for asexuals, especially those who are sex-repulsed/averse and/or virgins, to just sort of assume celibacy as a default result of their asexuality and their sex-aversion, without coming into full awareness of what that celibacy means to them and how they want to actually live with it. It may make sense to live without closely inspecting your sexual orientation’s personal meaning because that IS a default state—but even if you’re asexual, arguably even if you’re a sex-averse/repulsed asexual, celibacy is independent of your orientation and a choice, whether one you make consciously or not. I think celibacy should be something we spend time thinking about deliberately, not just in terms of how it affects our belonging in the sexual world, but what it means specifically to us as individuals. How do we feel about it? What do we want to gain from it? How do we relate to ourselves, being celibate? To our bodies? To others? Even just stepping back and consciously saying to yourself “I want to be celibate” or “I want to be celibate for life” can be a powerful thing to do in your own life. Recognizing that your asexuality and your celibacy are two separate things can bring you new insight.
Celibacy can be about so much more than not having sex. That’s something I’m realizing for the first time. The world usually thinks of celibacy the same way they think of asexuality: what it’s NOT and what you AREN’T doing, rather than what it is or could be and what you are doing. I’ve operated out of this socially conditioned perspective before too, without seeing that the sexual world had trained me to perceive my own asexuality and celibacy in a negative filter rather than a positive one (I don’t mean “negative” as in “bad” but rather, as in negative space and the lack of something rather than the presence of something else).
What does celibacy add to my life? What does it mean to me? How can I understand and construct its presence in my life, in my relationship with self, in my relationships with others? How can I use celibacy to relate to my body? To my mind? To my heart and soul? How can I honor and respect my own celibacy?
These are questions I think are worth asking. They’re worth asking of your asexuality too, if you’re asexual.
I’ve recently discovered the concept of tantric celibacy, and I am absolutely fascinated and excited by its possible meanings for my own life. There is one book in particular that I haven’t read yet but intend to read: Stuart Sovatsky’s Eros, Consciousness, and Kundalini. It looks like he talks about a tantric way to practice celibacy, which includes deepening interpersonal intimacy, and that already strongly resonates with me because I have always seen and desired the spiritual and sensual potential of nonsexual love. The spiritual nature of tantra appeals to me greatly, and I want to pursue this idea of having a spiritual experience of celibacy and nonsexual sensuality with myself and others. Tantra is about spiritual enlightenment, and while sex is the more popular path to that enlightenment in tantric philosophy, I believe celibacy is another path. And I think that sensual touch and intimacy between two people in a nonsexual relationship can become a way to experience and achieve the same kind spiritual enlightenment that authentically tantric sex strives toward.
On a related note, I want to share some thoughts about passion and sensuality as they relate to asexuality. The sexual world often falls into the terrible habit of equating passion and sensuality with sex, and in that same vein, identifying people as more or less passionate, more or less sensual, based on how sexual they are.
Merriam-Webster defines passion in many ways but a few of the definitions include “ardent affection: love” and “a strong liking or desire for or devotion to some activity, object, or concept” and “an object of desire or deep interest.” Passion is primarily about emotion. It’s about desire. It is not exclusively a euphemism or synonym for sex and sexual desire. Sex is one form of passion. Some sex is passionate, and some sex isn’t. Some people are passionate about sex, and some people aren’t. Equating sex and passion goes back to the word “frigid” as a demeaning label for sexually disinterested people, and it’s time that this way of speaking and thinking stop because it’s not only linguistically false and lazy, it’s also completely disrespectful toward asexuals, nonlibidoists, and celibates.
Asexuals have the same capacity for emotion and desire as sexual people. Even a nonlibidoist sex-repulsed asexual can be a passionate person because they are an emotional person. Human desire is unlimited, and lacking a desire for sex doesn’t take away the multitude of other desires a person feels. We can feel intense desire for love, for people, for experiences, just as easily as sexual people. We can feel passionately loving. We can feel passionate about people, about art, about our professions, about politics, religion, philosophy, food, fashion, anything.
Ask the friends who have known me since childhood to describe me in three words and I guarantee that they’ll all list “passionate” among their descriptors. I’m a celibate asexual virgin who is deeply passionate in love, passionate about writing, passionate about my beliefs.
It’s funny because I was just reading an interview about tantra, in which the interviewee (who is a serious tantra practitioner and student) made a juxtaposition of tantric sex and celibacy that didn’t dismiss celibacy as the right path for some pursuers of spiritual enlightenment, but she did say that “tantra is for passionate people,” meaning that tantra involving tantric sex is for passionate people and those who choose celibacy are probably not passionate. This is her view in the context of seriously studying tantric philosophy, and I respect her knowledge and experience that far exceeds my own in this area. But as a celibate asexual, it simply does not ring true that celibacy is antithetical to being a passionate person. Tantric celibacy, from what I’ve read so far, is all about sublimating one’s sexual energy in a directed way that enhances spiritual experience. It’s not that a celibate lacks passion; the celibate simply channels their passion into something other than sex.
