In her article “The Inconvenience of Sexual Attraction”, Katie Bessert gripes about the fact that she doesn’t fulfilled outside of a romantic and sexual relationship. She blames “a biological predisposition to reproduce” for her dissatisfaction with her single status. However, relationships (and society’s attitudes towards relationships) are constantly evolving, and I believe it is possible to find happiness outside of a traditional heterosexual monogamous relationship.
If you’ve ever taken an introductory Psychology course, you’ve probably heard of Maslow and his hierarchy of human needs. It is true that sex is listed as a basic need on the physiological level, but its listing there represents the need to reproduce rather than the need of sex for pleasure. Maslow considers sexual intimacy again in the third level of his pyramid, which deals with needs of love and belonging. This is sex for pleasure rather than reproductive purposes.
Since sexual intimacy is considered to be a basic human need, it is perfectly natural to wonder if happiness is even possible outside of a sexually satisfying relationship. The driving principle behind a needs hierarchy is that human needs further up the pyramid will not even be considered until all needs lower down are met. Further up the pyramid from love and belonging are needs of esteem and self-actualization, both of which can potentially have a profound effect on a person’s capacity for happiness.
Still, I would have to argue that it is possible to be celibate and satisfied. No one questions that the bottom level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs must be satisfied. In fact, these physiological needs are required for maintaining life. People need to breathe. People need to eat. People need to reproduce so that the species doesn’t die out.
Once you get to the second level, which are the needs of safety, I think it is critical to happiness that most of these needs be met, but not necessarily all of them. Applying this to the level of the pyramid where sexual intimacy comes into the equation, I firmly believe that people can be happy without sexual intimacy if their needs for friendship and family are unquestionably met.
Dissatisfaction will begin to creep in, however, for those people for whom a desire for sexual intimacy is intrinsically linked to a desire to have children. Someone who has an emotional need to reproduce had a greater likelihood of being unhappy since there are two needs on a single level of the pyramid that are not being met (the need for sexual intimacy as well as the need for family connections). A person with no desire for children has a much greater chance of happiness without sexual intimacy.
However, in today’s society, there are so many alternatives to having children naturally within a committed sexual relationship, that some people who want children more than they want sexual intimacy can satisfy the more pressing need while ignoring the less pressing one. Some people who are apprehensive about single parenting are choosing a non-sexual life partner with whom they are sharing the responsibilities. Here, I am defining life partner as someone with whom you share financial responsibility for your living space and parenting responsibilities for your children who also provides you with emotional and moral support on a personal level. It is entirely possible to have a satisfying relationship with a life partner that is very similar to a marriage except without the context of sexual intimacy.
Choosing to remain celibate eliminates many health risks associated with sexual activity, which could potentially increase satisfaction as a risk to personal safety has been taken out of the equation.
Although non-sexual relationships have as much potential for deterioration as sexual ones, the dissolution of a sexual relationship tends to have more devastating emotional consequences than just about any other type of relationship. The only thing with the potential to be more devastating is the death of a close family member.
In conclusion, I do believe that it is possible to be celibate and satisfied, to be happy outside of a monogamous sexual relationship, and to surround yourself with friends and family that will satisfy your needs for love and belonging. Perhaps the conundrum of sexual attraction in interpersonal relationships is mildly inconvenient for some, but I prefer to look at it as a welcome component of an already satisfying relationship when it is present, and something that is irrelevant when it is not.