According to Laura Frost in her review of Celibacies (Books, 30 January), the author, Benjamin Kahan, seeks to debunk the pathology of abstinence. But, leaving aside a monk’s vocation, celibacy in the population at large may be a strange choice.
Mahatma Gandhi’s celibacy was apparently due to his great guilt at his having intercourse with his young wife at the time his father was dying. And Gandhi was not celibate just for himself but enjoined it on others, even married couples, thereby ruining marriages and causing needless unhappiness, as explained by Arthur Koestler in Bricks to Babel.
In Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell shows celibacy as a matter of the totalitarian policy of Big Brother: sex not for pleasure but a duty for procreation for the sake of the Party: an attitude that ruins Winston’s marriage with Katharine. Young people are urged to abstain by joining Junior Anti-Sex Leagues. There is a sinister motive behind this: as Julia says, all this marching and flag-waving is “simply sex gone sour”. Orwell is hinting that the damming-up of sexuality is an attempt, conscious or otherwise, to redirect normal human vitality into the perverted course of politics. The Nazi single-sex compulsory youth organisations fit this pattern well.
Surely such redirection – misdirection – of human energies is pathological.