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If abstinence (from sex) is painful, you’re doing it wrong. Over the years, my husband, Alex and I have heard married couples and singles alike comment on how painful it is to abstain. Singles like to think that married people have it easy, since their abstinence is only periodic. Married folks tell singles they have it much easier, since living with the person you love the most, even sharing a bed with them every night, makes abstinence that much more difficult. Can it be challenging at times, no matter what your state in life? Absolutely. And having been single and married, I’d say it’s especially difficult when a married couple really wants another baby, but they have to postpone pregnancy for good reason.

However, is abstinence painful? Here’s what is painful: labor, childbirth, kidney stones, broken femur, appendicitis, cancer, arthritis—shall I go on? But is abstinence? Not if you’re doing it right.

What is abstinence? 

Here’s our perspective, and you’ll find it lines up with Saint John Paul II encyclicals. Abstinence is going to work, raking leaves, building snowmen, tending a garden, emailing, or leaving love notes. Abstinence is playing cards or board games, hiking, visiting a museum and shopping. Abstinence is baking a chocolate dessert to share, trying that new Thai recipe, or a new ice cream flavor, and spending time with your children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews. Abstinence is going to Mass, making a holy hour, going to confession, or reading a new book. Abstinence is watching a movie, catching up with friends, apple picking, going to the beach, sledding, ice skating, kayaking, wine tasting, craft-making (candles, soaps, needlepoint, wood-working, metal-working). Abstinence is test-driving a new car, running, swimming, and playing sports (or watching them). Abstinence is dreaming up your perfect home—the layout, the number of rooms, the size of the yard. Abstinence is travel, learning new languages, going out to eat, or going out for that hot air balloon ride (personal favorite). Abstinence is dancing, singing, painting, or playing music.

None of these activities are painful, but they can be a lot of fun. These activities become fruitful when we allow them to further develop our relationships with family, friends, and significant others (especially our spouse).

I married my best friend. Ergo, we like to spend time together, no matter what we’re doing. Sure, it’d be easy to ignore the other aspects of our personhood, and reduce our relationship to one biological function. But we see people who do that all the time: they’re miserable! All of the time we spend together is quality, but that is an active decision that we have made from day one of our marriage, and we keep renewing that decision every day. There is so much joy and peace in that process. Sure, you may have to become less selfish in the process, and that can be painful at times, but what you have to gain is so much greater than what you think you’re giving up. Married people have to make the same decisions singles make every day in regards to chastity, and yes, even abstinence at times. If you think it’s easier to live chastely as a married person, let me remind you of the pain of divorce.

The idea behind abstinence isn’t a negation of sex or a denial of a good. Rather it’s turning your gaze towards other goods, which all contribute to the total person, and to our total experience as human beings. Yes, we’re all sexual creatures created with biological drives (women included!). But if you let those desires consume and enslave you, you’ll be miserable no matter what you’re doing. I think we can all manage our lives better with a little less misery.

If you’re not sure if these desires are controlling you, try turning to works of service. Usually in serving others we find our purpose and our true identity in life (becoming a gift). Try visiting the sick, the home-bound, the elderly, members of clergy, the poor, the homeless, the orphans (especially those in foster care). If you find that you’re still struggling, even after redirecting those desires with other positive actions, then you’re too attached. Please seek spiritual direction and possibly even counseling to regain control of your life. We want to see you living a happy, holy, and fulfilled life, even while abstaining.

All of God’s creations are good, including sexuality. However there is not one creation, including another human being, or any amount of pleasure on this earth that will take away our longing for Him. Often our mistake comes in substituting creations for the Creator. We will never be fully satisfied with any of the goods here on earth, until we rest in the ultimate goodness of His love. Remember that the love that conquered death is the love that can even make abstinence fruitful!

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45 Comments

  1. Joseph-746092 May 4, 2014

    CatholicMatch, telling tough truths and calling it like it is, as always.

