AskDefine | Define celibate

Dictionary Definition

celibate adj : abstaining from sexual intercourse; "celibate priests" [syn: continent] n : an unmarried person who has taken a religious vow of chastity

User Contributed Dictionary



From Latin caelibatus, perfect passive participle of caelibare, from caelebs, unmarried


  1. Not married; unmarried. Sometimes confused with chaste (pure) and sexually abstinent (abstaining from sexual relations and pleasures). Members of religious communities sometimes take vows to remain celibate, since the community is their family.




  1. Person who is not married, especially one who has taken a religious vow not to get married, usually because of being a member of a religious community.


person who is not married
  • Czech: osoba žijící v celibátu
  • Hungarian: nőtlen, agglegény, hajadon

Extensive Definition

Celibacy refers either to being unmarried or to sexual abstinence. Celibacy is sometimes used as a synonym for "abstinence" or "chastity." A vow of celibacy is a promise not to enter into marriage or engage in sexual intercourse. The term involuntary celibacy has recently appeared to describe a chronic, unwilling state of celibacy.

Reasons for celibacy

  • Religious beliefs (religious celibacy)
  • To avoid the risk and/or prevent the spread of venereal disease
  • To focus energies on other matters, like one's career or social issues (sublimation)
  • To avoid contributing to overpopulation
  • To cultivate a relationship according to an ideal of chastity
  • An inability to obtain a willing, acceptable, or tolerable sexual partner (involuntary celibacy)
  • A distaste or lack of appetite for sex (asexuality, antisexualism)
  • A distaste or lack of desire for couplehood
  • To avoid persecution (e.g. prosecution for gay relations under sodomy laws)
  • Perceived benefit of alteration of physiological factors (hormonal changes)
  • As an attempt to regain a sense of self and independence from others
  • Medical limitations (medical celibacy)
  • Lack of confidence and/or comfort with the gender of choice

Religious celibacy

Church laws maintained by the Roman Catholic Church and also by the monastic orders of Hindu, Buddhist traditions mandate Clerical celibacy as a requirement for priests. Celibacy is also proclaimed by some religions as an ideal for laypeople, for the unmarried or for homosexuals.


The question of celibacy is handled differently by various Christian authorities. The Bible teaches celibacy to be honorable, but not required. The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 7, "Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: 'It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.' But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband." (verses 1-2); "I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion." (verses 7-9); "I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord." (verses 32-35)
Catholics understand celibacy to be a reflection of life in Heaven, and a source of detachment from the material world, which aids in one's relationship with God. Catholic priests are called to be espoused to the Church itself, and espoused to God, without overwhelming commitments interfering with the relationship. Catholics understand celibacy as the calling of some, but not of all.
Among Catholics and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), gays are expected to adhere to the same marriage laws as others, meaning they cannot marry those of the same sex. A Catholic organization promoting chaste celibacy for gays is Courage International. Those who identify as gay may not be able to become Catholic priests, however, even if they maintain celibacy. The LDS Church encourages its members not to feed any such tempted desire.
A few Christian sects even advocated celibacy as a better way of life for everyone. These groups included the following: The Shakers, The Harmony Society, and The Ephrata Cloister. Not surprisingly, these groups don't exist anymore because their membership grew old and eventually passed away.

Clerical celibacy

In the Orthodox Church ordinary parish priests are expected to be married men with families before ordination, and they need their family's approval to become a priest.
Clerical celibacy was an important point of disagreement during the Reformation. Reformers argued that requiring a vow of celibacy from a priest was contrary to biblical teaching (see 1 Tim 4:1-5, Heb 13:4 and 1 Cor 9:5, a degradation of marriage and a reason for the widespread sexual misconduct within the clergy at the time of the Reformation (e.g., discussed by Calvin in his Institutes of the Christian Religion IV,12,23-28
The Roman Catholic Church did not change its position claiming to be based on . The arguments of the following: the Church never condemned or forbade marriage but has only required celibacy of those who would enter the priesthood so they could devote themselves completely to the care of Christ's Flock (see Matthew 19:12) or who have otherwise taken vows to do so of their own free will (in response to 1 Tim 4:1-5); the Church has never dishonored marriage but has elevated its honor from its Old Testament and secular status while acknowledging Christ's elevation of celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven to an even more honorable status (in response to Heb 13:4); and the Church has not required celibacy of all ecclesiastics at all times in history (it was not required of the majority of ecclesiastics in the early Church, and in modern times certain converts are permitted to be married when receiving Holy Orders), although Christ's counsel is normally followed (in response to 1 Cor. 9:5, which lists certain ecclesiastics who had the right at the time, but apparently chose not to exercise this right for the sake of the Gospel). The Church also found that the clerics who engaged in sexual misconduct were not sincere, unreserved followers of Christ, but those who had either become ecclesiastics with the wrong intentions or had lost their fidelity to Christ.
The Catholic Church's practice of clerical celibacy among priests and bishops of the Latin Rite and bishops of all rites, Eastern and Western, was confirmed by the Second Vatican Council and reaffirmed by Pope Paul VI in his encyclical letter, Sacerdotalis Caelibatus, June 24, 1967.


