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 celibacy

Church laws maintained by the Roman Catholic Church and also by the monastic orders of Hindu and 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. One religious argument for celibacy is given by the Apostle Paul in I Corinthians 7:7-8:32-35: "For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that. I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I."; "But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife. There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband. And this I speak for your own profit; not that I may cast a snare upon you, but for that which is comely, and that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction."

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 aof 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 Mathew 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 was 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:

See also