  2. Joan-529855 May 4, 2014

    Lots of ideas!! There is one point that is missing though. In practicing NFP, the time period in which to abstain in order to prevent procreation is when the female’s body is the MOST interested in sexual relations. This is very difficult for the woman, though I have been told that men’s bodies are interested in sexual relations ALL OF THE TIME. There definitely is more going on when practicing abstinance with NFP than finding 53 things to do instead of sex, especially AFTER you have several children.

  3. Thomas-317320 May 5, 2014

    So…where are the 53 suggestions?

    • Les-904349 May 6, 2014

      Thomas, I’ll make it easier for you. Put God first in your daily life as soon as you wake up because this is a sexually active moment for most people and the other 52 things and more will fall into place.
      I’m a 67 year old man and have avoided sexual activity because in 10 years I put God first and hopefully foremost in my life.
      God will provide the right person and the right time for getting it on. Abraham was very old before Ismael and Isacc.
      So, in the A.M. drop to your knees and pray and your time will come, sooner than later.

  4. Sarah-1079699 May 5, 2014

    53 Things To Do Instead of Having Sex:
    1. Cook.
    2. Read a book.
    3. Have holy hour.
    4. Take up liturgy of the hours.
    5. Watch a movie.
    6. Discuss said movie.
    7. Take a walk.
    8. Take a cold shower (not together, obviously.)
    9. Read the Bible.
    10. Read the Catechism.
    11. Read the encyclicals.
    12. Read St. Ignatius.
    13. Plan a vacation.
    14. Volunteer at a local charity.
    15. Start a local charity.
    16. Go shooting.
    17. Go for a run.
    18. Go shopping (I recommend having an “abstinence spree” fund where the couple saves up for things they want/need around the house and then goes out and buys them during this time. Can be useful.)
    19. Go out.
    20. Go on a date (with each other, of course.)
    21. Play a game.
    22. Play a record and learn a new dance move.
    23. Go to a game.
    24. Go visit relatives.
    25. Get sick (really drives the desire for sex down.)
    26. Fix something around the house.
    27. Plan to fix something around the house.
    28. Paint a room.
    29. Redecorate the room.
    30. Make a rosary (I do this. Lots.)
    31. Pray the rosary (multiple times if you’re really good at it and it doesn’t take you very long.)
    32. Find a church with Mass at odd times and go to it.
    33. Go to a concert.
    34. Learn a new language.
    35. Learn a new recipe.
    36. Get a pet.
    37. Plant a garden.
    38. Join a cause.
    39. Exercise.
    40. Do the laundry (probably needs doing, anyway.)
    41. Do the dishes (probably need doing, anyway.)
    42. Do something other than your spouse (anyway.)
    43. Try your hand at sewing or knitting.
    44. Pick a random topic and Google it.
    45. Learn about the saints’ lives and try to decide on the weirdest one.
    46. Go to a convention.
    47. Discuss the family.
    48. Go to confession.
    49. Contemplate/start a small group Bible study.
    50. Pick a place you’ve never been before and plan a vacation there.
    51. Pick a book you both want to read but never have and see who can finish it first.
    52. Find something you never shared with the other person and share it.
    53. Go out and randomly buy a gift for the other person.

    There. 53 Things to Do Instead of Having Sex. Easy.

    • Sarah-1079699 May 5, 2014

      This is in response to Thomas-317320… Sorry, my bad.

    • Nicolas-1086981 May 6, 2014

      42 is really funny.

      Thanks!

    • Vincenzo-1014259 May 7, 2014

      I must say I doubt on the “Get sick” one.
      It has never worked on me. :D

    • Mariana-997074 May 13, 2014

      RE: 31. Pray the rosary (multiple times if you’re really good at it and it doesn’t take you very long.)

      or just pray ONE very slowly, the Rosary is a great gift, enjoy it!

      And BTW, today is the day of Our Lady of Fatima, great opportunity to pray a Rosary with your significant other :)

      • Paul-1102399 June 29, 2014

        BTW, Mariana, are you single and looking to get married?
        just asking..

  5. Zenaida-1077702 May 5, 2014

    If you set your mind to abstain from sex, then it will not be difficult as you will focus on doing something else. Just remember that all that you do is an offering to God.

