1. In Buddhism, the "Middle Way" is usually taught to be between the extremes of asceticism and materialism, although the Buddha's prescription is still for contemplatives to be nonsexual. There is a famous passage in which the Buddha rebukes a contemplative for having sexual relations.
Worthless man, haven't I taught the Dhamma in many ways for the fading of passion, the sobering of intoxication, the subduing of thirst, the destruction of attachment, the severing of the round, the ending of craving, dispassion, cessation, unbinding? Haven't I in many ways advocated abandoning sensual pleasures, comprehending sensual perceptions, subduing sensual thirst, destroying sensual thoughts, calming sensual fevers? Worthless man, it would be better that your penis be stuck into the mouth of a poisonous snake than into a woman's vagina. It would be better that your penis be stuck into the mouth of a black viper than into a woman's vagina. It would be better that your penis be stuck into a pit of burning embers, blazing and glowing, than into a woman's vagina. (The Buddha)
A similarly great spiritual teacher is also quite clear on his thoughts on sexuality.
If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It’s better to enter eternal life (zoe) with only one hand or one foot than to be thrown into eternal fire with both of your hands and feet. (Christ)
There are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it. (Christ)
But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Christ)
Patanjali states that "energy" is gained or the spiritual body is "transformed" as a result of celibacy.
Brahmacarya pratisthayam, virya labhah (When continence is well established, energy is gained) (Yoga Sutras)
2. I had a very attractive girlfriend when I was a young man. Around this time, I experienced an "awakening" to begin the spiritual quest.
Two revelations occurred to me at that time: 1. that my inner world was in a state of disorder and 2. that there was a great inner "work" that could be accomplished and that would lead to freedom.
These realizations made me feel that the relationship was not appropriate, given the inner work that could be completed. "I should set my inner house in order," I thought, "before complicating myself with a relationship." I ended the relationship and decided to work on these new revelations. It could not have been a great experience for her in retrospect, not understanding this line of thinking I had.
3. A revelation also came to me at this same time about sexuality. I remember the feeling that there was something very "quaint" about human sexuality. By this I mean I felt a kind of condescension about it, the sense of "oh that is so charming," as though sex was a simple, provincial, or even silly version of something higher. I felt that all the stresses and conflicts felt by people over it were silly from the perspective of an "adult" or an "old soul" - whatever I was intuiting by those terms.
These feelings resulted in my developing a very different relationship with sexuality. The idea of a compulsive pursuit of it become impossible. At the same time, I do not mean to say that I became "un-sexual."
4. A sense of contentedness and dispassion developed; and, like one trusts in the cosmos to deliver one from everything, I expected once progress on the spiritual quest had been achieved, a good relationship would follow. However, this did not come about.
5. It is here where one does consider - if one's partner really knows one better than anyone - an issue with one engaged on this "quest." As it is not so easy for a partner to fully understand the subtleties of this "work." It is an issue with becoming interested in mysticism and esotericism.
6. When I say that I did not become un-sexual, I mean that it came to me that human sexuality could reach its highest expression in a sexual "ideal." That such a thing was possible. However, it also became clear to me that realizing this ideal was very elusive and - for the most part - not achievable in the average lifetime. I got to thinking - sort of in the Platonic sense - why settle for something inferior when one could achieve what was "best" or "superior"?
It also occurred to me 1. how unimpressive my own physical form was and 2. the shortcomings of most partners in also meeting such an "ideal." I realize this may come off as a narcissistic line of thinking.
There is a very unique passage from Buddhism which fits this, however.
Then, taking Ven. Nanda by the arm — as a strong man might flex his extended arm or extend his flexed arm — the Blessed One disappeared from Jeta's Grove and reappeared among the devas of the heaven of the Thirty-three. Now on that occasion about 500 dove-footed nymphs had come to wait upon Sakka, the ruler of the devas. The Blessed One said to Ven. Nanda, “Nanda, do you see these 500 dove-footed nymphs?”
“What do you think, Nanda? Which is lovelier, better looking, more charming: the Sakyan girl, the envy of the countryside, or these 500 dove-footed nymphs?”
“Lord, compared to these 500 dove-footed nymphs, the Sakyan girl, the envy of the countryside, is like a cauterized monkey with its ears and nose cut off. She doesn't count. She's not even a small fraction. There's no comparison. The 500 dove-footed nymphs are lovelier, better looking, more charming.” (Nanda Sutta)
This is a passage from the Nanda Sutra, where a relative of the Buddha is inspired by his teaching, but chooses not to practice as he is more interested in courting the attractive woman in town.
The Buddha takes Nanda in what can only be seen as an out-of-body experience, and shows him one of the higher realms where one of the devas sits with a harem of beautiful goddesses.
This revelation shows Nanda the worthlessness of human hedonism: that it is ridiculous to pursue sexual pleasure in the human realm when one could pursue sexual pleasure in the spiritual realm.
This, of course, isn't a call to pursue spirituality just for one's own sexual gratification - as liberation is the true happiness - but it exposes the lack of wisdom had by human hedonists. If they were truly good hedonists, they would understand they should pursue hedonism in the nonphysical and not the physical domain.
We see that even the pursuit of pleasure and apparent selfishness, if fully followed, is leading one toward a higher end. Thus, it is important not to discount sexuality, infatuations, or relationships as antithetical to the spiritual quest. As while they may be selfish, un-ideal, or imperfect, they are also expressions of the desire for union.
7. A claim sometimes made by spiritual teachers is it is possible to reach a completely "dispassionate" state. That this is in some way an ideal or a goal. I was thinking about this in relation to a line from Buddhism.
Secluded from sense pleasures, the aspirant abides in jhana.
The word "secluded" is what I find interesting here. On the one hand, "seclusion" suggests a state of dispassion, a state in which one does not feel the "fire" of desire. At the same time, "seclusion" also implies a "fleeing," a putting oneself in a situation in which one is not exposed to temptation. So, it is an interesting word to use, and suggests there is no ideal dispassionate state.
8. Having pondered all these ideas, I confess I find the value of complete celibacy very questionable. The idea that continence is spiritually transformative, or results in the production of new energies, is possible but also questionable.
I feel that, yes, the simplification of life which happens as a result of a practice of chastity is a value; yes, the general quelling of passion and the increase of dispassion is a value; and yes, the reduction of conflict and stress, ordinarily produced by the pursuit of sense pleasures, is a value.
So, I would counsel a balance between extremes - avoiding the excesses of celibacy and the excesses of hedonism - as the wisest path in life. One should accept what life brings, and not get too stressed over the one thing or the other. This is likely to produce the best fruits for one's spiritual life and general health.