My ideal love is completely nonsexual. It’s also the highest form of emotional and spiritual passion available to me as a human being. Every asexual, celibate or not, romantic or not, has a different ideal relationship scenario and I can only speak to my own vision of love. Some asexuals may not associate the word or the feeling of “passion” with love and their own ideal relationships at all. Which is fine. But “passionate” is definitely something I want my important life relationships to be, along with nonsexual.
I’m a celibate asexual, I’m a passionate person, and I am also sensual. Turning to the dictionary again, “sensual” is defined as: “sensory” and “relating to or consisting in the gratification of the senses or the indulgence of appetite.” Notice that it doesn’t say anything about sex. Another poor use of language in vernacular English leads people to use the word “sensual” as a needless euphemism for “sexual.” Sensuality is not sexuality. It can be part of sexuality, and there is some logic to the mental association of “sensual” and “sexual.” But sensuality is simply about the senses: taste, sight, sound, smell, touch. Just as not all sex is passionate, not all sex is sensual. In reverse, you can experience sensuality nonsexually the same way you can experience passion nonsexually.
Sensual pleasure is not outside the realm of asexual interest. We’re emotionally functional to the same degree as sexual people, and we are also physically functional to the same degree. We can and do still value pleasure, and sensual pleasure encompasses a wide variety of experiences, not just sex. Sensual pleasure can be had alone or with someone else. Being someone who values and desire sensual pleasure means being someone who wants to see beauty for pleasure, to hear beauty for pleasure, to smell pleasurable aromas, to take pleasure in the taste of food, and to experience the pleasure of touch—whether that means touching the textures of objects that please you or touching yourself or sharing touch with another person.
I express my sensuality in all kinds of ways: reveling in the smell and texture of leather, looking for clothes made of soft or sensuous fabric, breathing in deep the smell of a delicious perfume or food or incense, listening to music that moves me, fully immersing myself in the taste of orgasmic food. Last night, for the first time, I set aside several minutes to give myself a massage with this bottle of massage oil I just bought. The oil smells heavenly. I’ve decided to install this practice as a regular part of my life, in the spirit of mastering self-love, because touch is my love language. I figure even if I don’t have another person in my life right now who can touch me the way I like most, I can give that attention to myself as much as possible. So I locked the door of my room, got into bed naked after a shower, and touched my body all over with the oil. I spent the most time on my shoulders and my back. It was very sensual and afterward, I felt amazing. I can’t tell you how empowering it is to know that I can do this for myself: show myself love through touch. It’s not just about the touch either. I was present with myself and my own body. I burned incense. I thought and spoke love to myself and my body, and most importantly, I felt it.
It is actually a beautiful discovery: the fact that sensuality and sensual pleasure can be entirely self-centered and self-fulfilled. I’ve decided that in my life right now, the only relationship I’m focusing on is the one with myself, and I’ll spend as little time as possible thinking about my relationships with others, because I want to teach myself that self-love is the only love I need. Expressing that love, showing that love, in a sensual way is the fastest and most effective method of viscerally feeling the love.
But even in the context of relationship with someone else, sensuality can be a huge part of the celibate asexual’s life. I believe that wholeheartedly. To me, sensual touch is the most powerful way of creating emotional and spiritual intimacy with another person, and I think that it’s one advantage of being a celibate asexual that I can fully appreciate and use and be aware of sensual touch for this purpose. Most people are sexually active, but not many of those people are sensual with their sexual partners on a consistent basis or with awareness and intention. How sensual you are with a partner has nothing to do with sex. Sensuality, like sexuality, requires intent. And you can’t have an intention without awareness.
All of this circles back. You must be aware of your celibacy to use it or direct it in a purposeful way. You must be aware of your emotions to fully experience and direct your passion. You must be aware of your own sensual nature to experience the world, yourself, or another in a sensual way. And I want celibate asexuals to have that awareness because I believe that it can lead to a more deeply fulfilling life and to more satisfying relationships.
The stories I write, whether original fiction or fanfiction, have always prompted skepticism and misinterpretation from sexual people who can’t separate emotional passion and sensual touch from sexuality. But this kind of relationship has always been my vision of perfect love: the deepest level of emotional passion, a spiritual union, extremely sensual, and completely nonsexual. I’ll continue to write about this love not only because it fills me with joy more than anything but because the world must learn that the absence of sex and sexual desire, whether in a celibate asexual person or in a nonsexual relationship, does not limit the potential for emotional passion or sensual touch.
And I believe in the core of my being that whether I meet the right people in this life or not, the pleasures of passionate love and sensual intimacy are open to me, not just in spite of my celibacy but perhaps because of it.