  6. Norman-1022958 May 5, 2014

    Why abstain at all?? If you were meant to abstain from it why does it feel so very
    wonderful,think of that for awhile!!!!If you believe in it then you must be part of the world’s smallest myth believers! Why are there so many people since Noah sailed??

    • Allison-1074261 May 7, 2014

      It feels wonderful because it’s an expression of love between two people. But not only that, sex is a message between your bodies that says, “I give all of myself to you, holding nothing back.” Outside of marriage, that message becomes a lie. You’re lying with your body. And while it isn’t quite an “original sin”, sex outside of marriage is a sin for several reasons, but the simplest one is that it is a lie.

      • Paul-1102399 June 29, 2014

        How is it a lie if the couple has already committed to get married??
        think of that for awhile!!!!

    • Paul-1102399 June 29, 2014

      yeah, think of that for awhile!!!!

  7. Andrew-1040810 May 5, 2014

    Mrs. Kubik , there are actually an infinite number of activities a man and woman can do together in the process of developing and maintaining a relationship that are, in my opinion, far more interesting, meaningful and even more satisfying than sexual relations. So why exactly should they avoid having sexual relations with one another? I think there are extremely valid reasons for a man and woman postponing and even permanently avoiding sexual relations with one another that have absolutely nothing to do with the biology or pleasure of the act itself. Our current culture has done a great disservice to our Lord by focusing on sexual attraction in general, and the sex act in particular, often to the extreme of making sex the only reason for men and women to even have a relationship. From the beginning, that certainly never was God’s intention nor was it when our Lord was with us. Rather than creating a list of alternative activities, I wish you had explored reasons why avoiding sexual relations…either temporarily or permanently…greatly benefited the development and maintenance of interpersonal relationships. Once that is understood and valued appropriately…even by teenagers!!!…sexual relations become something two people do only on special occasions There are all kinds of pragmatic reasons why singles should postpone sexual relations until they are married, and they are all extremely important, but I believe abstinence could be a position two people mutually arrived at satisfactorily in the pursuit of far more important and beneficial goals. By focusing on those goals I believe it becomes far easier for all of us to embrace our Lord’s plan for men and women and inform and conform our wills to the Will of God. Thank you for writing an article that is very important for men and women actively participating in the discernment process greatly facilitated by CatholicMatch.com…in my opinion the most valuable website on the entire internet..

    • Sandra-963593 May 6, 2014

      What a great take on this topic! It’s not even a “take.” That doesn’t do it justice. I agree with you 110%!!!

    • Christine-1020991 May 6, 2014

      Wow–that was well thought out–I am impressed! Best to all in their struggles…

    • Dominic L. May 7, 2014

      Joy did okay . . It shows no matter what you have a topic on there’s always some one to criticize it . . no one considers using words to express some think does not mean you can read there minds also. . . Andrew your putting politics into it when Joy was only speaking from her experience with out claiming she knows it all.

  8. Charlie-1088950 May 5, 2014

    for me personally, abstinence can be done if both sides agree on it and have iron clad will to avoid sex. there are so many things to do instead of having sex, but why does sex keeps on popping up inside the minds of a couple? simple, it is natural and it is simply impossible to not think about it especially how beautiful the image of your partner is to you. but if the both of you wants to preserve yourselves before marriage and you both vowed to not do it before marriage then you are on your way to giving the best gift you can give your future partner.

  9. Gene-1002211 May 5, 2014

    Miss Kubik:

    Thanx for the suggestions..been adhering to some of them but you added…have a feeling that I will be looking at this article in Cath Match more than any other from now on.
    Gene
    FC,VA

  10. Frank-780947 May 6, 2014

    I’ve never been married; and as an older adult; I was suprised to read the implied difficulty with abstinence during marriage. It’s not like the female is “hot” during all four weeks of her cycle.

