C.S. Lewis wrote that chastity is the most unpopular of Christian virtues. Yet apparently, we like to talk about it: Dozens of you responded to our BustedHalo survey about premarital sex—and had a lot to say.
The Catholic Church tells us that sex should be reserved for marriage, and needs to serve the dual purposes of procreation and the sacramental joining of husband and wife in the bond of marriage. But as intelligent individuals with free will, we wonder what this means for our own lives while many unmarried couples in committed relationships also wonder where the appropriate line is for them. These are honest questions—and too often the Church shies away from discussing them.
This column will be the first in a series about sex. Nearly 70% of BustedHalo readers responding to our survey said that they have had premarital sex – and 54% say they believe that it was a sin. It’s time to talk about it.
Today’s column will look at chastity—and what it means in the real lives of young-adult single Catholics. The next column will look at opposing arguments from practicing Catholics: Why is physical intimacy between two people who love each other wrong in the eyes of God? After that, have no fear, I’ll tackle those thorny in between issues: How far is too far? What counts as sex? And is sex really a very bad sin, or just a minor indiscretion? I’ll also explore sex within marriage, and what married sex means to young Catholics.
When is the right moment for a couple to have sex?
Do you feel like the Catholic Church’s stance on sex is appropriate for young adults today?
How have you personally navigated any tensions between your sexual desires and your faith?
most basic, chastity means abstaining from premarital sex. But for many young Catholics it means more than that: Beth, 24, says chastity means “respecting yourself, your future spouse, and God enough to wait. It is not an easy commitment to make which is why it is deemed a sacrifice.” Blythe, 26, writes that chastity is abstinence combined with spiritual understanding: “It’s about more than just your sex life, it’s about your entire being.”
Whether you talk about chastity as a calling or a discipline, no one says it’s is easy. Paulo, 43, says chastity is a gift that very few people receive, and YL, 24, says that while she admires those who have maintained their chastity, she has failed at that calling.
At 15, it’s fairly simple to offer advice about whether or not to have sex: Don’t do it. You’re too young, you’re not ready for that kind of relationshipand and you’ll probably regret it later. But at 30, the arguments for chastity become a little more complex. According to Lauren Winner, author of Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity, we need to have more frank and open discussions in the Church about sex so that young adults can receive the support they need.
For Karen, 20, the struggle is getting intense. She has been with her boyfriend for three years. They love each other and have discussed getting married after they graduate from college. So far, they’ve abstained from having sex, yet now she’s looking for some guidance and strength from her community: “There is a strong physical attraction so dealing with the sex issue is getting more difficult the longer we date,” she writes.
The rewards of chastity are most frequently enumerated by young married Catholics who postponed sexual intimacy until after they had taken their vows. Ellis, 30, writes that he and his wife came into their married lives as virgins and now “are free to rejoice in each others’ sexuality, with no shadows cast by our past.” Information and innocence, he adds, are both important to married sexuality, but while you can get up to speed quickly on the information, it’s much harder to regain lost innocence.
Chaste singles also say there are real benefits before marriage: For Natalie, 27, chastity has given her more self-confidence and deepened her relationships. And Beth, 24, gets strength from knowing that she is protecting a precious gift. “I believe that waiting until I’m married to have sex is the greatest gift I can give my husband on our wedding night.”
But you want to know how it relates to you and your life: In her upcoming column, Brooke Thomas talks about her decision to remain chaste until marriage, and the struggles and rewards that have
come from that choice.
Many readers seem to base their argument for chastity on the benefits of delayed gratification for future rewards in marriage.
And yet plenty of thoughtful Catholics don’t believe it’s necessary to take a black-and-white approach. They have not abstained from sex, and don’t believe that it’s a sin: Suzanne, 37, says that if you realize the importance and seriousness of sex, and are respectful of the bond it creates, it isn’t a sin. Many agree, even if the church doesn’t—Do you? Let’s keep this discussion going: Please respond to the survey questions at the right, and share your thoughts with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.