Let’s talk about sex and celibacy. When you think of celibacy, what comes to mind? Loneliness, prudishness, or fear? Or how about stamina, conviction, and grace?
How about what comes to mind when you think of sex? In today’s world, sex and sexuality have come out of the closet, so to speak; fewer and fewer people believe that they’re sources of shame and stigma. Social media platforms like Instagram and Snapchat have helped make the “sexy selfie” de rigueur for unknowns and celebs alike, from Kim Kardashian to John Stamos – hey, if you’ve got it, flaunt it! Network television references sex without any allusion, and premium cable portrays it quite graphically. Now don’t get me wrong, I am loving the new season of Game of Thrones, but I also wonder, along with Brian Lowry, a columnist for Variety, the show business daily, where the line is between boundary pushing and prurience:
Asked about the trend toward “reprehensible protagonists” — a la “Breaking Bad’s” Walter White, “Boardwalk Empire’s” Nucky Thompson or “Dexter’s” serial killer — Showtime Entertainment chief David Nevins offered a surprisingly frank answer.
“It’s license,” he told reporters at the TV Critics Assn. tour in July. “Pay cable, you take license. Your licenses are sex, violence and bad behavior.”
This casual inclusion of sex and nudity — almost in a “because we can” manner — hasn’t gone unnoticed. Los Angeles Times critic Mary McNamara, for example, chided esteemed dramas like “Game of Thrones” and “Boardwalk Empire” a few years ago for their habit of setting scenes in brothels, deeming it a gratuitous practice for the sole purpose of showing female flesh. “Maybe it’s time to tone down the tits,” she wrote.
Now let’s turn a quick 180 back to celibacy. At the end of my two year Jesuit novitiate these are the vows I professed: “I vow to your divine Majesty, before the most holy Virgin Mary and the entire heavenly court, perpetual chastity, poverty, and obedience in the Society of Jesus.”
This was a promise made to Jesus Christ and in public witness to the life I was choosing. In today’s society, those kinds of vows are probably seen as outliers, something that only the few could ever, should ever consider. The vows may very well be the exception, but celibacy itself, though seeming like it’s gone out of fashion, still has practitioners – hundreds of thousands of them, in fact, in the Catholic Church alone.
And it isn’t just members of religious orders – Catholic or otherwise – who practice celibacy. Check out the video below from Narratively, a platform dedicated to the “characters and narratives that mainstream media aren’t finding—the underdogs and overlooked tales that enlighten us, connect us, and capture our imagination” – characters like the people who practice celibacy. Five people in this video, who come from all walks of life: artists, athletes, and yes, the vowed religious sister; each has his or her own reason for practicing celibacy.
When you watch it, what comes to mind? How contradictory are these choices in light of the surrounding culture? Share your thoughts in the comments below.