But what if celibacy harms my mental health?

Several weeks ago, I was asked in a Facebook group whether mental health was a good reason for a gay person to set aside a commitment to celibacy. A young man wanted to know, more or less, whether it was “better to need medication for mental health issues than to stay committed to a traditional Christian sexual ethic.” Here’s, more or less, what I had to say…

“I should preface this by saying that I haven’t read every post in this thread, and also by saying that some of this might come off as insensitive (or actually be insensitive). So take it with a grain of salt. I don’t know you personally, so I’m hesitant to comment at all. But I’ll give a response based on some of my experiences:

1) If you’re struggling with mental health, you really should see a professional. I’m not sure if any of us are qualified here to comment on your mental health, and even if we were, this wouldn’t be the forum, especially since it’s not in the context of an ongoing personal relationship.

2) Sometimes people ask the question, “If X is so hard on me, shouldn’t I be able to do Y”? A lot of times those people are looking for permission to do something, but really none of us can make this choice for that person. That person is his/her own moral agent. People ask that question often in an attempt to set moral agency on others, which I think is kind of an unfair situation. And then when people don’t give the “permission” sought after, they’re accused of being insensitive. I don’t know if this is what’s happening here, but that’s my experience (as someone who’s done that).

Ultimately, I also object to the form of the question. It sets up a binary that I simply don’t believe in. While it asks a question that makes sense to me on an emotional level, I think it sets up a false binary that fails to recognize the multifaceted nature of the problem. And it backs well-meaning (even if, for some, misguided) Christians into an unnecessary corner.

3) There are many ways to live a “traditional Christian sexual ethic.”  I suppose you’re wondering about openness to a sexual relationship with someone. I don’t think that getting into a relationship should ever be seen as a solution to mental health issues. Usually those issues carry into the relationship (again, been there, done that). Mental health issues are often related to the way we perceive our sexualities, especially for sexual minorities. But I’ve found that the choices we make related to our sexualities are usually symptoms/results of our interior lives, rather than the foundations of our interior lives. For me, it’s never been celibacy that’s really been the problem, but rather my perception of what celibacy means, or the unhealthy ways in which I was trying to live it out, or taking too seriously harmful messages about it I received from others, or separate but related insecurities.

4) Mental anguish is something a lot of gay Christians committed to a traditional sexual ethic have gone through, including myself. For me, it didn’t really come from this commitment, but more from interior dishonesties, fears, and insecurities that I didn’t want to confront. I don’t know what it is for you, but I don’t think you’re going to find a satisfying answer in a Facebook group. We can offer our thoughts and try to help, but this is something that should be explored more in your personal life and with the people connected to that (as mentioned before, I also strongly recommend counseling; I’ve benefited tremendously from counseling).

5) In the end, I do think that the traditional sexual ethic is the most intellectually consistent position as a Christian (although I understand that there are compelling, if not convincing to me, reasons to abandon it), and this is the position I’ve committed myself to. I do think I benefited from having an atheist/somewhat hedonist period (which I think was actually just me being more honest with what had been going on interiorly for some time), but I was never really happy during that time.

I’m in a romantic relationship currently, but I think part of why it’s been going well is because I got to a place where I really didn’t feel like I needed it when it started. Otherwise, I think the relationship would be really needy/co-dependent. Because I know I’d be quite happy single, I think there’s a lot more freedom, not only in this particular relationship but also in my friendships more broadly.

6) If thinking through what it means to live out this commitment is too much, perhaps it may be good to take a break from thinking about it? I often think people would benefit more from focusing on: cultivating a good prayer life, seeking productive work, building a community, and doing service.”

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