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What 'Grown-ish' Gets Right About Spiritually-Motivated Celibacy

There are a lot of misconceptions out there about what it means to make a faith-based decision to lead a celibate life.

Culture & Entertainment

As I near 25, I'm not sure if I'm the target audience for Grown-ish anymore, but I still watch it faithfully every week. On one hand, I feel it keeps me young; my old soul requires a regimen to keep with the times. On the other, I have a strong desire to support up-and-coming artists of color, like Yara Shahidi and Chloe x Halle, who are not only wildly talented, but also using their crafts to bring light to important topics. The show exhibits an earnest effort to incorporate stories that represent diverse walks of life. Naturally, being set on a college campus, Grown-ish discusses sexuality a great deal, investigating topics ranging from exploratory experiences, to defining consent, to LGBTQ+ issues.

A few weeks ago, I sat down eagerly to watch episode ten of season three and was thoroughly fascinated when the topic -- celibacy -- was revealed. The episode started out pretty typically, with Ana, a member of the show's central friend group, going on a date with a guy named Javi. Based on the flirtatious banter in the car when they pulled up to Ana's house, it's clear the date went well. At this point, any viewer invested in the story rejoices, because Ana has had a difficult run when it comes to finding love. Javi walks Ana to her door and is invited inside, presumably to hook up. However, just as things are heating up, Javi stops things and gently tells Ana that he made a recent decision to rededicate his life to Christ and to, subsequently, practice abstinence. Hearing Javi say those words, Ana blanched with surprise. I was just as shocked as she was. I squealed with interest and made my husband watch it with me from the beginning.

grown-ish Season 3, Episode 10 | Sneak Peek: Javi Surprises Ana | Freeform www.youtube.com

The source of my enthusiasm about the story that was unfolding was twofold. One reason I connected to these events was because my now husband and I, who I met in college, had decided first as individuals, then as a couple, to wait until marriage to have sex.

Practicing abstinence was probably the hardest and best decision I've ever made, and an important part of my story. While I share that story with my husband and some friends, it's not the mainstream narrative represented in the media which is the second reason I was so compelled by this plot. In my favorite shows, the most common picture of sexuality is generally one of liberal exploration; sex at is best is depicted to be with diverse partners, with frequent partners, and commonly occurring during adolescence. While this isn't always the case, virginity and sexlessness are often depicted as anomalous, involuntary, corny, and even an indication of inferiority.

Ana and Javi's storyline runs parallel to those of characters like Aaron, who holds the position that no self-respecting man would not have sex for six months. With that being the majority mentality of the show, I was eager to see how the show approached this alternative path. I wondered if the idea of a celibate lifestyle would be given equal dignity and respect as the other paths represented. I was increasingly pleasantly surprised as the show's events unfolded, and Ana and Javi's journey wasn't presented as this weird thing, wasn't overly idealized, and was treated as legitimate.

As someone who can relate to the ups and downs of celibacy, I noticed certain elements that Grown-ish got right about a journey of spiritually-motivated celibacy.

Sometimes You Fall Down and You Have to Get Back Up

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I know some Christians I know were disappointed to see Ana and Javi tumble back in bed after having made the commitment to wait. However, while I sympathized with the guilt the characters felt after violating their expectations of themselves, I found the depiction to be refreshing in its realism, because no one is perfect.

Celibacy can be a process that involves failures along the way, followed by rallying and renewed commitment, but that shouldn't lead to feelings of defeat. Abstaining from sex is countercultural and can feel like going against the grain, but it comes down to is making sacrifices where necessary.

In the show, I love how you see Ana and Javi going through that process of falling off the wagon, solidifying their "why," reassessing their boundaries, and relying on their faith and community to give them strength going forward. The important part was that they allowed the lessons they learned from their failures to inform a new approach as they tried again.

Saying ‘No’ to Sex Requires Saying 'Yes' to Something Else

The truth is that avoiding sex isn't easy, especially on a college campus, where there are so many opportunities to partake and sex is often considered an important part of coming of age. For me, though I grew up in a household that valued saving sex for marriage, my parents' standards weren't enough to keep me on that path in college. Being on my own and faced with so many choices, I had to develop a conviction strong enough to stand on in times of temptation. I was motivated by a desire to please God and trust Him; I genuinely believed obeying Him was best for me.

While I was interested in sex and found dating fun, I formed a belief that sex is deeply sacred, and I desired to focus my dating life on building friendships, healing my emotional traumas, and discerning whether marriage would be a reasonable goal with a given person.

In the show, Javi says that he decided to put sex on the shelf to clear his head so he could hear God better. He and Ana hit a snag in their relationship early on when her convictions didn't align with his. After asking Javi where he got his strength from and later rekindling her own relationship with God, Ana found her "why" for being celibate -- being at peace with God and pursuing relationships that were based on more than sex -- and it gave her the strength she needed to move forward.

It Helps to Have a Community of Like-Minded People

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A consistent theme in Ana and Javi's journey pursuing a celibate relationship is remaining rooted in community. Having access to and spending time with like-minded people plays a major role in fortifying their commitment to their faith and their celibacy journey, especially when they mess up. Another facet of having positive reinforcement was their friendship with one another and their shared values.

I can speak from personal experience when I say that remaining celibate is so much easier when you have a partner who shares your values and carries their own conviction about celibacy. It's difficult enough having physical boundaries when you're in love and longing to express that physically, without the added temptation of the other person low-key seducing you. It helps to be with someone who understands and knows how to help you meet your goals.

Some people also consider sex to be a vital component of a loving relationship, even before marriage, so it can cause some distress if you're not on the same page and one person feels their needs are not being met. When one person has to violate their own boundaries to meet the needs of the other, it can only lead to resentment.

There are a lot of misconceptions out there about what it means to make a faith-based decision to lead a celibate life. One that I've heard a lot is the perception that following Jesus makes you somehow disinterested in sex until marriage. The other is that celibacy is impossible. Neither is true.

To choose to abstain from sex is a daily commitment to live in that tension between acknowledging your existing sexuality, and that a desire for sex is natural and beneficial, and delaying gratification until your circumstances facilitate the best environment for you to thrive sexually, based on your convictions.

The beauty of art is that it can represent all walks of life. It's great to see celibacy included in the definition of what it can mean to be sexually liberated.

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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