I recently came across this article about a nun who became a sex therapist after leaving the convent. It’s an interesting discussion of how some people have chosen to follow monastic or priestly vocations because of a fear of sex, or because they’ve suffered abuse and view such environments as ‘safe places’.
While I believe some people are genuinely called by God to lead a celibate life, this does not mean that such people are automatically asexual (though some will be). We need as a church to support such people in something that can be incredibly difficult as well as enriching.
However, as the article argues, we also need to recognise that trying to run away from our sexuality or live in constant denial can be incredibly harmful in the long run:
“There are still young women in some parts of the world for whom a convent offers a sanctuary from difficult questions about sex, an education, opportunities. But it’s running away from life, and there’s a huge toll in terms of individual fallout down the line. The church shouldn’t allow it to happen”
I worry that the Church (in the broadest sense of the word) can tend to speak of sex in such a way as to denigrate something that is actually an incredible gift from God. We do sometimes fall into the trap of talking as if sexuality is just one of those unfortunate things that we’d really rather wasn’t there. However, like it or lump it, it’s part of what it is to be human and we need to engage intelligently with questions around sex and sexuality.
Now, I’m not advocating a sexual free-for-all; indeed, my experience of watching other people who’ve slept around is that while it may be fun in the short-term, it’s often very damaging in the long-run. It’s important that sex is between two people who are committed to each other and takes place on an equal basis, with equal levels of vulnerability and a willingness to give oneself to the other person. However, I do think that we’d be able to make a more mature and helpful contribution to the discussion and offer better pastoral care if we accept that sex in a loving relationship can foster intimacy and deepen the bond between a couple, and this doesn’t magically become the case after a marriage ceremony, but can (and frequently does) happen well before that point.
I suppose what I’m getting at in a roundabout way is that as a Church, we need to help people to have a healthy attitude to sexuality, and not to view sex as ‘dirty’ and ‘shameful’. Maybe if we can do that, fewer people will feel the need to try to run away from this part of themselves, and those entering a monastic or priestly vocation will be free to do so as people comfortable with all God has made them to be. We also need to support those who’ve been abused, and help them to know their value in God’s eyes.