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Tim Gunn Is a Sex Freak

Please, hide the children, and steel yourself: style icon Tim Gunn confessed on national television to being a complete freak about sex [1]. The man actually admitted to having been celibate for nearly three decades! No, really, he did. And get this: he claims that he’s not maladjusted, either. Reports the L.A. Times:

If you watch the above video until the end, you’ll see Gunn speaking in halting sentences, holding back emotion, as he explains that his decision to remain celibate by choice followed a difficult breakup and is partly “psychological.” He cites health, and fear of sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDS.

“Do I feel like less of a person for it? No!” he said. “I am a perfectly happy, fulfilled individual.” He said he started his self-imposed celibacy as AIDS began ravaging the gay community, and that he and many other people simply retreated from that danger.

He suggested that he has no regrets, adding as the audience applauded: “I am happy to be healthy and alive, quite frankly.”

Well, Tim Gunn, clearly we have a new champion for History’s Greatest Monster. Everybody knows that you cannot be happy or fulfilled without having sex, even if the kind of sex you are inclined to have could make you very sick, and even kill you. They ought to find a home for weirdos who have sworn off sex, where they can sequester themselves and think about other things in their sad, meaningless lives.

Oh, wait. [2]

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39 Comments To "Tim Gunn Is a Sex Freak"

#1 Comment By MH – secular misanthropist On February 6, 2012 @ 8:43 am

A voice cried out from under a rock and said “Who is Tim Gunn and why should I care?

#2 Comment By Rob On February 6, 2012 @ 9:06 am

I’ll second MH-sm.

Also, all due respect to religious orders, but Catholic (and other) monks have for centuries been known guilty of violating their vows of celibacy with some measure of consistency. While I couldn’t possibly be more apathetic about Tim Gunn’s sexual choices, it’s quite a stretch, I think, to imply that celibacy is a “natural” or even widely acceptable choice. In fact, it’s one of the more prominent in my list of reasons for rejecting Catholicism (vis-a-vis other Christian traditions).

It’s also a bit of a stretch to concoct a controversy here where there doesn’t seem to be one. Has anyone prominent proclaimed Gunn a maladjusted freak? Or is this a preemption of the “inevitable” charges of same from the sexual revolutionaries?

#3 Comment By David J. White On February 6, 2012 @ 9:09 am

Make that two voices (or maybe two rocks 😉 ).

#4 Comment By Rod Dreher On February 6, 2012 @ 9:14 am

Rob, nobody thinks, or should think, that living celibately is easy. I had to do so for years after my conversion, and before my marriage. It’s really difficult, but it’s the minimal standard for Christian sexual morality. My point is only that we live in such a sex-obsessed culture that people who do choose celibate lives are thought of as freaks. For his own reasons, none to do with religion, Tim Gunn has lived celibately for almost 30 years. I think it’s good that he outs himself as a celibate, and dares to say that one can have a happy and fulfilling life without sex. That’s a daringly countercultural message. Note that he’s not saying, “And therefore everybody should give up sex.” He’s just saying that for his own reasons, he did so a long time ago, and he’s just fine.

#5 Comment By John M. On February 6, 2012 @ 9:15 am

Tim Gunn is a complete hero in all ways. While I think I understand the point you are trying to make, (one can live without sex, even in our sex-saturated culture), there are several interesting points about Tim Gunn that may not make him the poster boy for cultural conservatism, if that is your point. He had a lengthy relationship and likely an active sex life before he met is former partner. He made the choice not to pursue other relationships as a mature person. He has also never hidden the fact that he is gay does not go around pretending he is “ex-gay.” He is very much a role model for younger gay people as a model of maturity and success, focusing on his career and mentoring young people in the fashion world. He is not celibate for religious or faux political reasons and does not exhibit a public horror of homosexuality like many anti-gay and ex-gay activists.

And by the way, for all of those reasons, plus his graciousness and comfort with himself, he is absolutely the sexiest man on television.

#6 Comment By Floridan On February 6, 2012 @ 9:17 am

I’m not sure what the point is . . . are we to expect a huge outpouring of scorn directed at Gunn?

What he does (or doesn’t do) is none of my business, even if it is something that 99.9 percent of adults would not care to do.

#7 Comment By Judith On February 6, 2012 @ 9:20 am

Rod, for once I have no idea what you are talking about, nor did I get the sense that it was worth trying to figure it out.

