Chastity is very misunderstood in today’s society, many people think of it as something that’s negative and outdated, and there are many misconceptions about it. For instance, it’s very often confused with Celibacy. Whereas Chastity is about saving sex for marriage, Celibacy is about totally abstaining from sex for life. Another common misconception is that anyone who wants to live chastity believes that sex is bad. But actually, it’s the opposite that’s true. We believe that sex is good, that its something precious, that it’s sacred. It’s not something that should be given away cheaply. Why? Because sex is the most intimate and personal thing that you can do with another person. It’s literally the gift of your very self. It’s sacred in that it actually brings about new life.
But we don’t hear this message in the world. In today’s society, sex has become commercialised. It has been downgraded to a commodity, a form of entertainment or even a pass time and its all about pleasure. We see this in films, tv shows and in music videos. We also see sex and its true value being reduced to casual sex in the hookup culture, one night stands and also in pornography. In all of these things, the dignity of people is trampled upon, and people ultimately end up feeling used and worthless about themselves. They become objects that are used by other people and are not respected as persons themselves.
What Is Chastity?
So what is Chastity? Chastity is about ordering our sexual desires so that we do good to the person whom we love rather than using that person to satisfy our sexual or emotional desires. Chastity helps us to see the other person for who they really are. Often when we are attracted to someone, their physical appearance can get in the way of us getting to know them, it can cloud our judgement. We get caught up in the intense feelings that this person produces in us that it can become difficult for us to get to know them as a person. Sometimes because someone looks good or makes us feel good we assume that they have all these inner qualities, and we end up disappointed when we realise that the person is not who we imagined them to be in our head. Often these types of relationships are closer to infatuation than to real love.
Chastity is not about a set of rules saying you can’t do this or that. It is often reduced to “no sex before marriage” and then once you’re married “don’t use contraception”. But really it’s much more than that. It’s about looking at sex in a whole new way. It’s about saying yes to God’s plan for our sexuality. With chastity, sex is not about what you can get from the other person, it’s about self-giving love. It’s about loving and respecting the other person, putting them first. Lust is the opposite, lust is about using someone to satisfy our sexual desires, and we can clearly see that lust is not loving. We all have sexual desires and what we choose to do with them is up to us. Do we want to use someone to satisfy our sexual desires or do we want to order our desires in such a way that we are going to love the other person?
Chastity is often portrayed as being repressive and restrictive but in reality, it actually offers freedom. It does this by freeing us from being controlled by our sexual desires. We end up making bad decisions when we are influenced by our hormones. Living chastity allows us to control our hormones rather having them control us. Its essence consists in recognizing the true beauty of the person and the true meaning of sexuality.
Chastity is a virtue. The word Virtue means inner strength or good habit. By practising chastity we gain inner strength to control our sexual desires and order them towards what is good. We can see the opposite of this when people fall into bad habits such as using people, porn or sex addiction, or the hookup culture.
Chastity recognises that our desires are good and it orders them to the good of the other person. It acknowledges that we all long for love, and it is the best way of finding love.
“Love is the fundamental vocation of every human being, we all want to love and be loved. Love is to will the good of another by the sincere gift of self, agape love. To love is to will the good of another. Chastity is a positive virtue that frees love from selfishness and aggression. It allows us to love truly, providing a capacity for compassion, tolerance, generosity and a spirit of sacrifice, without which love cannot endure. Chastity can only be thought of in association with love and is a sure way to happiness. Sexual intercourse is so beautiful, wonderful and valuable it is worth saving for marriage. Purity is possible. It prepares the soul for the capacity to love.”
The work of chastity is the integration of sexuality within the person. This means that we first accept our sexual identity as male or female. Thank God for it, because it is a channel and an instrument of love. Next, it’s about harmonizing sexual thoughts, feelings and impulses with the truth about the human person. The deepest truth about a person is that they are made for love: in all situations, the only proper way to act towards another is by loving. This means that all sexual acts must be an expression of love. Since mutual love reaches its fulfilment in marriage the proper place for all sexual activity is within marriage.
That this is true is most obvious when understanding sexuality as the ability to become a father or mother. Awareness of the possibility of a child being the result of a sexual event engenders responsibility in the potential parents to have created the best possible environment for the conception, rearing and education of the child. The best environment is within the loving and stable relationship of marriage.
Relationships With & Without Chastity
When sex enters a relationship it can very quickly become the centre of the relationship. It can cloud our judgement and stop us from seeing who the other person really is. Often we gauge the relationship by how intense the emotions and feelings are. Sex produces intense feelings between people but its more to do with how it makes us feel. The misuse of sex has severe destructive consequences. Sex is kind of like fire. When a fire is in the fireplace it’s ok but when its outside of that it can burn the house down. Likewise with sex, when it’s in marriage it’s good but outside of marriage, it can be very destructive. Friends with benefits and one night stands reduce sex to mere urges that need to be satisfied and people are used in order to do this, and there is no intimacy or love in these situations. Over time we can be trained to view sex like this, and people can end up in a cycle of using others to satisfy their urges.
