The Joy of Chastity


by Suzanne Fortin


"You losers! You don’t know what you’re missing!”

That’s the kind of mocking words you will hear when you choose chastity.

All I can say to that is: How clueless can you get?

The lustful who’ve never lived in chastity (not simply abstinence) don’t know its joy. They feel that being unable to fulfill one’s sexual desires is a recipe for frustration and unhappiness.

Nothing could be further from the truth!

Contrary to what our society says, chastity-- that is, pre-marital chastity-- is possible, practical, beneficial and great source of happiness, even if at times it is difficult.

Many articles on chastity offer a lot of theory, but not much practical knowledge about how to attain and “live with” chastity: or they put forward the arguments for chastity without showing that “real” flesh-and-blood people live this lifestyle, therefore making chastity appear to be an unattainable and unrealistic ideal. These articles also tend to concentrate on the religious reasons for chastity without showing the psychological benefits. I have sought in this article to fill in these gaps.

“CHASTITY, HA! WHAT A JOKE!”

That’s the kind of attitude you’ll meet among cynics. What’s so great about chastity? One of the things you learn when you’re chaste is that you’re worth waiting for. You learn that even if the great majority of potential marriage partners in the won’t wait, you’re *still* worth waiting for, in spite of everything. Loving oneself sounds pretty dull next to accounts of sexual exploits, but in reality, it’s far more essential to happiness. If you do not respect yourself, you cannot be happy. Simple as that. Chastity is a step towards self-respect. It implies that every human being is unique and special: so much so that sharing oneself in sex is not just fun, but it is one of the highest gifts of self. Chastity gives you this vision your own uniqueness and a greater sense of self-worth.

Chastity also does away with a lot of mind games--often played to get people into bed. Respect for ourselves leads to more respect for others because in realizing our own specialness, we see it in others. And since we ourselves detest lies and deception, we avoid it when dealing with others. As Kristi (age 22) from Florida says, “I have NO worries about what any of my relationships are about, whether they are romantic or not. I can see how a life of chosen celibacy frees a person to relate more honestly with others.”

Another great thing about chastity is that it leads you to become best friends with the person you’re dating. Sex does not get in the way. As Elizabeth from Cleveland testifies, “During the time I was chaste, I never felt better, saw more clearly, and learned how to become a friend to my now husband, instead of just having sex in common, which is all kids have, and so they go [from] one bed to another, looking for ‘love.’” Let’s face it--when non-chaste couples date, a lot of time is spent in bed, or trying to get the other in bed, often with the use of mind games and manipulation. Even if couples are not constantly in the sack, they could be spending learning to get to know their inner selves instead of fulfilling their lust. Chastity changes this relationship because it is no longer based on the notion that sex is a really ordinary activity, or that one’s body and soul are not special enough to keep for one’s spouse. When you adopt chastity, your partner is treated accordingly. The other person is no longer a source of physical pleasure, but a person to be appreciated simply and utterly for personality--not for looks, not for sexual performance, not for any externals. Because you view your partner differently, the relationship changes. Just as you do not choose friends based on looks or sexual performance, but simply for the joy they bring from their company, you choose your spouse the same way based on the presumptions implicit in chastity.

Naysayers will insist that they do not choose their partners for these external reasons. They are usually sincere in their statements. But what they do not realize is that chastity takes this respect to a higher degree. Whatever detachment they’ve developed is heightened; chastity purifies the soul’s vision so that you see them more and more for who they are, and with this realization of who they are comes a greater respect--because you know that to know a person is to love that person.

Of course there will be cynics who will claim that all this is a bunch of junk and that sex is just too fun to give up. They presume somehow that self-respect and other abstract things like honesty, truth and transparency of the person simply do not contribute as much to happiness as “sexual liberation.” This is simply ludicrous. It is only when one realizes that virtue leads to happiness that one can adopt chastity. Until one realizes that virtue is consistent with the needs of the soul can one know happiness.

WHAT DOES CHASTITY MEAN?

