The sex life of nuns

The Catholic church requires celibacy for its priests and nuns. But many find it hard to do so. While some are coerced into it, many of the sexual relations they have are voluntary and with both priests and parishioners.

Celibacy is seen as one of the most important sacrifices a priest or nun makes for the church. Nuns consider themselves married to Christ. Rather than taking a human spouse, they devote themselves to God. But many nuns face a daily challenge trying to keep their vows and their faith.

According to a study conducted by Margaret Halstead and Lauro Halstead entitled “A Sexual Intimacy Survey of Former Nuns and Priests,” which was first carried out in 1978 and which has consistently confirmed results, including an update in 2018, more than half of all nuns say they knew of sexual activity going on in their convents. Some 44 percent of the most recently surveyed say they knew of sex between sisters, while 54 percent say they knew of sexual relationships between nuns and male members of the clergy. Just over a third say the nuns they knew were fooling around were doing so with lay people, including married men in the congregation.

Fighting sexual desire is made more difficult by the church’s requirement that one must abstain from masturbation.

Sister Federica says there have long been nun fetishes and rumors of convents full of vibrators, but the reality is that nuns, like priests, often struggle with their vows of celibacy under which even masturbation is a sin.

Even outside the clergy and religious orders, men are not supposed to masturbate because the church believes that such an act amounts to spilled seed that should be used for procreation. And women are prohibited from masturbating under Catechism rules because the church believes that self-pleasure “robs the potential of sex” from the partner and it often gives way to the potential for “adultery of the heart” if a woman is fantasizing while touching herself.

Because of course every sperm is sacred.

One wonders how long celibacy can be retained as a requirement. It is quite astonishing how much of the Catholic church’s crimes, scandals, and problems are due to its restrictions on sex.


  1. says

    as in “wears down” I take it. interesting.

    I don’t know anything about the sex lives of nuns (even though I took a sex ed class that was taught by different guests each week including 3 recurring teachers responsible for most of it, one of whom was a Catholic nun -- her personal perspective was not part of the course), but my bestie grew up in Boston and had friends that later became nuns. She was catching up with a friend she hadn’t seen in a while and found out that there are multiple slasher/horror flicks set in convents and the nuns in her friend’s convent would rent one on VHS, pop popcorn, and gather together in the common room for a Friday night of nun-slasher flicks a couple times a year.

    Apparently all the nuns thought it was a hoot. Knowing very little about catholicism or nuns, I was surprised and amused when I heard the story.

  2. says

    One wonders how long celibacy can be retained as a requirement.

    I forgot to address this. It’s well known among those who have taken the time to read on the church’s celibacy requirement (though I understand that it’s not really an educational priority for most people, very reasonably) that for a long time there was no celibacy requirement for the priesthood in most of Africa.

    Rather, the rule was very like the early celibacy requirements of the proto-catholic church (and maybe the early official catholic church??) in that the priesthood was open to married men, and men who join the priesthood could marry, but one may not be a married bishop. If you married before becoming a bishop, you could never earn that rank; if you wanted to marry after, you had to go through whatever they go through for demotion (resign the bishopric? get demoted by the pope? idk) before you could marry. Though I seriously doubt that many African men who become bishops would ever have left that privileged post for marriage. If you managed to make do without marriage for long enough to become a bishop, you probably already have the coping skills to get by without that sort of intimacy and partnership in your life.

    But that easy relationship with married African priests has been set aside in recent years. Not that there’s been a clear and permanent reversal. There have been recent excommunications of priests for marrying or having marriage-like relationships that were not sanctified by the church. But Francis has also suggested a couple times that allowing priests to marry in some limited circumstances might be good for the church, and thus ultimately good for human souls because more people would be saved from the evil horrors of having a former catholic priest preach exactly the same stuff in a “breakaway” church.

    There’s one article about this here.

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    It is quite astonishing how much of the Catholic church’s crimes, scandals, and problems are due to its restrictions on sex.

    Or do they come from its concentration of power in the persons of the priests? At least in the US, Protestant clergy have comparable rates for sexual abuse.

    Tangentially: I used to subscribe to the newsletter of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and assiduously read their “Black Collar Crime” spread in every issue (alas, they don’t post it online). RC clergy made regular appearances, as we might expect, and mostly for their sexual escapades -- but their second-most failing (at least in terms of getting both caught and publicly reported) involved skimming money to cover gambling debts (apparently fewer Protestant preachers have this problem). I still don’t even have a guess as to why that particular weakness appears most in this particular institution.

  4. cartomancer says

    This is very far from being a new problem. Ailred of Rievaulx was well aware of how common sexual relationships were between monks in the late Twelfth Century. He thought (in his de amicitia spirituali) that monks or nuns loving each other deeply was fine and honourable, but adding sex to it spoiled things. Which probably explains the masses of Medieval Latin same-sex love poetry that survives from monastic contexts of his time. Seriously, there’s piles of the stuff.

    Of course, Medieval monks and nuns were far less involved with the lay community than modern Catholic nuns are. Cloistering themselves away from the world was kind of the point, so they only really had each other for companionship.

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