When was the last conversation, sermon, or radio program you heard or participated in that celebrated celibacy as a virtue? A choice to be lifted up, praised, and promoted? What if celibacy was viewed as a cherished goal instead of a cross to bear? What if we took a new approach to the conversation about sex?
Now is the perfect time.
The Link Between Anger and Lust
Shortly after the shooting at Santa Fe High School in Texas on May 18, 2018, the mother of one of the victims spoke up. Over a period of several months, she said, the shooter had asked her daughter out. Over those months, her daughter had repeatedly rejected him, finally publicly humiliating him. A week later, she claimed, he opened fire on his classmates.
While there are some questions as to the veracity of the grieving mother’s claims, there have been other mass attacks of violence that are distinctly tied to rejection of sexual advances. In April, a man ran down several pedestrians with a van; minutes before the attack, he made a Facebook post in praise of Elliot Rodger, who in May 2014 published a manifesto blaming women for his “involuntary celibacy” before murdering six people in Los Angeles.
These men all felt rejected by women and turned to violence as the answer. These men bought into the lies that culture in general, and pornography in particular, has been telling us—that sexuality is both a biological need and a human right; that other people (especially women) can be won like prizes. And when women failed to give themselves over to these men, they took on the label “Incel” and chose to take vengeance on humanity in general.
Making his own clinical observations that link anger and lust. Dr. Jay Stringer noted:
“As a licensed mental health therapist and ordained minister, I have never met someone who struggles deeply with sexual lust that is not also battling with unaddressed anger.”
When that unaddressed anger flares up after a sexual rejection, actions can be vengeful and aggressive.
The Cultural Forces Against Celibacy
Obviously, not every person who is involuntarily celibate will turn to violence. Plenty of them will maintain a healthy attitude about their celibacy. Even those who take on the “Incel” label may content themselves with finding community or venting online. The real issue is why they feel the need to vent in the first place—and it’s not simply because they are sexually inactive.
The real issue is that virtually every aspect of modern culture preaches that celibacy, especially involuntary celibacy, is unusual. Think of virtually any TV show aimed at adults. Most of them will feature at least one hookup during their run. The goofball-winning-the-hot-girl trope is especially prevalent. Think of nearly any movie: even movies for kids will often have the hero win the heart of the girl in the end. Others treat sexuality as a rite of passage: the transition from child to man or woman. The worst of them will treat virginity as a sort of disease that needs to be cured. Think video games: you can unlock an achievement for “romance” if you literally hit the right buttons with your love interest.
And, of course, there’s pornography, where thousands of willing women are available for virtually any man’s taking within a matter of minutes—and by extension, the viewer’s taking too.
I’ve belabored media’s false messages about sexuality elsewhere, so I won’t spend much more time on it. My point is simply this: nearly everything about pop culture glorifies sex. Almost never do we see a message claiming that celibacy is acceptable as a temporary state, let alone as a permanent state.
Unfortunately, the church at large doesn’t do a much better job at this. I’m not even talking about comments like Paige Patterson joking that every man should own a woman; that’s awful, of course, but he is seeing the consequences of that and similar statements. The more common problem is that the church tends to glorify marriage as the ultimate end state for most men and women. Sexual purity, then, is usually in reference to abstinence until marriage. Sermon illustrations center around marriage and parenting. Personally, I think I’ve heard more sermons encouraging married couples to have more sex (1 Corinthians 7:1-5) than I’ve heard encouraging singles to stay single (1 Cor. 7:7-8, 32-35).
But that, I would posit, is exactly the message we need right now.
It’s Time to Celebrate Celibacy
Think about it for a moment. What would it it look like if culture at large, or at least the church, actually lifted up celibates? What would Hollywood, for example, look like if the hero didn’t have a love interest and was okay with it? What if the hero’s choice was between the obviously incompatible love interest and celibacy, and they chose celibacy? What if sitcom characters stood up for the virgins instead of mocking them? What if more leading characters asked their love interests out—and got rejected, and were okay with that?
How would Incels feel if they saw similar experiences to their own mirrored in Hollywood—and treated with compassion, not mocked? If they saw that rejection happens, and happens again and again, and saw that celibacy was not a state of constant misery, and that sex is not a necessity for life?
What would happen if more celibates stood up and said, “This is my story”?
That, I think, is what we need.