  11. Sandra-963593 May 6, 2014

    I couldn’t agree more. Remain chaste until marriage. What has developed as “acceptable” couple behavior these days is nothing more than a devaluation of male-female relations. Forty-one percent of children in the USA are born out of wedlock now, and I’ll bet that’s lower than in the rest of the western world. Too, God can’t possibly want everyone walking around with a trail of sorrow and broken hearts due to past failed relationships that might have never occurred were it not for succumbing to sexual urges. All of this pain does nothing except engender more and more distrust between men and women. However will you meet the right one if you are hyper-defensive, even on the offence? Not good. i’ve been there, and I am paying the price now in my older years. Is abstinence failsafe? Of course not. Life’s a risk. Love’s a risk. But it surely offers more than what we have devolved to, AND it correctly answers an important question, a question that will now lead me for the rest of my life: What does God want me to do? I wish I had discovered that question thirty years ago.

  12. David-1054431 May 6, 2014

    I find it amusing to read about abstinence as a choice. Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for it. But I’m a single man who has not been in a relationship for about 5 years now, so consequently presently I’m celibate. I find that my natural lifestyle and choice of activities (and that I don’t have the world’s most outgoing personality) simply don’t lend themselves to meeting women.

    I’m pretty happy in my life really. To meet women, I would have to go out of my way to do things that aren’t my natural inclination. Furthermore, frankly I’m a little cynical that there’s anybody out there available and compatible and with whom there’s mutual attraction. The result is I’m simply not very motivated to do much about it. So abstinence is just part of the grand scheme of my life.

    • Jing P. May 8, 2014

      I been single all my life and practice abstinence upholding to my promised that it would be more fulfilling to share myself with someone I could cherish and love for the rest of my life. It started with a decision and trying to lived once life one day at a time. Serving God means a lot of work, more than 53 ways of doing something rather than sex. Hope you will not be cynical about looking for relationship. They are still women who might be blessed knowing you and just waiting for your presence.

  13. Francis-868328 May 6, 2014

    I commend Joy for her article. She has provided food for thought. She has prodded people to think & express their opinions. We can collate all these information & develop our own solutions to living fruitful & fulfilling lives.
    It is happiness we seek. What can be greater than unconditional love. Thank you Joy. Francis

  14. William-935239 May 6, 2014

    #54: discuss the other 53 with your partner.

  15. Joe D. May 7, 2014

    Even singles in their 80′s and 90′s have the same problem! Joe

  16. Rhea-479832 May 7, 2014

    there is so many things to do everyday rather than just having sex… its not just 53..its more than that….

    • Luis M. May 7, 2014

      I think the fact that sexual addiction makes it difficult for any man or woman to see the wisdom of the 53 things to do besides sex is important. Those in recovery from extreme sexual selfishness, will slowly learn the goods from abstainance, an ultimate gift from God, Our Loving Father.

  17. Brian-1064247 May 7, 2014

    Something that occurred to me long ago, is that the arguments for celibacy prior to marriage tend to focus on virginity and youth. A few years ago, I was in a long-distance relationship with a lady in her 40′s, divorced and with kids, and I found it hard to come up with reasons beyond basic religious ones. It seems the outlook is that of a youth, advising them of the pitfalls of early sex, casual sex, etc. And indeed, there are many. But change the perspective to a mature, experienced, divorced woman, with kids, and what are the incentives of celibacy?

  18. Andrew-1040810 May 7, 2014

    Brian, the incentive for celibacy (and this is true for all ages of men and women) would be that pleasurable sexual relations introduces powerful feelings and emotions that could easily confuse and complicate the mental process of learning and understanding another human being. For me, the pleasures of the mind are far more lasting, enjoyable, meaningful and even pleasurable that pleasures of the body….and there is a place for that rapture in God’s plan for men and women, but it’s a very tiny one. Relationships based on true friendship are always deeper and more meaningful and longer lasting when sex is left out of the equation and set aside as a possibility for the future. Personally, I believe it’s something very intimate and very special that should wait until after marriage because I’m a one guy-one gal-and this is forever type of man. My goal is marriage, not sex. and I need a clear mind free from emotional distractions to do my thinking….and praying…and then some more thinking. If I can wait, she can wait, and in the meantime what she needs to be showing me is what’s in her heart, mind and soul, for that’s where I plan on spending 99.9 % of my time even after we’re married.

