A question from Kellie that I think many have wondered but never asked …

Dear Sister Julie, I would like to tell you that I have nothing but the utmost respect for you. My question is not meant to offend you in any way shape or form. I know that nuns are human like the rest of us. Do nuns ever have sexual urges, and if so how do you deal with the temptation of wanting sex.

Kellie, I am not offended at all and am glad that you asked. You are right — nuns are human like you and everyone else.

Part of being human is being a sexual person — humans are attracted to other people, have romantic feelings and sexual urges. Nuns are no different; however, we choose not to act upon these natural, sexual feelings and urges.

Think for example of other people in committed relationships. Just because you are married doesn’t mean you don’t find another person attractive or have great chemistry with someone. In fact married people might even “fall in love” with someone else, but that doesn’t mean they have to act on it. Committed people make a choice to not act on those feelings. Same thing with nuns. We are deeply human and can have sexual urges or fall in love.

When I was discerning religious life and felt convinced it was for me (and it was!), I fell in love with someone I’d know throughout grad school. Horrified that I fell in love while considering religious life, I went to my nun mentor and told her. I expected that she’d bid me farewell (I should have known better because she is one of the most deeply loving and compassionate persons I know) but instead she said, “Wonderful!” She didn’t tell me to stop discerning religious life nor did she tell me to cut off the relationship. She said to enjoy it! If we lose the capacity to fall in love, she said, then we lose the ability to truly open our hearts to God, to the people with whom we live and minister, with God’s beautiful creation. Doesn’t mean we have to express this love sexually. My nun was a great guide through that time because it was important for me to know how to deal with those feelings because they inevitably will arise if we are to be true lovers of God.

So, how do nuns deal with the temptation of wanting sex? I think the first thing is to remember that wanting sex isn’t bad in and of itself. Sex can be a powerful experience of union and love. For a nun, we vow to be celibate and so we choose to express union and love in other ways, such as through our community life, our relationships, and our ministry (Check out my post Do nuns know how to love? for other ways we express love). We have to acknowledge to ourselves a sexual urge we may have (not bury it as if it’s not there) and find ways to deal with it in a healthy way. Dealing with it may be solved by a splash of cold water or it may mean talking it over with a trusted friend or mentor. This is where being part of a community really helps because you are with women who have made the same choice and can support you and guide you through times like this. Community life helps you tap into the relationships that truly sustain you, that give you a joy and intimacy that goes beyond any urge for sex (however compelling it may seem at the time!). I’d be surprised if this were any different for married people.

I’d love to hear from nuns and others around this question. It is a great question for us to reflect on, and any dialog we can have on this would be especially helpful for those considering religious life.