We need celibates to tell their stories—to say, “I don’t need porn. I am not ruled by my sex drive. I have found contentment and meaning without it.” We need celibates to show how they have filled their time with healthy habits like art and exercise and serving, not mindless entertainment like TV and video games and porn.
Related content: Hobbies & Habits–Finding Purpose Beyond Porn
We need churches to stop lifting up marriages as the ultimate standard and to stop treating singleness as a temporary setback. We need pastors to lift up the singles in their midst. We need them to give honor to those who sacrifice extra time to serve in the church or community in particular.
We need married couples to tell their stories, with specifics, that marriage and relationships are tough. We need married porn users in particular to talk about how marriage didn’t fulfill all their fantasies, and that they nearly lost their families because of their brokenness.
We need youth pastors to teach purity not as a temporary thing until marriage, but as a godly standard in a world where marriage may never happen.
We need parents to teach their kids (especially sons) that rejection can and will happen. We need parents to teach kids how to handle disappointment, especially when they are disappointed by other people. We need parents to teach their kids to accept no and move on.
We need accountability partners to share stories of the transformative and healing power of friendships—that they are just as important as romantic relationships, and sometimes more so.
And, above all else, we need the Gospel.
We need the message that we were created for far more than sex, and that there are far more important things to do than self-gratify through porn. We need the message that we are all broken, and that in our brokenness we have all been rejected by the only One whose opinions matter. We need the message that Christ’s physical brokenness and rejection forged a new promise with God: that He will accept us in our brokenness and make us whole.
We need the message that in the light of Christ, nothing is wasted. Not our disappointment and rejection, not our involuntary celibacy or unfulfilled desires. That we should not be bitter about not receiving the gift of sex through marriage, but that we should rejoice and use the gifts of time and talents and, yes, even celibacy that we have received. We need the message that through Christ our works take on eternal significance, and that we can and should turn to activities that are more fulfilling than porn.
We can drown out the lies of porn and the bitterness of Incels with the higher calling of the Gospel. But we need celibates to do it.
I have been celibate for 19 years now. (Divorced in 1999).
And sex before marriage, is not for me. I did that, and after the COST, I made a vow.
The COST to me spiritually, financially, emotionally, I won’t go down that road again.
Thank you for this testimony. A comeback story is powerful.
Thanks for this article.
I am a married, a husband, we have 5 children. I was promised just under 20 years ago that I would better be able to overcome my struggles with pornography and masturbation when married and I had a proper ‘outlet’ for sexual expression. What horrible and wrong advise that was.
The challenge and fight is real. I am doing better, but it is a daily struggle.
This is a response to the article “Why we need the message of celibacy now more than ever”.
Please be advised in advance that reading this post may seriously hurt the reader; please brace yourself.
Many young men today are angry that their father was not the master of the house, bashed in every aspect of cultural media, or even treated in with contempt for his authority in a divorce proceeding. Angry that their mom treated their dad without respect. They are angry because thoughout education, teachers consistently mocked who they are, first as boys and later as men. They are angry because any and every woman in their field of work or study remotely close in capability was recognized or promoted before them. Angry because their friends are wrongfully accused of sexual harassment just because they resent women looking down on them. They are angry because they cannot even discuss what ‘should’ be the proper structure of authority in the world without being labeled as toxic. They are angry because most of the ‘Christian’ women in the public square can’t be bothered to defend the faith for themselves and blindly support materialism, homosexuality,, Islam, socialism, feminism, evolution, or whatever is the latest rebelion – to their own dissatisfaction – and blame the consequences that follow on lack of leadership from men. Because they are so unlike their grandmothers in character and qualiity. Young men are angry because the definition of love has been warped from true obedience to righteous duty into a mindless emotion of feeling happy about accepting evil. Angry because wholesome and unified morality have been replaced by power-basedf circumstantial ethics. He is angry because whenever he tried to stand up for something right the women around him made it clear that they were ashamed of his audacity.
Sure, I admit it. I’m angry with women. No, that’s an understatement. I HATE feminism. From the core of my being. I hate that women are so beautiful on the outside and so ugly inside. In this determination I have made a covenant with my eyes to NEVER look lustfully at a woman. Which is easier when you see into their hearts; its not worth hell. In the course of twelve years I’ve failed momentarily here and there, but this just makes me angrier and strengthens my resolve to become stronger against temptation and follow my conscience in the right direction in other areas of life as well. It takes immense resolve to will the transformation of anger into purity. But it is not without consequences.
