Celibacy is a word used to describe the state of being sexually abstinent. The word comes from the Latin, caelibatus, meaning the state of being unmarried.
Celibacy has existed throughout history in almost all of its major religions and cultures. A decision to remain celibate commonly stems from religious beliefs, but personal reasons may also motivate someone to live this way, either for a certain period or indefinitely.
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The term celibacy is still sometimes used to describe those who take a sacred vow to remain unmarried, although this use is rare. More commonly, celibacy describes abstinence from sexual activity.
However, there is a distinct difference between sexual abstinence and celibacy. Abstinence typically involves avoidance of sexual behavior for a limited period of time, while celibacy implies a longer-term commitment motivated by personal or religious beliefs. While asexual people may abstain from sex, this behavior is generally not considered to be celibacy as it is not motivated by individual beliefs. Celibacy is also entered into voluntarily. Someone who becomes abstinent because they cannot find a lover may be described as "involuntarily celibate."
A vow of celibacy is usually undertaken for religious reasons. Many members of the clergy remain committed to a life of celibacy as they believe it strengthens their connection to their faith. Some people of faith decide to live celibately until they are married, including some people who have already had sex. A vow of celibacy may also be undertaken for personal reasons, such as the belief that remaining celibate will allow one to focus their energy on areas outside sexuality.
Despite living in a society where sexual interactions are normalized, and even celebrated, people who are celibate insist there are many benefits to their way of life. Celibacy is an effective way to prevent an unwanted pregnancy or the transmission of sexually transmitted infections. Proponents say that less focus on sex can also free them mentally for other pursuits.