In Islam, celibacy is strongly discouraged though not forbidden (haram). Islam places a heavy emphasis on marriage. It also teaches that once a Muslim is married, then that person has completed half of their deen. During the period of being unmarried, Muslims are expected to practice strict chastity. Islam forbids fornication, all forms of sexual contact and relationships with anyone of the unrelated opposite sex before marriage. However, many argue that since pure chastity is required before marriage, then Muslims are automatically practising celibacy until they get married. It is strongly discouraged to delay getting married when one is able to do so.


In Buddhism, the main goal of living according to the celibate is to eliminate desire. Desire is seen as one of the main causes of suffering, both in the world as in the mind or heart. A commonly-used metaphor sees desire, especially sexual desire, to be like drinking salty water: the more one consumes, the greater the desire - and the worse one's (mental) state of health becomes.


In Hindu culture, celibacy is observed when the young child leads a student life Brahmacharya. The life is divided into 4 parts namely Brahmacharyashram (period of learning till age 25), Gruhasthashram (married life from age 25), vanaprasthashram, Sanyasthashram. A Hindu renunciate may take the vow of celibacy at any age when they have understood that living for material/sensual pleasures will never bring the perfect happiness that their soul desires. Thus their life becomes centered on surrender to Guru and God with the firm hope of God realization and the perfect Divine Happiness.
In Hinduism, there is a historical difference between monks and priests. Historically, monks take vows of poverty and celibacy and are exempt from most public ceremonies and focused instead on prayer and meditation, focusing on the contemplative side of the Hindu tradition. Priests on the other hand do not have to be celibate and are responsible for the public ceremonies in the Hindu faith. Over the last 100 years however, the public roles between monks and priests have started to change and now some monks function within the social structure in needy areas of society.

