A History of Celibacy: From Athena to Elizabeth I, Leonardo da Vinci, Florence Nightingale, Gandhi, and Cher

Readers who consider celibacy the exclusive domain of priests and nuns are in for a big surprise. Elizabeth Abbott's entertaining history traces over 3,000 years of sexual abstinence and illustrates how it has been practiced all over the world for a variety of reasons, both religious and secular. A History of Celibacy begins with the ancient Greek deities, Athena, Artemis, and Hestia, for whom celibacy was a means of liberation from traditional female servitude, and concludes with the present-day AIDS epidemic, a primary justification for the renewed call to celibacy. In between, Abbott, who dedicated eight years to this project, discovers fascinating examples of sexual abstinence, whether coerced or self-proclaimed, temporary or permanent. For example, celibacy enabled egalitarianism and female leadership for 18th-century Shakers, the Greek athlete enhanced athletic performance by conserving semen, and Shamans and Vodun priests to this day attain a state conducive to communicating with the spirits through short-term abstinence. Abbott describes and analyzes over 120 instances of sexual abstinence, expertly illuminating the interrelation of detailed particulars with historical context and social norms. A bestseller in Canada, where Abbott serves as Dean of Women at Trinity College, A History of Celibacy neither advocates nor opposes the practice. Instead, Abbott, herself a converted celibate, emphasizes individual choice according to individual needs, drives, and desires. --Bertina Loeffler Sedlack