In the 21st Century UK, indeed in almost all of the West,
sexual imagery can be found in many places, and many young people expect to
have a number of sexual partners before eventually settling down.
This perhaps may explain why the idea of a celibate lifestyle, as practised
by the clergy of the Catholic Church, as well as adherents of other
religions, causes a great deal of puzzlement among non-believers.
"In our sex-dominated society, people tend to view celibacy as a form of
sexual anorexia - a sad and lonely state at best, unnatural at worst," says
Elizabeth Abbott, author of A History of Celibacy.
Jimmy O'Brien was a priest for the best part of a decade before deciding he
had to leave his vocation. He has now been married for 20 years to a woman
he met while still a priest, and he has two children.
Born in Tipperary, Ireland, he started his training at 18. From a Catholic
background, he completely accepted the idea of celibacy. But after several
years as a priest in the south of England he began to change his mind.
"Accepting it was one thing and living it was another. Four or five years
into it, it's only then the implications of the decision you made were
"It isn't so much the celibacy aspect, it is the loneliness. At 28 or 29 a
lot of my friends were settling down and having children, my older brothers
and sisters were having children. There was no significant other there for