In cyberspace, there is so much eccentricity to latch onto, and with so much hyperbole.

Ever since digitization has become the format for storing data, people have been making cross references just because they can, not because they are meaningful.

#8 Comment By MattSwartz On February 6, 2012 @ 9:21 am

Rob,

I think it’s more of a rumination about how Tim Gunn won’t be widely regarded as weird or freakish, but members of religious orders will.

Throughout most of history, most men who felt gay inclinations managed their sexuality much the way Gunn does. Their lifespans were average, and they made remarkable contributions to the larger culture. Then the sexual revolution happened, and and they were told that their predecessors hadn’t been ‘true to themselves.’

#9 Comment By MIke On February 6, 2012 @ 9:24 am

While you were celibate, you were pursuing relationhips with women in anticipation of marriage. Gunn acknowledges he hasn’t had a date for 30 years, isn’t pursuing relationships because he was so damaged by his last one, etc. So the reasons for celibacy and its reasonable healthiness as coping skill varies significantly. It’s one thing to be celibate and live the life of a monk, it’s another to be celibate because you are avoiding all intimate, emotional relationships.

#10 Comment By Rob On February 6, 2012 @ 9:36 am

Rod: In that case, I agree. Celibacy is both possible and mandatory during certain periods of the Christian life–and a perfectly valid choice. I can’t jump on board with other commenters, though, and label Gunn “heroic” for doing something that, ethically speaking, everyone should do at some point in their lives (at least according to the standards of Christian moral living).

MattSwartz: Point taken, accordingly.

#11 Comment By William Burns On February 6, 2012 @ 9:52 am

The fact that the audience applauded indicates that they didn’t view Gunn as a sick freak, so what’s the point of this post?

#12 Comment By JustMe On February 6, 2012 @ 9:57 am

Rob, nobody thinks, or should think, that living celibately is easy. I had to do so for years after my conversion, and before my marriage. It’s really difficult, but it’s the minimal standard for Christian sexual morality. My point is only that we live in such a sex-obsessed culture that people who do choose celibate lives are thought of as freaks.

To do something that few people do or even, when they promise to, are able to do successfully, is the mark of a freak. It depends whether you consider “freak” to be an insult, or not. I will sometimes refer to brilliant people who are able to intuitively understand math that takes me hours of silent study in a basement to barely understand as “genetic freaks.” And I mean that admiringly.

I’d also note that I think our culture overestimates how much available sex there is outside of a committed, monogamous relationship. The non-celibate/chaste are generally unwilling to publicly talk about the fact that they’re in a “dry spell.” What’s countercultural is to point out that outside of a monogamous relationship, one will typically spend more time pursuing sex than actually engaging in it.

#13 Comment By Matt On February 6, 2012 @ 9:58 am

From the article:

“Berman [a “Beverly Hills ‘sexuality expert'”] said that, if she were treating Gunn, she’d like to know: Does he continue to be celibate by choice — or out of fear? For example, she said, if we lived in a magical world where sexually transmitted diseases and AIDS were not an issue … would Gunn still abstain from sexual intimacy?”

I love the invocation of a “magical world” that justifies Berman’s “treatment” of Gunn for his obviously maladjusted, not-with-it attitude toward sex.

#14 Comment By Liam On February 6, 2012 @ 10:04 am

Two things:

Not having sex is not a tragedy in and of itself. Gunn testifies to that, and it is a radical assertion. But it’s more limited that some people’s reactions might mean. Gunn was deeply damaged by a breakup, and it occurred at a time when many gay men were taking a pause because the implications of HIV were not then clear; importantly, it should be noted that HIV reduced the available pool of romantic partners in Gunn’s generation. While he might be unusual in having not had any sex in the past 3 decades, I would say that many of his peers are more lightly sexed than many of their straight contemporaries, as it were; this does not, however, play well into dominant imagery about the so-called gay lifestyle, of which there is not in fact one monolithic flavor. Even more importantly, Gunn did have a romantic life about which he is not exactly saying he ought not have had, and he is not saying his choices are normative for others.

In other words, don’t overinterpret Gunn. There’s both a larger and a more particular context that defeat adding his story to a dominant narrative of any particular flavor.

#15 Comment By Turmarion On February 6, 2012 @ 10:05 am

A couple of interesting points, just from the sociological and historical perspective.

