Here’s a little perspective:
According to research, the average American male thinks about sex approximately 18 times a day. For women, it’s about half that. And yet, research also shows that, on average, Americans have sex about twice a week. This means that males think about sex approximately 60 times more than they have it (which means that 98% of the time they’re thinking about sex, they’re not having it), while women think about it approximately 30 times more than they have it.*
So why does this matter?
It’s very simple: celibacy is something that everyone on earth experiences on a regular basis. It does not belong to any single class. There is not a single person on the planet who doesn’t have to deny his or her sexual urges and desires with regularity. Neither is there a single person who finds his or her sexual desires always fulfilled.
Or, put another way: there is not a person who exists that has sex as much as he or she would like. This applies to married people as much as single people.
All this adds up to the reality that celibacy – denying one’s sexual desires and urges – has not been designed for a single class or demographic, or even a handful of ones. It’s not simply for unmarried teenagers, or those attracted to others of the same sex. It’s not simply urged upon a few; it’s urged upon all – when circumstances dictate it.
I know this is probably a hard sell for people who aren’t presently living in an exclusive, monogamous marriage with someone from the opposite sex – a model that the Bible clearly prescribes as God’s design (both before and after sin – see Matthew 19:4-6). And I’m fully cognizant of the fact that I would have been bewildered by such a thought if a married person had presented it to me when I was single.
This is not to be dismissive of anyone who has, because of various circumstances, been called to experience a longer celibacy – perhaps even for a lifetime. It’s simply to say that gratifying one’s sexual desires all the time - or even the vast majority of the time – is enjoyed by no one, and the only difference between me, as a married man, and the single man who, attracted to other men, has been urged to choose life-long celibacy, is a mere two percent. In any given week, statistically speaking, a married man’s desires might be fulfilled two percent of the time more than his – to say nothing of the times when a husband is away from his wife for a longer period of time (a week or two – or months) and has to practice full-fledged celibacy.
Again, I don’t want to be dismissive. Sex is, of course, so much more than merely fulfilling a desire or an impulse or a whim. At its best, it is a union between two people that goes far beyond the physical act. It is, indeed, a wonderful gift from God – the expression of two lives that are joined on every level.
And yet, of course, it is, to a large extent, nothing more than merely fulfilling a desire or impulse or whim if it is pursued outside the framework of God’s original design (which, by the way, a married person can also violate, even in the very act of having sex with his or her spouse).
All this is to simply raise awareness to the fact that all of us are called to practice sexual purity – which is frequently expressed in celibacy for various lengths of time. This “yoke” is not the exclusive domain of any single person or group. We’re all in this together.
Thankfully, wonderfully, all of us also have a big God who has a lot of grace in those moments when our sexuality is being tested.
And thankfully, wonderfully, we also have a big God who has a lot of grace for those moments when we fall.
*The research I am citing was technically done with college students – who, I would presume, probably think about sex more than the average married adult. Then again, maybe my presumption is wrong! Either way, I feel fully comfortable saying that everyone thinks about sex more than he or she experiences it. And, thus, everyone has had to – and continues to have to – deny his/her sexual desires at some point.