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Celibacy refers to a state of not being married, or a state of abstention from sexual intercourse or vow of marriage.[1]



The English word celibacy derives from the Latin caelebs, meaning "unmarried". This word derives from two Proto-Indo-European stems, *kaiwelo- "alone" and *lib(h)s- "living".[2]

Abstinence and celibacy

The words abstinence and celibacy are often used interchangeably, but are different. Sexual abstinence is the absence of intercourse[citation needed] (even for an individual who is married), but celibacy is the avoidance of all forms of sexual activity (including, but not limited to, the state of marriage itself).

In her book The New Celibacy, Gabrielle Brown states that "abstinence is a response on the outside to what's going on, and celibacy is a response from the inside."[3] According to this definition, celibacy (even short-term celibacy that is pursued for non-religious reasons) is much more than not having sex. It is more intentional than abstinence, and its goal is personal growth and empowerment. This perspective on celibacy is echoed by several authors including Elizabeth Abbott, Wendy Keller, and Wendy Shalit.[4]

Many evangelicals prefer the term "abstinence" to "celibacy." Assuming everyone will marry, they focus their discussion on refraining from premarital sex and focusing on the joys of a future marriage. But some evangelicals, particularly older singles, desire a positive message of celibacy that moves beyond the "wait until marriage" message of abstinence campaigns. They seek a new understanding of celibacy that is focused on God rather than a future marriage or a life-long vow to the Church.[5]


The rule of celibacy in the Buddhist religion, whether Mahayana or Theravada, has a long history. Celibacy was advocated as an ideal rule of life for all monks and nuns by Gautama Buddha, however in Japan it is not strictly followed due to historical political developments. Siddhartha Gautama, later known as the Buddha, is very well known for his renunciation of his wife, Princess Yasodharā, and son, Rahula. In order to pursue an ascetic life, he needed to renounce aspects of the impermanent world, including his wife and son. Later on both his wife and son joined the ascetic community and are mentioned in the Buddhist texts to have become enlightened.

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