  19. Patrick-341178 May 7, 2014

    Why is periodic celibacy so difficult for married couples? Hypothetically, a catholic married person never had sexual relations until they were married. So, once you have sex for the first time on your wedding night, is it such an overwhelming experience that all you want to do is have sex all the time? Yes, I suppose if you are single and sleeping alone in a bed every night, that does make it a bit easier to remain abstinent? But, what if you are unmarried person in a relationship? You are likely spending a lot of time in close proximity to each other. Having to still be abstinent all the time I would think is far more difficult than anything married couples have to deal with.

    Nevertheless, the list of 53 things was a good one. The cold shower one gave me a chuckle.

  20. Annie-1025298 May 7, 2014

    What a nice thought Andrew. I hope more men share the same strategy in finding a lifetime partner. Agree 100%.

  21. Matt-557568 May 7, 2014

    Actually a lot of these activities can be painful, especially running. Good list though, I’ve done several of them already today to keep my mind busy.

  22. Arnold-564704 May 10, 2014

    When i drink enough water i get a natural thirst for water. In the same way when going to confession the right amount i get a thirst to receive Gods Grace. When i wake up Thursday morning excited because i am going to Confession Saturday……well the thirst lets me know i am going enough. Of course a lot more can be added to this. These are my first thoughts. Gods love, Arnold

  23. Constance-473372 May 12, 2014

    perhaps we need to be reminded of how painful and damaging it can when we do not abstain from sex. Abstinence before marriage takes a strong and consistent discipline. A discipline that provides a necessary & solid foundation for marriage. Resisting this temptation consistently will develop a strong and healthy character while giving you the tools you need for marriage. Let’s face it sometimes in marriage you may not like your marriage partner because of an argument you had or your spouse has let you down in some way. It is during these times that you remember the commitment of love that you made to one another on your wedding day and you know that you will get through this tough time because you chose to build a Christ Centered relationship before your marriage. Abstinence is difficult but not impossible. But because you refrained during courtship you’ve been through difficult, you’ve dealt with strong challenges. You are equipped (not always ready)but equipped to handle the challenges of marriage, especially during sickness or loss of your beloved or child. This is when you reap the rewards of premarital discipline. You will see that is was well worth it, to have the strength to move forward.

  24. David-1033520 May 13, 2014

    This is great. Thanks!

  25. David-1033520 May 16, 2014

    If Abstinence is Painful You’re Doing It Wrong (a poem)

    It is time to find a hobby,
    make a milkshake,
    climb a tree,
    learn a language,
    be an acrobat,
    rearrange the room,
    t’ai chi.
    If you have one, ride an elephant;
    if you know how, fix the fence;
    if you can do, take a week away;
    memorize the presidents.
    Write a thank you to your parents,
    send a shout out to your friends,
    run that errand you’ve been putting off,
    tie down one or two loose ends.
    Read a novel,
    write a poem,
    sing a love song,
    sketch the scene,
    concentrate for half a minute,
    contemplate eternity.
    Act all spastic,
    love the eighties,
    change that lightbulb,
    Hail the Queen,
    cook her dinner,
    make him breakfast,
    cut to bits a magazine.
    Photograph stuff at weird angles,
    do a hundred pull ups clean,
    run a mile,
    sit in silence,
    simply say the thing you mean.
    There’s so much to do
    –the list goes on–
    before our Love returns,
    and makes the climax possible
    for which each body yearns.
    So while we’re waiting let’s keep active,
    even make love to your wife:
    ’cause hate to say it
    but the Good New is,
    we’re all celibate for life.

  26. Ann-1080387 May 17, 2014

    I think it’s okay if abstinence is sometimes a little bit painful. Christ said “Take up your cross and follow me.” He didn’t say “If you have any crosses in your life, you’re doing it wrong.

  27. Duncan-806983 May 17, 2014

    And nowhere did he say “stop having sex”

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