By Caryn Tennant

“Our faith does not ignore anything on this earth that is beautiful, noble, and authentically human. It simply teaches us that the rule of our life should not be the selfish pursuit of pleasure, because only sacrifice and self-denial lead to true love” – St. Josemaria Escriva

I recently gave a talk to the young adults in my church about chastity. We started by breaking open the associations we have with this word. ‘Chastity belt’ was mentioned, and we all laughed.

Unfortunately, this word does get a bad rap. Many would think that the Church says ‘No’ to desire. Chain it up! Lock it away!

But take a deeper look, and you will find that it is the opposite.

The more I have read about this topic, the more I have found that chastity is a pathway, a way of being, for us all. It is not exclusively for priests and nuns (it is does not only pertain to the celibate, but to the married as well). Mother Dolores Hart, former actress whose golden moment was kissing Elvis Presley, had been engaged and then became a nun, said, “Chastity doesn’t mean that you don’t appreciate what God created. Chastity says, ‘Use it well’.”

The Church recognizes sex as something beautiful; something created by God. It is so sacred that it should be ‘used well’. Thus, chastity is not a straight-out ‘No’ but a deep ‘Yes!’ to what God has entrusted us with.

Without God, though, chastity makes little sense. Why save yourself for marriage? Why spend periods of your life abstaining from what feels right and natural?

This is the reason: love.

This will make sense when looking at the types of love we experience, as coined by the Greeks. Filial love is that which exists between friends. Eros is the passionate, thrilling love we encounter especially in the birth of a relationship. Many lovers feel despondent and confused when the honeymoon period is over, and so it is true that eros, however wonderful and important, is not enough to sustain a lifelong relationship.

This brings me to agape, the love that transcends feelings in order to make sacrifices for the beloved. Think of a mother who gets up in the middle of the night to feed her child – I am sure that she is not ‘thrilled’ about her sleep being interrupted, but in that moment, she chooses to love.

Chastity says that love needs all three, and in particular, it needs agape to balance the eros. For this reason, I see chastity as the only way to ensure the health and longevity of any relationship.

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” (CCC 2337).

This mouthful of a definition simply means that chastity integrates or brings together the components of eros and agape. If a relationship was just filled with eros, love would be ruled by feelings alone, and so it would be disordered.

This is the difference between lust and love. Lust ‘takes’ from the other person in the act of using them – however subtle or obvious. Both men and women use each other for different reasons – emotional security, physical pleasure, financial gains, status etc.

But love, on the other hand is, as St. Thomas Aquinas said, to “will the good of the other”. This is actively choosing the best for that person – even if it doesn’t benefit you. It means saying ‘yes’ to the wellbeing of that person’s body, mind and soul even if it means saying ‘no’ to some of your desires. This is the truest form of love.

It is incredibly important to note the difference between chastity and repression. Repressing one’s desires is unhealthy and unhuman. One can be chaste in acknowledging and being grateful for one’s sexual desires without having to act on them. Humans are distinct from animals because we have the gift of reason – you have the willpower to restrain from eating that piece of chocolate cake, and your dog doesn’t.

To test out the measure of love in a relationship, it is important to take note of this kind of love. Does your partner make decisions that help you to grow as a person? Is your partner willing to say no to his or her desires if they conflict with your best interests?

Saint John Paul II gives us a good measuring stick when he says, “the greater the feeling of responsibility for the person the more true love there is”.

The practical ways of being chaste means being a bit counter-cultural. In a society where pleasure and profit are celebrated, discipline, patience and generosity can seem like unattractive values.

While both partners’ needs and desires need to be heard, it is essential that both of you are willing to sacrifice something of yourself for the sake of love. To have self-discipline in your desires will free you to love when things get tough. Imagine if a family disaster happens and your partner hits an all-time low, how can you be selfless in respecting him or her in that time? It is through chastity that you will be better equipped to give in the most trying circumstances.

The Church views sex as a sacred thing because it is not just a physical interaction; it is deeply spiritual and mysteriously reflective of God’s nature and relationship with us.

“Our sexual desire is not merely a hormonal reaction in our bodies, but a deeply rooted attraction to the beauty we see in others. Our sexual desire is a gift from God, who put the desire for union with another in us. God created us male and female so that we can learn to make a sincere gift of self to another. The union between man and woman is intended for marriage, which is a foreshadowing of the union that will ultimately satisfy us – the union with God in heaven.” – Theology of the Body for Teens

So, chastity is directing sexual desires (physical and emotional) towards loving the other person. By remembering the root of it, you will be freed from the ‘rules’. If you are living with the intentions of willing the good of the other’s mind, body and soul, you will need no rules.

If there is one rule, one guideline to live by, it is the cross. When sharing about how natural ups and downs in relationships are with a friend, she said, “All of life is the cross.”

This line stuck with me for days. There is so much beauty in the cross, but it only emerges from the pain, from the darkness and from dying to one’s selfishness. From there emerges the greatest love affair, and the perfect marriage of eros and agape – God’s passionate love for us; and willingness to die so that we might live.

To be in a relationship means carrying that cross. It can be difficult, but is the surest way to long-lasting (earthly and heavenly) love. Are you ready? Are you willing?

About the AuthorProfile from Caryn

Caryn Tennant

My inspirations are the smell of croissants, Pope Francis and café interiors. I have had too many hometowns, but currently I’m living in Cape Town where I finished my BA degree and am now teaching English at a high school. My bucket list includes studying theology, speaking Spanish in Spain, and running a half marathon.

Disclaimer: Teach Me articles are not necessarily written by trained theologians and are merely aimed at enlightening the reader and prompt discussion and dialogue.  If you would like to share your opinions or give us feedback, please contact us via email, Twitter or Facebook.

  • Well written, Caryn! I have many thoughts… but I must still consolidate them. Keep writing :)