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Most information about sex is focused on having sex and how to make it feel great rather than not having it, but many people choose not to have sex for a variety of reasons.
The definition of chastity is closely associated with the concept of virginity and is used to describe someone as ‘untouched’ by sexual relations. The word ‘chaste’ comes from the Latin word, castus, meaning pure.
Being ‘chaste’ tends to apply to someone who may eventually engage in sexual activity but is ‘saving’ themselves until they are married and will not have sexual intercourse outside of marriage. It also means fidelity to husband or wife during marriage.
Throughout history, chastity has been connected with religious practice but it is used for both religious and non- religious reasons, explicitly connecting sexual activity with impurity. To be chaste is to be pure and virtuous and by having sexual intercourse you are impure or ‘dirty’.
Aldous Huxley, the author, noted that chastity as “the most unnatural of all the sexual perversions”.
Often those who claimed sexual activity makes one impure were the people engaging in it, consensually or non-consensually.
Ironically, the chastity belt, used throughout history as a device to maintain a spouse or spouse to be remained “pure”, has been taken up by the BDSM community as a toy or tool of sexual control. They have twisted the use of the chastity belt by taking something that implied sex was a dirty process (in a negative and non-consensual way) and made it into something just as dirty but in a positive and consensual way.
The word ‘chastity’ is used less frequently amongst younger people today who are more inclined to call themselves celibate, in that they have already had sexual intercourse but have subsequently decided to stop having sex.
The word ‘celibacy’ is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as the “state of being unmarried”, meaning someone who is currently not married or attached and is “bound not to marry”.
The usage of the word ‘celibacy’ tends to refer to not only someone who is not married, but to someone not having sex. Whether sex in this context means sexual intercourse or includes masturbation too depends on how the individual wishes to interpret the meaning. In the more common use of the word, marriage is not normally considered, as couples who are married but are not having sex will describe themselves as being celibate.
As the original definition is based upon marriage, it is probable that not having sex was implied since those who were not married were expected not to be engaging in sexual intercourse.
Celibacy is linked to religion, in the case of oath of celibacy required by Catholic priests. Although it was not always required, it has become a distinguishing feature of the Catholic priesthood, even if somewhat controversial.
Celibacy is often described as an internal state. Someone who chooses to be celibate for religious or secular reasons is something they are doing for themselves. Involuntary celibacy refers to those who would like to have sex but have never done so or have not had sex in a long time. They are not choosing to be celibate by choice.
Celibacy is used both by people who have never engaged in sexual intercourse or who have not engaged in sex for a sustained period of time. This could be due to ill health, the loss of a partner, relationship break up, or unsatisfactory sex.
The origins of the word ‘abstinence’ are linked to ideas of self restraint and self control. Abstaining from certain foods, drinking alcohol, taking drugs, smoking or engaging in sexual intercourse is usually a choice one makes. Usually, abstaining from sex means all forms of sexual behaviour, but whether this refers to masturbation or self pleasuring is a matter of interpretation.
Some people abstain from sexual activity due to religious or political reasons. Being abstinent does not mean one has never had sex or intends to avoid having sexual intercourse in the future.