Notable celibates

People who have professed celibacy, or who are otherwise believed to be (or to have been) notably celibate:
  • Samuel J. Tilden who was the Democratic Party's candidate for President of the United States in 1876 and Governor of New York confided to a friend that he had never had sex with a woman. He is believed to have died celibate in 1886.
  • Sant Dnyaneshwar, a writer, poet and Yogi (one who is master in Yoga) from Maharashtra was celibate throughout his short life of 21 years. His brothers Nivruttinath and Sopandev and his sister Muktai also observed celibacy.
  • Jessica Simpson, took a vow of celibacy at age 12 and remained a virgin and celibate until her wedding to singer Nick Lachey
  • Kaká, a Brazilian footballer was celibate. He was proud he was a virgin when he married.
  • Legendary filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock was celibate for the last thirty years of his life.
  • Mahatma Gandhi, considered the Father of India, took a vow of celibacy at the age of 37 after already being married and with a family, and remained so for the rest of his life.
  • Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, one of the all time great spiritual figures in Hinduism.
  • Swami Vivekananda, the chief disciple of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and the founder of Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission, was one of the most famous spiritual teachers of the Vedanta philosophy in Hinduism.
  • Stephen Fry, the British actor, comedian, writer, critic, novelist and taxi driver, was the UK's most prominent and vocal celibate for several years, although he has since rediscovered the alleged joys of wanton carnality.
  • Isaac Newton, the mathematician and scientist was a virgin all his life.
  • Immanuel Kant, the Prussian philosopher, author of Critique of Pure Reason, died a virgin at age of 80.
  • Cliff Richard, singer, is one of the most vocal celibates of modern times.
  • Cosmopolitan agony aunt Irma Kurtz has been a celibate for years and years with no regrets.
  • Simone Weil was one of the best known European political thinkers of the 20th Century and, as far as anybody knows, a lifelong celibate.
  • Also rumoured to be a lifelong celibate was the Dutch philosopher and theologian Baruch Spinoza.
  • Dr. Temple Grandin, the American academic whose empathy with animals has led to her being a highly successful designer of humane animal management systems, is a voluntary celibate.
  • Stevie Smith, poet and novelist, was celibate all her adult life, after sampling and rejecting romance and sex in her youth. She was fiercely critical of those who thought that her life must be emotionally impoverished by not having sexual relationships any more, emphasizing the depth of her friendships, especially her bond with the aunt with whom she lived.
  • Pitt the Younger, legendary British Prime Minister, is generally agreed by historians to have died a virgin.
  • Nikola Tesla, who developed the system of alternating electrical current that is the standard nowadays worldwide, was a self-proclaimed celibate.
  • Carol Channing, the Broadway musical star of "Hello Dolly" fame was celibate in her marriage to Charles Lowe for 41 years.
  • Morrissey, the British singer and former member of the Smiths, was openly celibate for several years.
  • Benjamin N. Cardozo, former Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals and later Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, is believed to have been celibate for most if not all of his life.
  • G. H. Hardy, twentieth century English mathematician who made ample contributions in number theory and who co-authored the famous Hardy-Weinberg law of population genetics. He was also the mentor of legendary prodigy Srinivasa Ramanujan.
  • Paul Erdos, one of the most prolific mathematicians in history, having participated in more than 20,000 papers. He was born in Hungary but never held a home or a job, relying instead on the hospitality of other mathematicians with whom he collaborated and on the money he received for conferences. See The Man Who Loved Only Numbers, by Paul Hoffman (Hyperion, 1998).
  • Abdul Kalam, former President of India, also known as The Missile Man of India for his contributions to the Indian missile program, is a thorough celibate. He believes in constant improvement of the society and nation. His presidential term ended July, 2007.
  • Antoni Gaudi, the Catalan architect most famous for the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, is said to never have had sex.
  • Alan Christie Wilson of the blues-rock group Canned Heat was a voluntary celibate in the later part of his life, according to his authorised biographer Krisna Radha. The reasons seem to be a mix of medical, spiritual and issues from childhood.
  • "Divorced novelist Beryl Bainbridge revealed that she gave up men because, when she was 56, she felt having a physical relationship with a man was 'no longer dignified', and anyway her life was far too full of other things like writing, children and friends." - quote from a Daily Mail article by Jenny Nisbet (approx.) 1 December 1998.
  • Rufus Wainwright, who after being raped at 14 remained celibate for seven years.
  • Rivers Cuomo, the American musician, took a vow of celibacy for several years while completing his studies at Harvard University. He began practicing Vipassana meditation around the same time. Cuomo discontinued his vow when he married Kyoko Ito on June 18, 2006.
  • J.J. Ellers, from The Chronicle of the Annoying Quest machinima comedy series, is currently a celibate only to get chicks.
  • Pope John Paul II, head of the Roman Catholic Church from 1978 until his death in 2005, took a vow of celibacy upon his ordination as priest in November, 1946
  • Mother Teresa, the founder of the Missionaries of Charity, remained celibate throughout her life as she ministered to the poor, sick, orphaned, and dying in Kolkata (Calcutta), India.
  • Archbishop Óscar Romero of San Salvador remained celibate since his entrance into the seminary at age 13
  • Egyptian author and Islamist, Sayyid Qutb became celibate because of his inability to find a woman of "sufficient moral purity and discretion".
  • Nick Ferrar, distant cousin of Ted Hughes, became celibate after traumatic marriage.
  • Adriana Lima, Brazilian Model reported to GQ magazine that she was a virgin and would remain so until she marries.
  • Theodore Kaczynski, the Unabomber did not have a sex life, and at the age of 54 was still a virgin when he was arrested.


External links

celibate in Bulgarian: Целибат
celibate in Catalan: Celibat
celibate in Czech: Celibát
celibate in Danish: Cølibat
celibate in German: Zölibat
celibate in Estonian: Tsölibaat
celibate in Modern Greek (1453-): Αγαμία (θρησκευτική)
celibate in Spanish: Celibato
celibate in Esperanto: Celibato
celibate in French: Célibat
celibate in Korean: 금욕
celibate in Croatian: Celibat
celibate in Indonesian: Selibat
celibate in Italian: Celibato
celibate in Lithuanian: Celibatas
celibate in Dutch: Celibaat
celibate in Japanese: 禁欲
celibate in Norwegian: Sølibat
celibate in Polish: Celibat
celibate in Portuguese: Celibato
celibate in Russian: Целибат
celibate in Sicilian: Schettu
celibate in Slovak: Celibát
celibate in Slovenian: Celibat
celibate in Serbian: Целибат
celibate in Finnish: Selibaatti
celibate in Swedish: Celibat
celibate in Ukrainian: Целібат

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