Those who hate chastity would have you believe it is the unnatural repression of natural desires-- that chastity is an oppressive kind of sexuality. Repression simply does not work very well. You would eventually explode. This is a false kind of chastity. When one lives chastity in an authentic manner, it cannot feel repressive; it feels like the most natural thing in the world. Authentic chastity in my opinion consists of three elements.

1) Avoidance of sin;

2) Avoidance of temptation

3) Purity of heart

1. Avoidance of Sin

Avoiding sexual intercourse is not even a minimum requirement. One must also avoid all stimulation of the genitals-- one’s own or another’s-- even if there is no intention to go all the way. Petting and intercourse cheat your future spouse of that part of you which you share with others. Your sexual activity no longer is reserved for the most special person in the world. A couple can still impart affection, so long as they do not get carried away. One must also avoid television programs, magazines and books which depict explicit sexual acts and all pornography. Sex is a private matter between two people. Exposing it to the world cheapens it into a side show. Part of the gift of sex is that you do not share it with anyone else including an audience: exposure demeans its intimacy.

2. Avoidance of temptation

The renunciation of temptation is an important step to take once you’ve overcome sin. Testing your resistance to sexual stimulation is a sure-fire means of falling into a trap. If you do it long enough, you will eventually sin. It’s up to each couple to discern what constitutes for them a temptation, but there should be no embarrassment in revealing potential problems to dating partners: otherwise you shouldn’t be dating. There should be no hesitation in withdrawing hands where they do not belong, avoiding kisses in sensitive areas or reducing ardor when demonstrating affection. It is not a sign of being weak or lame. It is doing what must be done to respect oneself and one’s dating partner.

There should also be a concerted effort to shun television shows, reading material and music with explicit sexual references that are counter-chastity. They may or may not be wrong in themselves; but there is no reason to allow the opportunity for lust to plant its seed. Harboring lust in one’s heart makes chastity extremely difficult at times.

One should also not speak about sexual matters except in a manner consistent with chastity as it reinforces whatever impurity that remains in your heart. There is nothing wrong with discussing sex, but it shouldn’t be done in a vulgar attitude, or to unnecessarily stimulate the imagination.

3. Purity of heart

Up to this point, chastity has been very boring. It consists of “avoid this, shun that.” A life of happiness cannot be built of “thou shalt nots.” Those who are against chastity emphasize the first two elements, but do not understand this part. The only way to really understand purity of heart is to live it. This is what makes chastity worth it. Without purity of heart, chastity is one big “Thou shalt not.”

Elizabeth from Cleveland testifies: “Chastity a burden? No, it’s quite the opposite, it’s light. It lets you free from all the chains of sin, and lets you see things in their right perspective.”

Purity of heart is the ability to see as God sees, that is, in the right manner. When God created the human soul, he made it so that it would attain happiness when united to him. And one means of achieving this union is try to see things as he does. When the soul unites herself to God’s will in discerning what is beautiful and good in human sexuality, she cannot help feel a sense of elevation and happiness that no earthly pleasure can accord her. It is as if the heavy scales of lust fall off one’s eyes and one feels a glowing sense of the inherent beauty of sexual innocence and intimacy. When this sense of purity imbues your mind, you cannot but reject any thought of giving it up for sinful pleasures, knowing that engaging in them, you will lose the beauty you will feel inside yourself; that you will corrupt the unadulterated love you have for your partner. Engaging in sexual activity would bring the heavy yoke of lust and forsaking the lightness of purity.

Purity of heart goes beyond avoiding sin and temptation. The pure meditate on the beauty of love, marriage and chastity by reading books and articles which expound their virtues. In doing so, the pure develop a greater appreciation for the chastity that they live. As they grow to understand the beauty of marriage, their wait appears to be all the more worthwhile. This understanding, this meditation, strengthens their fortitude, so that they become more resistant to sin, and less embarrassed about being honest in their sexuality and demanding that dating partners respect their choices.

GREAT, BUT HOW DO YOU DO IT?

Chastity looks hard--and sometimes it is. But it can also be easy. There are things you can do to help make it easier--avoiding temptation and bad influences. But even then there are times when temptation comes out of the blue without even being exposed to it.

