'Give Me Chastity': Masculinity and Attitudes to Chastity and Celibacy in the Middle Ages

Pat Cullum

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Augustine's plea to 'give me chastity and continence, but not yet' has resonated with modern readers and writers on the Middle Ages as the 'natural' reaction of men to the demands of Christianity for the restriction or even avoidance of sexual activity. By contrast, the appeal of virginity or vowed chastity for medieval women has been the subject of considerable historical interest. Combined with the prevalent assumptions about masculinity which developed in the late twentieth century, until recently it was difficult even to see that there was an issue to be addressed. The high medieval period recognised the appeal of the monastic life for the elderly knight but saw this as evidence of the growth of lay piety, rather than as a gender issue, and its disappearance in the thirteenth century as a product of the sacerdotalisation of monasticism. This paper argues by contrast that chastity had a continuing appeal to laymen, and that some, mainly older, men continued to desire an alternative to marriage. The paper explores evidence for how it was achieved and locates it in the context of both gendered assumptions about sexuality by historians and the wider understanding of celibacy in the high and later Middle Ages.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSex, Gender and the Sacred: Reconfiguring Religion in Gender History
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781118833926
ISBN (Print)9781118833766
Publication statusPublished - 27 May 2014


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