At a library or bookstore I always have to be
careful what I browse through. I am, quite bluntly, always looking for books espousing an
apparently minority view. Usually I am disappointed. For example, this time I learned from
more than one newly minted self help bible and glossy magazine that celibacy is harmful to
your health, shortens your life, and is, in fact, not normal. That sex, presumably with
someone you love or at least feel fairly compatible with, is good for the soul, tones the
skin, lengthens the lifespan and promotes overall sanity, among its many virtues. The
picture is clear.
Considering that the vast majority of people,
married and single, engage in this activity, shouldn't they be so glowing with health that
hospitals would be closed, except perhaps for wellness clinics and maternity wings?
Shouldn't, in fact, the medical establishment be concentrating on health rather than
illness? For some reason, though, that isn't the case.
There was at least one site on the internet that
admitted that abstinence in and of itself causes no health problems, certainly a far cry
from the claims that the self help authors have taken. The article, though, bore one
admonition that indirectly not being sexually active might very slightly raise the risk of
the female cancers if a celibate woman does not give birth (assuming she doesn't employ
artificial insemination) but theoretically that risk can be lowered by diet changes, among
None of the books I scanned mentioned celibacy
in a favorable way. They tacitly assumed that every normal person has a partner, as well
as the converse. No nod was given the fact that women often outlive their spouses and are
many times unsuccessful in finding another (if they want one), because older men usually
prefer younger women (that issue of viable ova, for one) or may simply choose to remain
single, and that women of a certain age outnumber the men anyway. Many times, too, never
married celibate women, despite the oft enumerated risks, outlive everyone else anyway.
studies that have reached that conclusion are downplayed in the media, while studies
associating marriage with longevity are played up.
While abstinence centered programs are catching
on in some schools, the message is that's what you do until you marry. Lifelong celibacy,
on the other hand, marks you as somehow strange.
The media keep disseminating those tidbits that
marriage or at least some kind of sexual intimacy boosts well-being, STDs notwithstanding.
Take a study conducted in France reported in the February 20, 2000 edition of Parade
Magazine. From a sample of almost 3,000 it concluded that the never married have 3 times
the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease as the married and widowed, although it isn't
clear just what aspect of marriage is so protective. Does this mean that solo singles who
have never been in an intimate relationship of any kind, let alone marriage, may be doomed
to a future of mental decline?
Finally, the worst remark made about celibacy,
in cruel irony, is that it is a perversion, that it's just not wholesome. Consider: it's a
perversion to do nothing. But isn't a perversion an activity? How can it be an activity to
do nothing? To tend to your own business? To perhaps not even have the opportunity, time
or inclination to find a suitable partner? Who decided that it is perverted to develop
solitary pursuits and individual contentment rather than caving in to the majority? Is
planting a garden or browsing in a library a fetish to be stamped out because it doesn't
lead to the bedroom?
Of course, if you do have someone you care about
deeply enough to become intimate with, that can be a fine, uplifting thing. And it can be
just as fine to stick to your principles and refuse to do what amounts to selling your
body just to conform. And finally it isn't really anybody's business but your own.
Miriam Greenwald is a member of the American
Association for Single People. She lives in Pennsylvania.