If you look at other species of social animals, most of them actually are celibate. With colonial insects (bees, ants, etc.) all are celibate but the queen and the lucky few drones that get to her during mating season.

With social mammals, seals and ungulates usually have few or even one male who keeps all the other females to himself unless and until a stronger male defeats him. Among pack mammals (wolves, coyotes, etc.) only the alpha couple mate. Primates vary, but there is a tendency for high-ranking males to attempt to monopolize available females, at least among the great apes, which are closest to us. Thus those of lower rank are more or less celibate perforce.

With humans, it’s interesting that celibacy (usually but not always with religious motivation) occurs in widely separated cultures. Hinduism and Buddhism had well-established monastic orders long before Christinity existed, and the Greek philosophers by and large advocated celibacy. In the classic ethnography Yanomamö: The Fierce People, Napoleon Chagnon describes how as a result of various taboos and the strictures on who is allowed to participate in their religious ceremonies, Yanomamö men spend years of their lives celibate. Similar situations occur among other tribal, ancient, and modern cultures.

Finally, the statistics quoted in the article claiming that 15%-20% of heterosexuals are celibate is fascinating. Most historians put the percent of hypothetically celibate monastics in both Catholic Medieval Europe and Buddhist pre-occupation Tibet at around 25% of the population. This strikes me as far from coincidental.

All this would lead me to argue that celibacy, at least for a substantial minority of the population, so far from being unnatural, is the norm for human society. It would appear that about a fifth to a quarter of the popluation inclines towards at least long periods of celibacy (lifelong, in some cases), and that in cultures where the religion validates this, it is expressed as monasiticsm. In other cultures, it would appear to be expressed by “confirmed bachelors”, “old maids”, and marriages in which there is little if any sex going on.

Now, of course I’m not arging that religious justification for celibacy is invalid. I’m just arguing that if one is going to be purely secular and argue for the “naturalness” or “unnaturalness” of celibacy–at least for a large number, if not (obviously!) for the whole population–it seems perfectly natural. Even the “birds and bees” don’t do it. 😉

#16 Comment By bls On February 6, 2012 @ 10:09 am

Always very interesting to watch those who live non-celibate lives – and would never consider doing otherwise – hold forth on the life of celibacy for others.

BTW, [3].

P.S. Another idea: “lesbians.” Discuss.

#17 Comment By Hector On February 6, 2012 @ 10:28 am

Re: Note that he’s not saying, “And therefore everybody should give up sex.” He’s just saying that for his own reasons, he did so a long time ago, and he’s just fine

I think that’s the key to it right there.

I’m moderately liberal about sexual ethics, and I’m not an advocate that, for example, everyone has to abstain till marriage (though I think everyone should abstain until they’re in a serious, commited loving relationship). By the same token though, precisely because I’m pretty liberal, I think it’s important that people who feel called to be celibate (temporarily or permanently) should have their choice affirmed and supported by the general public. It’s precisely because I don’t think this is some kind of ‘minimal standard’ expected of everyone, that I think it’s important to recognize it as a special sacrifice some people make (temporarily or permanently), and to honour it for that reason.

My spiritual father is a celibate Episcopalian priest, FTR. I’ve learned an incredible amount from him, and he’s a big part of why I am a Christian today. His celibacy is an important part of that, precisely because it was voluntary and gratuitous: it’s a sign of what he chose to give up for his faith, and as such it’s a sign that he’s a man who really believes in the faith he preaches.

#18 Comment By Hector On February 6, 2012 @ 10:29 am

As far as Tim Gunn goes: yeah I don’t think every gay person is called to abstain from sex, of course, but I think those that do, just like straight people, should have that choice affirmed and supported.

#19 Comment By Hector On February 6, 2012 @ 10:30 am

Of course, there’s also a lot of people who are celibate not by choice, but just because for whatever reason (bad luck, poverty, social timidity, or whatever) they haven’t been fortunate enough to be in a long term relationship. Their stories need to be heard, and affirmed, too.

#20 Comment By John E On February 6, 2012 @ 10:50 am

Along with William Burns, I point out that according to your description, the audience was supportive of this man’s lifestyle choice.

So why are you using the ‘sick freak’ label?

