Would You Be Able to Give Up Sex?
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Recently, British female journalist Hephzibah Anderson published a book called, which details a year of her life spent in voluntary celibacy. “When you decide to give up sex and begin a year of chastity,” she writes, “it’s not something you rush to tell people.”
Truer words never spoken, Hephzibah!
The term “chastity,” in fact, should never be used in the same time zone as the word “voluntary,” as it’s more or less of an insult to the half of the human race that tends to spend most waking hours vainly trying to maximize our sexytime.) Yes, I have known celibacy: lived the bleak, depressing spells of it. But to choose it? Like, on purpose? Pshaw.
As a man, I was taught to fight celibacy. Whenever a big dry spell rears its head, I grit my teeth. I lean into the wind. Two weeks go by, and I’m sneering, glaring tough to pedestrians. Four weeks, and I’m snapping, mostly at children and dogs. By the time six weeks have slipped by, panic has set in, and I’m unshaven, dark circles lurking under the eyes, my self-confidence is at an all-time pathetic low, and I own three memberships to disgusting porn sites, simply to keep the pipes clear in the off chance I ever get to ejaculate again.
Anderson’s book, however, got me thinking: Maybe attempting to bully chastity isn’t the smartest strategy around. Maybe one should take a deep breath, hop on that chastity bull, and ride, instead of the other way around. Nuns and Buddhists, after all, with their canny little vows, have been doing it for years.
What Would Buddha Do?
With thoughts such as these in mind, I spoke recently with, Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist, author of the national bestseller Dharma Punx, and founder of the California-based meditation and support group of the same name.
Levine is no stranger to life experience: He is a heavily-tattooed, punk-music loving, former drug addict who, even though he’s now happily married, shows every indication of having been a rather charming ladies’ man. I wanted to get his thoughts on steering clear of sex voluntarily. If he was going to advocate for celibacy, too, then maybe I would listen.
“It’s hard to boil down the truth about sexuality,” began Levine, “but often, in Buddhism, we do boil it down to something as simple as, ‘Sex is suffering.’”
He laughed, then continued, “Along with the joy and pleasure and natural beauty of sexuality, there’s a level of suffering that goes along with it.
“It isn’t that sex itself causes suffering: but [that] we are born into these human forms that have this innate capacity for clinging to pleasure. Sex is just about the pinnacle of non-chemically induced pleasure in the body, so of course we crave it. We cling to it. And we create suffering out of something that in and of itself, is a completely natural experience of friction.”
All of this was sounding—I hated to admit—eerily familiar. I had always felt like I “loved” sex, held it up on a pedestal above all things, and would rather be doing that than anything else. But hadn’t the pursuit of sex caused me untold suffering?
“I spent a lot of my life very promiscuous,” said Levine, “in and out of casual and very short non-committal relationships. I think a lot of my sexual craving was seeking love, which is so different than lust. Lust is this desire to get. We say: ‘I want to get laid.’ Love is an act of generosity. We don’t say, ‘I want to give laid.’
“When I got more serious about my meditation practice and my spiritual practice, I realized, I had to address this. Because here I am, meditating all the time, but when I’m not meditating, or even while I am meditating, I’m thinking about sex.