Abstinence makes the heart grow fonder

CREATED ON // Tuesday, 05 August 2014 Written by // Rob MacPherson

If I’m honest with myself, the priestly vow of celibacy is probably the main reason I became a lapsed Catholic, and the reason I’m a Unitarian minister today rather than, say, a bishop. Pity—their cosplay is much flashier than ours.

As a young seminary candidate, and a fairly normal late-adolescent, I found I could not escape the visceral pull toward the sexual act, an urge and a payoff which millions of years of evolution have hard-wired into us, as a powerful inducement to propagate the species. All organisms are driven to some sort of orgasm.

I knew that my will alone would be no match for such mighty forces, and that would cause trouble somewhere down the clerical road.

“Pray about it,” they said. And I was good at praying, but I couldn’t pray it away.

“Well, erm, if you must… go ahead and commit the sin of Onan, and just confess it regularly,” they said. But I could not summon to mind a more pathetic image than that of an aging priest desperately ‘boxing the Jesuit’ in his solitude, and feeling crap about it. Eesh!


Fast forward forty years – nearly thirty of them as a breeder in conventionally monogamous relationships – and it should come as no surprise that the fires of the flesh have… cooled a wee bit. And not just age, but the combined and entirely normal stressors of work and child-rearing and health issues have conspired to enforce—not utter abstinence (perish the thought!)—but certainly a (ahem) dropping-off in the strength and frequency of the drives that drove me from my theological… erm… roots. (Not that that was a bad thing.)

You don’t need to be a breeder to understand this: any long-term, committed sexual partnership will see changes in the frequency and desire of the sexual activity that probably characterized the partnership’s early days. Most of us have fewer ‘little deaths’ as we approach the big one. Those who have more should share their secrets!

Inevitably, though, questions arise:

Are periods of abstinence in a partnership a bad thing?
Does one have an entitlement, a right to expect sex in a monogamous relationship, or a right to withhold it without shaking its very foundations.
Is sex the cornerstone of a partnership?
Should anyone in any relationship have sex when they don’t actually want to?

“Once the sex goes, everything goes,” a middle-aged Jewish lady once confided to me. Well, maybe: if sex, and sex alone, was the foundation, then I guess so, but I can’t see why sexual congress must, by definition, be the be-all and end-all of human partnerships.

I don’t have clear answers to these questions, but I’d be interested to hear what the GLBTi community thinks, dear readers. I do know, however, that there is nothing in the world so mutable as the flesh. And at the end of the road, and facing the great mystery from whose bourn no traveller returns, the much-read ‘top five regrets of the dying’ never seem to include, “I wish I’d gotten laid more.”


Rob MacPherson

Rob MacPherson

Reverend Rob MacPherson is Minister of the Unitarian Church of SA. Follow Rob on Twitter @saunitarians

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