I’ve always written and spoken freely about religion and politics, but I’m more apt to avoid writing about, or jumping into online discussions of, sexuality. That feels like such a fraught, tender, intimate subject, so easily damaged and distorted by our culture wars. There’s no clear home on either side of those wars for a celibate bisexual Christian who enthusiastically supports marriage equality. Sometimes it feels as though there’s no clear way to speak about these issues at all without causing pointless pain, as so many people have been wounded by other people’s sexual behavior, sexual judgments, or both. But when the feminist zine “They Call Us” issued a call for submissions for their “They Call Us Sluts and Prudes” issue, in which women would tell our stories about how we live with the judgments we face for choosing to have, or not to have, sex, I thought I had something to say.
I’m grateful to the editors for including “Another Way,” my personal essay on celibacy, although–or perhaps because–I am in a rather different place from most of the contributors. I am also grateful for their excellent edits and their thoughtful questions that helped me shape a piece that was more clear and open. (I had toyed with the idea of titling the first draft “In Defense of Forty-Year-Old Virgins,” and while I thought better of the title, the defensiveness definitely came across strongly in the first draft. It’s still somewhat in evidence here, but there is less of it.)
In this essay I’m discussing a choice that is often seen as conservative–celibacy–primarily in the framework many of my liberal friends tend to use in discussing sexual ethics–respect, diversity, agency, empowerment, rights, freedom, choice. Given the right opening, I could equally discuss a choice that is often seen as liberal–support for marriage equality–in the framework many of my conservative friends tend to use in discussing sexual ethics–faith, fidelity, family, covenant, community, responsibility. Both frameworks matter to me.
They Call Us Sluts and Prudes can be read free online here. The editors advise reader discretion for readers under 18, as some written pieces and images in the zine discuss sexual abuse, sex work, and other sensitive topics. There’s also some profane language, as the title suggests. While I’m far past eighteen, some of the stories and images here made me uncomfortable–as my piece may have made some other people. The text of my essay can be read here.