#21 Comment By Dave D. On February 6, 2012 @ 11:15 am

If he weren’t gay, and it wasn’t for an approved reason (the threat of AIDS) he’d be seen as a freak and ridiculed. If he were instead a Christian who said “I believe in being celibate before marriage” like, oh I don’t know, the “should I marry him” thread Rod posted a while back, cue the “He must be a closeted gay” or “40 year-old virgin” jokes.

Considering that all he is doing is something similar to what most abstinence sex-ed courses want to teach (abstain from sex before marriage or in general due to physical harm/pregnancy for straights) and how those programs or ideas get savaged in the popular culture, well…

#22 Comment By German reader On February 6, 2012 @ 11:20 am

Umm, what exactly is meant by “celibacy”? Is it a conscient decision to repress sexual desires (out of religious conviction etc.)? Or does it also include people who would like to have sex with other people but can’t get it (because of ugliness, lack of social skills etc.)? Is someone who doesn’t have “real” sex but regularly masturbates celibate? Seems to me there are many different possible reasons why people don’t have sex – is it really helpful to group them all together under the heading “celibate”?
And no, I don’t ask this just for trolling purposes, I’m genuinely puzzled about this.

#23 Comment By Charles Cosimano On February 6, 2012 @ 11:41 am

Who?

So what?

Seriously, if were young and not married, would I have listened to anything this person said? No. I’m not young and married and I still can’t think of a reason why I would listen to anything he has to say, whomever he may be.

#24 Comment By Noah G. On February 6, 2012 @ 11:54 am

@John E, William Burns: Are you seriously unaware of the negative image celibacy (as lifestyle choice, regardless of the reasons), has in this country??

The clapping means nothing. It’s a tiny sample of people, he’s gay (“affirm him in everything he does/says”), and it’s a friggin’ studio audience for pete’s sake.

#25 Comment By John E On February 6, 2012 @ 12:19 pm

Are you seriously unaware of the negative image celibacy (as lifestyle choice, regardless of the reasons), has in this country??

Well, I’ll admit that I don’t get out much, but in my neck of the woods, involuntary celibacy is met with an attitude that it is unfortunate but “cheer up, you’ll find someone someday” and voluntary celibacy is not all that remarkable.

Perhaps you are referencing the pretend version of reality seen on television.

#26 Comment By Noah G. On February 6, 2012 @ 12:46 pm

“Perhaps you are referencing the pretend version of reality seen on television.”

I hardly watch television, definitely not enough to have it form my view of reality. In my neck of the woods, especially among the younger generations, voluntary celibacy is very “remarkable.”

#27 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On February 6, 2012 @ 1:46 pm

Re: Considering that all he is doing is something similar to what most abstinence sex-ed courses want to teach (abstain from sex before marriage or in general due to physical harm/pregnancy for straights) and how those programs or ideas get savaged in the popular culture, well…

It’s not that similar at all. The abstinence sex-ed courses are presenting ‘abstinence until marriage’ as normative for everyone, and something everyone should try to practice. Tim Gunn isn’t, he’s presenting this as a personal choice that works for him. I have no problem with Tim Gunn’s voluntary celibacy, it should be supported and admired. I think the abstinence sex-ed courses are something else entirely. (Incidentally, I wouldn’t have any problem with the abstinence ed classes if they said something like ‘wait till you’re at least 18’ or ‘wait till you’re in a serious relationship’; I think the ‘wait until marriage’ is problematic though, if you’re presenting it as a norm instead of one choice among others). I don’t see where Tim Gunn is trying to advocate that everyone else does the same thing he does.

#28 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On February 6, 2012 @ 2:12 pm

I’ll agree he’s not a freak. This is a choice, and it is his choice to make. It is nobody else’s business. Rod has a valid point, that our culture suggests it IS everybody else’s business, and you’re stinking WIERD if you aren’t having sexual encounters, married or otherwise (at least on television). (Someone would have said “he must be gay,” except he’s already said that, and, not all gay people are celibate, or why would they worry about promoting the identity that they’re gay?)

#29 Comment By Andrea On February 6, 2012 @ 2:56 pm

Who’s Tim Gunn? I don’t find it all that odd that someone can choose to be celibate for 30-odd years. Some people are simply not that interested in sex, others make a deliberate choice like Gunn apparently did. There are any number of reasons people make that choice and there are more people out there like this than you might expect. It really isn’t anyone else’s business.

