Sexual continence

Sexual continence is a lifestyle in which one refrains from all sexual contact even while married. In the Early Christian Church of the West, sexual continence was required of deacons, priests and bishops. Sexual continence is a form of the virtue of chastity (to refrain from sexual contact outside of marriage) but is not necessarily the same as celibacy (the unmarried state). Sexual continence is distinct from celibacy in that one can be continent within marriage but celibacy is the unmarried state.

There are two types of continent individuals - those who choose to be continent, and those who simply happen to be continent. Those who choose to be continent are a diverse group. Latin Rite Catholic priests and consecrated religious, for example, take a promise of chaste celibacy, meaning they do not marry and are chaste, meaning they refrain from all sexual contact. Buddhist monks also choose to live a continent lifestyle. Orthodox monks and bishops also choose to be continent. There are a plethora of others who choose to be continent, including gays who believe that they are sinning if they engage in sex, people who suffer from a fear of the sexual act, and those who are scarred from childhood sexual abuse.

An opinion has gained ground in modern times, not only among the general public, but also among physicians, that the belief in the physiological value of continence belongs to the dark ages of religious superstitions and scientific ignorance, and is incompatible with physiological knowledge. Certain pseudosexologists, have exploited this idea to their commercial advantage and have created in the public mind a phobia in regards to continence, which is regarded as a cause of nervous and mental diseases and a positive health danger. On the basis of this belief, physicians and psychoanalysts have looked on continence for the cause of the nervous ailments of youth and have advised young men to visit prostitutes.


Sexual continence includes refraining from all sexual contact including masturbation. However, many philosophers and theologians disagree. Many say that masturbation is a natural act, that has medical benefits, so it should be permissible. Many say that it is an involuntary act (i.e. wet dreams). Some go as far as to say that refraining from masturbation can have severe psychological side effects.

Pope John Paul II

Pope John Paul II, in his book Theology of the Body, talks at length about chastity, continence, the conjugal act, lust of the heart, and the nuptial act.

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