So What is Chastity Anyway? Fighting Rape Culture, Part Two

By Jennifer Hartline Published on October 29, 2017

So what is chastity anyway? I wrote earlier about the need to teach chastity in our efforts to fight the “rape culture.” But what does chastity mean? It’s time we became familiar with this virtue again.

Chastity is not about deprivation, or shame, or prudishness. We should not think of chastity as a burdensome no to sex, but a freeing yes to God’s plan for human sexuality and all that goes with it. It makes us respect the sexual act as the marital act.

I suspect many people will hear the word chastity and think celibacy. Those are two very different things, so let’s define our terms. (The most thorough and accessible explanation of the virtue of chastity I’ve ever found comes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.)

Young or old, single or married, everyone is called to chastity, because everyone needs to be in control of themselves in order to be free.

Celibacy vs. Chastity: What’s the Difference?

Celibacy is living in an unmarried state, with complete abstinence from all sexual activity. (Either for a period of time, or for life in the case of professed religious men and women who have taken vows.) Celibacy is not right for everyone, nor is everyone called to it.

Chastity, on the other hand, is necessary for every person from every walk of life. Young or old, single or married, everyone is called to chastity because everyone needs to be in control of themselves in order to be free. This is chastity’s great gift to us:

Chastity includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom. The alternative is clear: either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy.  (CCC 2339)

Clearly, our culture has proven this correct. Men and women, as well as our teenagers, are told to follow all their passions and do exactly what they want whenever they want. This leads to happiness, they’re told. Rather than the mind and will keeping guard over physical and sexual passions, those passions dominate too many lives. The unhappy result is undeniable. People and families are falling apart. Satisfaction never lasts long. The insatiable beast demands constant feeding, but doesn’t deliver on the promise of happiness.

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Finding Our Humanity

Those pushing secular “sex-ed” on our kids today enjoy referring to people as “sexual beings.” Thus, kids are trained to see their sexuality and their sexual activity as the primary aspect of their personhood. Everything then revolves around sex. But we are human beings with a sexual component to our nature. Our sexuality is one part of our being. It must be properly kept in proportion and expressed in a way that honors its purpose:

Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being. Sexuality, in which man’s belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman. The virtue of chastity therefore involves the integrity of the person and the integrality of the gift. (CCC 2337)

The chaste person maintains the integrity of the powers of life and love placed in him. This integrity ensures the unity of the person; it is opposed to any behavior that would impair it. It tolerates neither a double life nor duplicity in speech.(CCC 2338, emphasis mine)

No double life nor duplicity in speech — doesn’t that sound like something everyone can agree on?

“A Cultural Effort”

Chastity is not merely a private issue, but one that demands and requires a “cultural effort”:

For there is “an interdependence between personal betterment and the improvement of society.” Chastity presupposes respect for the rights of the person, in particular the right to receive information and an education that respect the moral and spiritual dimensions of human life. (CCC 2344)

It’s in everyone’s best interest for people to live the virtue of chastity. It makes the Weinstein’s of the world anathema.

We can have either a culture of sexual harassment and assault, or we can have a culture of chastity. Pick one.

An education that respects the moral and spiritual dimensions of human life will not reduce “sex-ed” to a discussion of the mechanics. It won’t promote sodomy as safe or natural. It certainly will not dehumanize the child in the womb or proclaim the “right” to abortion. It will not dismiss the vast risks of unmarried sex to health, mind and heart and simply toss the kids a few condoms.

They need and deserve more. They are made to take on the apprenticeship of self-mastery and not spend their lives being dominated by their passions. We must help them learn the virtue of chastity, and help ourselves in the process. We can have either a culture of sexual harassment and assault, or we can have a culture of chastity. Pick one.

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