I do think even people on this blog seem to think it’s weird. In your post last week about the atheist who didn’t know if she should marry her celibate Christian boyfriend, a lot of the comments speculated that the guy must be gay or ugly or have major psychological problems if he was in his mid thirties and celibate.

#30 Comment By Dave D, On February 6, 2012 @ 4:02 pm

hector, but the reasoning is the same, or at least similar. He’s not facing the threat of AIDS by practicing safe sex, or even being in a committed monogamous relationship with testing. He’s totally abstaining for longer than most teens in a course would ever do so if they planned to marry.

Of course, its not completely the same, but abstinence programs are pretty much being celibate until marriage to avoid harm. It’s just more emotional and less physical. Though to be honest I think there’s a large emotional aspect to Tim’s choice too. Kind of wonder what the culture he has to deal with is like.

I brought it up to illustrate though how “weird” it might be viewed, not so much he advocates it as a concept. Abstinence gets TRASHED by the mainstream culture.

#31 Comment By Stef On February 6, 2012 @ 5:15 pm

Just because Tim Gunn has chosen to live without sex / without a relationship, is no reason why other gay people should have to. On one hand, yes, celibacy or asexuality shouldn’t be disrespected. On the other hand, gay people who choose to have sex and relationships shouldn’t be disrespected, either.

#32 Comment By JonF On February 6, 2012 @ 5:44 pm

Any kind of sex (with another person) can make you sick or kill you. There’s nothing unique about gay sex there. To be sure, monogamy (with real fidelity) is a good preventative for that, but you do have to trust your significant other. Though trust is also a big part of what love is supposed to be about.

#33 Comment By William Burns On February 6, 2012 @ 5:46 pm

Noah G.,

I’m sure there are many people with negative feelings about celibacy (although if you call it “asexuality” its quite trendy in some circles). It just struck as odd that Rod was using this as evidence.

#34 Comment By Hector On February 6, 2012 @ 6:42 pm

Re: Just because Tim Gunn has chosen to live without sex / without a relationship, is no reason why other gay people should have to. On one hand, yes, celibacy or asexuality shouldn’t be disrespected. On the other hand, gay people who choose to have sex and relationships shouldn’t be disrespected, either.

Yeah, this is totally true. I agree.

Re: To be sure, monogamy (with real fidelity) is a good preventative for that, but you do have to trust your significant other. Though trust is also a big part of what love is supposed to be about.

I agree with this too.

#35 Comment By Hector On February 6, 2012 @ 6:59 pm

Re: hector, but the reasoning is the same, or at least similar. He’s not facing the threat of AIDS by practicing safe sex, or even being in a committed monogamous relationship with testing. He’s totally abstaining for longer than most teens in a course would ever do so if they planned to marry.

Yeah again, the difference is he’s presenting this as one legitimate choice among others, not as the only legitimate choice. I don’t see where Tim Gunn is calling for _every_ gay person to be celibate.

#36 Comment By J On February 6, 2012 @ 7:21 pm

The hardest part of celibacy appears to be not to talk about it.

#37 Comment By John M. On February 6, 2012 @ 11:22 pm

“Throughout most of history, most men who felt gay inclinations managed their sexuality much the way Gunn does. Their lifespans were average, and they made remarkable contributions to the larger culture. Then the sexual revolution happened, and and they were told that their predecessors hadn’t been ‘true to themselves.’”

And many of us lived half lives full of lies, self-hatred, shame, addictions, suicide, etc. Sorry, but if the sexual revolution led to some more truth and less suicide, I’ll be happy to trade in my supposed “remarkable contributions to the larger culture.” Even so, I feel like my contribution to the culture is greater than if I had to live a lie my whole life.

#38 Comment By Francis Beckwith On February 6, 2012 @ 11:44 pm

Money quote from the article:

“Now that we have that caveat out of the way, Beverly Hills sexuality expert Dr. Jennifer R. Berman told The Times that Gunn’s 29-year, self-imposed dry spell was “not a natural state.””

Apparently, there is a natural law by which we can assess the correct self-regarding exercise of our sexual powers after all. Who knew?

#39 Comment By Rosa Maria Sarducci On September 2, 2013 @ 5:55 pm

I applaud Mr. Gunn’s honesty. It’s his choice, isn’t it, to have or not have sex.