A History of Celibacy

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Simon and Schuster, 2000 - 493 pages
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This surprise bestseller from Canada traces the groups and individuals who are part of a timeless phenomenon that transcends culture and religion. Joan of Arc was one. So was Sir Isaac Newton. A monk vows to be one. A prisoner has no choice. History tells of many avowed celibates, and today's society reflects a renewed interest in celibacy. But what caused -- and still causes -- people to give up sex, the very activity that drives, fascinates, troubles, and delights the rest of us? Elizabeth Abbott's spirited and provocative exploration of celibacy debunks the traditionally held notion that celibacy is a predominantly religious concept of little concern to the secular world. With myriad examples, Abbott's lively history reveals insights not only about our religious practices but also about our sexual desires and changing attitudes toward gender and physical health. From the vestal virgins of ancient Rome, who were entombed alive if they broke their vows, to contemporary athletes, who "conserve semen" to enhance their game, from celibacy as a guarantee for marriage to involuntary celibacy among prisoners, eunuchs, and young women cloistered against their will, Abbott puts a human face on celibacy, capturing the anguish of the castrated boy destined for an operatic career, the ecstasy of the woman whose celibacy is rewarded by visions of Christ, and the anger of the bachelor doomed by the surplus of males in contemporary China. What didn't happen in the bedrooms of history, and why? Through stories of individual lives -- fascinating, vital, and real -- A History of Celibacy tells all.

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A history of celibacy: from Athena to Elizabeth I, Leonardo da Vinci, Florence Nightingale, Ghandi, and Cher

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Celibacy: it's not just a matter of religious conviction, argues the dean of women at Trinity College. Read full review


Authors Note
Divine Pagan Celibacy
Early Christianity
Later Christianity
Other Major Religions and Rites
Celibacy to Conserve Semen
Female Celibacy Transcends Gender
Celibacy as Womanly Duty
Coerced Celibacy
Celibacy to Repress Unconventional
Impotent Celibacy
Celibacy in Literature
The New Celibacy

Abstaining in a Good Cause

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About the author (2000)

Elizabeth Abbott is Dean of Women at Trinity College, University of Toronto.

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