The thing to remember is that you are not alone in this battle. “Anyone trying to be chaste by self-effort is doomed to failure, “ says Tom from the UK . ‘”It demands total commitment of your life to Christ and then sex assumes its proper perspective.” In order to live perfect chastity, ask God for the grace to help you out. Remember, God said “ask, and you shall receive.” God cannot withhold this grace from us: he is the one who demands chastity from us. If you make the decision to become chaste, even if it only feels like a weak “yes”-- God will help you with the rest. But he needs for you to say yes to him in order for his grace to work within you. So long as you commit yourself to chastity, God will always work his grace in you to strengthen you.

And with this grace, you come to experience purity of heart. Where a woman’s low-cut cleavage was as mundane as brushing your teeth, it will naturally become offensive to you, not because of the potential temptation it poses, but because of the lustful seduction it represents. Because of your acceptance of God’s grace, repelling sin and all its manifestations will seem natural.

WHO’LL DATE ME?

When you’re friends with people who are sexually active, you can get the impression that you’re the only “loser” who isn’t getting any, and that no one will never date you because you won’t go “that far” with your date, and therefore no one will ever love you and so chastity is not worth it.

In our sex-saturated society, it is very easy to get that impression, especially in high school, where you tend to be exposed to the same predominating ideas. The truth of the matter is that lots of people are committed to chastity. Just think of the growing popularity of pro-chastity groups like “True Love Waits.”

The problem is that chaste people don’t wear a sign advertising their sexual choices. They are sometimes hard to find. They are like you, looking for people to date. They can be found in church groups and church-related groups.

You can also rely on God to help you in your search. If God has destined you for the vocation of marriage, you can be sure he has someone in mind with whom he wants you to share that vocation. Marriage is not a vocation in a vacuum--it is the vocation of being married to a particular person. Therefore, if there comes a time when it is difficult to find a good mate, you can be sure that God will find someone for you.

IS CHASTITY REALLY WORTH IT?

Definitely.

There are good concrete reasons to become chaste. The two most important are pregnancy and STD’s. Twelve million Americans get sexually transmitted diseases every year. There are approximately 350,000 teen pregnancies every year in the United States (Source: Information Please Almanac, 1996). Yes, there are ways of reducing considerably the likelihood of these events. Unfortunately, these methods are not fool-proof, and they cost money. People still get sick or pregnant in spite of taking precautions. Any honest health-care provider will tell you this. The only surefire manner of avoiding pregnancy and STD’s is to say no to sex all together before marriage.

Aside from the health benefits, there are also psychological benefits. Chastity is a means to greater peace of mind as it simplifies life immensely. No worrying about how much you’re getting, birth control, scoring, etc. There is more time to appreciate the precious things in life: conversation, taking walks, hanging out, exchanging ideas-- the sharing of one’s inner self.

Chastity also leads to a more acute appreciation of marriage and sexuality. As you come to know and love someone more through chastity, one comes to realize the preciousness of one’s beloved. As love intensifies, sex becomes more precious and comes to symbolize the love itself. The intensity of emotions corresponds exactly to the intensity of one’s love. Marriage is no longer just a contract, but a life of loving and total commitment to the authenticity of this love.

Chastity also has the advantage of testing the sincerity of potential dating partners. A person’s love should never be dependent on whether or not he or she will have sex. It should depend on commitment and values, not on the performance of an act. If your partner loves you, there will be positively no pressure to have sex. If there is, you know that person isn’t loving you in the way you deserved to be loved.

BUT I’M NOT A VIRGIN ANYMORE...

It doesn’t matter. Virginity makes achieving chastity easier because there is nothing in your experience to remind you of sexual feelings. But lost virginity is no reason to give up a sensible sexual practice which leads to greater peace of mind and a more stable relationship. It may be somewhat harder, but it is completely possible with God’s grace, as Saint Augustine testifies in his Confessions. He led a dissolute life until his conversion, but finally mastered his passions by calling upon God’s grace.