If we live without Chastity we can very quickly reduce people to objects. Sex loses all intimacy and is reduced to merely a pleasurable act. We end up with very low self-esteem because we have given away the most intimate part of ourselves to someone and then been discarded, and even though we can try and brush this off, deep down we have a longing for something greater. This can cause deep psychological trauma that isn’t always easy to detect. We can end up trapped in a cycle where we can feel we have nothing worthy to offer anyone but our bodies.
In contrast, Chastity paves the way for true love. It allows us to see the whole person and their value. It opens our eyes to see the beauty of a person’s heart, their personality. When we grow in the virtue of chastity we become capable of looking beyond a person’s physical beauty and can actually come to see Christ within them. Chastity builds true intimacy and friendship, seeking out the heart of another, it creates a solid foundation for long-lasting relationships. Chastity orders our sexual desires to the good of the other person, it challenges us to choose what’s good for someone above our desires, in this way we can learn to love someone better.
In relationships, chastity doesn’t ask, ‘how far can I go?’, instead it asks, ‘how can I best love this person?’, instead of using someone for personal gratification we can make a gift of ourselves to the person. Chastity says ‘yes’ to Gods loving invitation to enter into true communion with another person, we all long for true love and chastity is the guardian of true love.
Chastity before marriage is first and foremost about abstaining from sexual activity. It is more than simply abstinence though; it is a training in human freedom. Sexual desires and impulses can, if we let them, constrain us to think and act in ways that are not loving. The practice of chastity helps a person to master his or her sexual desires and impulses so that the sexual element does not rule and overshadow every other aspect of the human person. As master, the person can then truly give themselves in marriage. Only if we possess ourselves can we be this gift to another person.
Sexual activity is often thought of as simply, or primarily, a source of pleasure with the optional add-ons of love and procreation. We can’t forget that sexuality is not simply bodily, but it concerns the whole person, body, heart and mind. Self-mastery is therefore acquired by seeking purity in mind, heart and body.
Purity of mind is about gaining mastery over thoughts and imagination. This includes being conscious of filling your mind with all that is good and true and pure. Purity of heart involves keeping watch over the movements of the heart so as to draw upon those movements that are positively affirming of other people and disregarding those movements that tend to use other people. Purity of body is about abstaining from all sexual activity outside of marriage. This abstinence is a holding within of the gift of yourself until that moment when, in marriage, you choose to give of yourself to be with and for another for life.
Chastity & God’s Plan for Sex
“God is love” (1 Jn 4:8) and has created man and woman in his image. As the image of love, it is the basic design of every person to love and be loved. This potential to love is based upon two other gifts, that of understanding and free-will. This is because love is only possible with freedom. Every person is called to love in freedom.
The basis of all love is in the giving of self, energies and talents, for the good of others. It is in this giving that a person realizes the meaning of life and finds fulfilment. Sexual love follows the same pattern. Sexual difference and complementarity enable man and woman to give themselves totally to each other in the deeply personal union of marriage. The union of love so formed, images the love of the God and witnesses to it before the world. The self-giving of marriage reaches its perfection in the self-giving of sexual union. Sexual union is further blessed with the amazing potential to bring a new person to life. The life of the child comes from the heart of the couple’s mutual love and is the crowning of their relationship.
Many people also don’t realise that Chastity also applies to marriage. The self-giving of marriage is perfected in the self-giving of sexual union. It is the moment when the love of each for the other is most tangible and visible. When the sexual union is marked by authentic respect and reverence for the body and soul of the spouse, as well as the child that may result, it becomes a truly loving union. If it is marked by lust in merely seeking pleasure, it is not love, but mutual use. Therefore marriage too requires self-mastery and the search for purity. From a pure heart originates the love that will sustain and bring joy to a marriage. A pure marriage knows a richness to all that is sexual that the person caught in lust cannot glimpse.
Chastity views sex as sacred. Chastity says yes to the true meaning of sex because it frees lovers to tell the truth with their bodies. Sex is supposed to be a mutual gift of self. When sex is in its proper place, marriage, both spouses tell each other, ‘I really am giving my whole being to you and you alone.’ While abstinence is a part of chastity, to reduce chastity to only abstinence fails to remind us that we are abstaining from something for the sake of something greater. Instead of hindering our romantic relationships it is instead, the deepest affirmation of sexual love as it was meant to be.