Giving Up Sex for Lent

My friends' fast from sex gets to the heart of Lenten discipline.

My Episcopalian friends--I'll call them Sharon and Greg--are giving up sex for Lent. Not chocolate, not caffeine: sex.


, the 40-day church season that begins this week, is a time of fasting and repentance--a somber and reflective season that precedes the celebrations of Easter. Christians who observe a

Lenten fast

are both honoring and reenacting Jesus' forty-day fast in the desert. At the end of those 40 days, Satan came to tempt Jesus--and the Gospel of Luke suggests that Jesus was able to withstand the Devil's temptations not despite, but in part because, of his fasting. Somehow his fast made him stronger.

Modern-day Christians interpret "fast" broadly. Many Catholic communities retain the practice of giving up meat during some days in Lent. Orthodox communities abstain from meat, dairy and egg products. Most Protestants, like me, undertake a fast that is either, depending on your perspective, more creative, or too lenient--like abstaining from alcohol or TV. This year, I am giving up wine and cheese. And also, at the urging of my spiritual director, I'm trying to get to know my neighbors. (Today, it is popular for people to "take on" a Lenten discipline, like daily prayer, or neighbor-knowing, instead of or in addition to giving something up.)


Which brings us back to Sharon and Greg. Forty days without making the beast with two backs.

Actually, Sharon is quick to point out to me that it's not quite as bleak as all that. Traditionally, Christians break their Lenten fasts on Sundays, since Sundays are meant to be festive--the celebration of Jesus' resurrection trumps the strictures of Lenten discipline. So, says Sharon, she and her husband will have, um, sex dates on the weekends.

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