Thankfully I had a life that made this decision straightfoward. I was nearly homosexually abused as a kid and had both psychologically and physically nearly broken my body by age fourteen in misguided attempts to obtain every power of will over my mind. I’ve known hunger and thirst, danger and helplessness, not knowing who to trust and not knowing whether I’d have enough. I was given the gift of experienceing enough of success to know that it’s an illusion to enough desperation and hopelessness to know that’s a lie as well. From age nineteen, four consecutive years of struggling against suicide helped put the rest of life in perspective. I used to use my own sheer strength of will to climb out of one addiction just to fall into the next. Only when I had nothing left at the end of addiction to despair and had thrown away my last self-justification – was I able to see things differently. “I must destroy the evil within or it will destroy me” used to be my governing principle; now I’m in the business of exchanging abundant life to displace eternal internal death.
As soon as I had conquered suicide, that’s when the flood which had been held back rushed in full force. It was as if I had never before known what malice was, what pride was, what lust was, what contempt was. The temptations to sin and words of the evil one became so viscerally awful and powerful now that I had given up the power to resist them on my own. Only the power of Jesus could save me. And that’s where I’m still today – at the place of the cross.
Celibate life needs to be sold out wholeheartedly to God because otherwise its extreme loneliness is overwhelming. Maybe some day I’ll meet the woman I’m not worthy of and all the predjudices I have will come crashing down. But likely that chance will never come, and even if it did, could she ever fill the emptiness in my heart? That would be too much to expect so I don’t.
If it’s God’s will, when the time of preparation is finished I’ll be sent to a place where the word of God isn’t welcomed by many. Perhaps the picture will become clearer then. Why would I proclaim something that condemns me? Because my only hope is that Spirit of that Word will someday work within to save me.
One thing in closing. I’m weighed down by immense anger and have a terrible attitude towards women, but what good is that? Somehow I manage to be polite and gentlemanly towards every lady while hiding the hatred behind my eyes, but that’s nothing to be happy about. I exercise extreme control over all actions, so the pain rarely shows. But “out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” You can’t contain bitterness forever. My anger surfaced one time briefly, which cost me a great deal of the friendships and ruined my life at the time. I spent forty sleepless nights tortured psychodemonically. That’s when I discovered that I’d truly become psychopathic.
You said, “we need celibates to share their stories”. This is my story. But it’s not over. I’ve lived a crazy life and can count on a hand the number of times I’ve nearly died medically or in accidents, but I’m not ready yet. I want to find peace with God first and not have nothing to show for my life.
This is my hope: that’s me today, but that’s not who I will be. That my character in future years will be transformed. That one day my identity in Christ will triumph and everything else will be defeated. All bitterness, hatred, anger, pain, and despair. At the resurrection, if I’m allowed in, I’ll have a completely transformed heart and mind and be able to rejoice with all of God’s people – men and women all – “like the angels in heaven” – in complete reconciliaition and harmony. That’s the kingdom I’m looking forward to.
You do make a lot of good points in this article. Society shouldn’t mock virgins. Guys do need to understand that rejection can happen and isn’t even unusual.
However, I think that the article should mention that some of us singles should marry. Some of us can’t live up to this standard you set of the overachieving single, so we probably should marry. Not to mention the fact some people really are meant for marriage.
Thanks for this article. When I was young, I desperately needed to understand that celibacy was a valid option. But that message was hardly ever presented to me at all.
Not everyone, even among Christians, is right for marriage. I’ll be the first to raise my hand and say that I fit that description as a young (and not so young) person. And no one, even in the church, ever helped me to realize that, much less address it. I only figured it out, for myself, when it was too late. The main message I got about marriage as a young single person, even from the church, was that it was there to meet MY needs — basically, the same message I got from the anti-Christian world. No one explained to me that marriage (and, by extension, parenthood) was a huge responsibility that I was in no way prepared for (and was not likely to become prepared for).
The attempt at marriage (and parenthood) I made when younger, for reasons that were all wrong, crashed and burned more badly than most failed marriages. The only good to come of it was that it enabled me to understand and appreciate the real marriage that God led me into much later in life.