People for various reasons choose to be celibate. Some do so for the sake of spiritual aims and values, to be free from the constraints of family life. Some traditions, Tibetan Buddhist and Taoist, for example, seek to channel sex energies toward altering consciousness.
Other traditions see the intrusion of sexual desires as something evil and repulsive. Repression of sexual instincts is pursued with a vengeance, as we know from many aspirants of high spiritual life. The results are often strange. Sexual repression sometimes causes extraordinary phenomena that transcend nature. As a matter of strange fact, it seems that deliberate or accidental traumas of mind and body sometimes unleash unexpected experiences of beauty and transcendence. People who fast for long periods of time, deny themselves sleep and human company, sometimes report having the most glorious experience of their lives
The example of Joseph of Copertino comes to mind, a mystic famous for his levitations and frank about the difficulties he had trying to cope with his sexual temptations. The friar was so abusive of his own body that his superiors ordered him to go easy on himself, and he obeyed, in the spirit of holy obedience. Here is a striking passage from Joseph’s bio, Wings of Ecstasy, (available on Amazon).
“The friar, a holy celebrity, was exposed to the enthusiasm of his female admirers: “Padre Giuseppe felt acute pain when confronted with women of ill-repute or with their writings to him, or with the advice they offered or to the propositions they made him. They were demonic incubi made concrete in a human form, come to break him and disturb his sleep with the most obscene dreams,” writes Bernini.
Clearly, Joseph spent a good deal of his spiritual capital resisting sexual desire and demonizing the creatures of his own erotic imagination.
“Oh my God,” the poor man once exclaimed, “I know I won’t yield to temptation, but I wish I didn’t have to fight it so hard!”
It is clear how powerful the conflict was, from which he nevertheless found an unusual form of relief through levitation. Clearly, a giant leap beyond masturbation.
In the shadow of sexual peril, Joseph would repeat out loud, “Uno e Una!”, his formula for -- ‘One God! One soul!’ A cry, in short, for the unity of the forces within, for perfect spiritual balance, for molding the unruly force of his animal instincts. Levitation was for Joseph a physical acting out of the unbearable energies of his ecstasies. Domenico Bernini, ahead of his time, wrote of the psychodynamics of eroticism and ecstasy, which he described as a divine game of temptation and repression.”
The idea that God may be playing spiritual games with us is intriguing. A God without a sense of humor is a very depressing idea.