Since when did words like “virgin” and “chastity” become ugly? We live in a world where sex is constantly in our faces. Women with gorgeous, airbrushed faces and photoshopped bodies are on the covers of every magazine and billboard, selling lies about how changing the way we dress, eat, and treat men will make our lives as glamorous as theirs. Shows like Girls, Scandal, and Top 40 songs sell this lie that we’ve all heard since high school:
“Everyone’s doing it. Why aren’t you?”
Telling people that you choose not to have sex and refusing to objectify people often leads to ridicule for women and especially for men, who are practically expected to “sow their wild oats” in their youth. But as Arleen Spenceley asked in her awesome book Chastity Is For Lovers “Maybe ‘everybody’s doing it,’ but how loving and happy is everybody, really?” People often go into this “free love” lifestyle in fear of missing out, but sex isn’t a commodity. Authentic love ties into what we learned earlier about self-denial and learning to be genuinely happy with how you are, no matter how much or how little “experience” you have.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, chastity is “the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being.” Arleen Spenceley interprets that to mean that
“chastity is a virtue that aims to integrate sexuality with the rest of the stuff that makes us human.”
Through chastity, you neither deny your sexual nature nor do you define yourself by it.
On the other hand, we also have to be aware of the fact that other things that are part of our lives, such as the way that we talk or joke about things. Now, I’m a fan of snarky humor. I love characters with a sharp wit and a sense of humor that often crosses the line in what’s considered good and proper. I’m not ashamed to admit that when Deadpool, an R-rated movie about a fast-talking assassin, was out in theatres, I went to go see it. I enjoyed it, but it’s not a movie that I would recommend to everyone. Having a chaste lifestyle doesn’t mean not allowing yourself to have a sense of humor. It’s just knowing that there is a time and a place for bawdy humor and that you can’t define yourself on having a snarky mouth and a sharp wit alone.
Chastity ties into the virtue of temperance. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Temperance is the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods. It ensures the will’s mastery over instincts and keeps desires within the limits of what is honorable.” (CCC 1809) The virtue of temperance is a balancing act, not having too much or too little of something.
So what does this all have to do with how we’re supposed to conduct ourselves in this hypersexualized culture? For starters, practicing chastity reminds us to be our most authentic selves. In order to do that, we must paradoxically deny ourselves and follow God’s will, even if it may not make us feel good or goes against what the world says will make us happy. Ultimately, true joy will come into our lives and we find what fulfills us most, whether that means serving God in religious life, living life with a godly spouse, or choosing to minister to the world as a single person. All of these can be done with a chaste heart.
May we all strive to be pure in heart, dearest sisters in Christ!
What are your perspectives on chastity and temperance?
- How do you think you can bring more balance into your life?