Explaining Chastity
by Jason Evert

I am glad you recognize that chastity involves more than abstinence from intercourse, but there is a lot of wisdom in saving sexual arousal for marriage as well. The reason you hesitate to take this next step is that the connection between chastity and true love may still be hazy for you. Let’s take a look at the link between the two.

We all desire love, but in the words of Pope John Paul II, “Only the chaste man and the chaste woman are capable of true love.”[1] He also said that “purity is a requirement of love.”[2] Why is this?

I think we can agree that it is easy to mistake physical intimacy for love. This is understandable, since physical intimacy has such a unifying power, which is an attribute of love. The problem is that lust also has a tendency to draw two people together. It is a counterfeit oneness that may be hard to distinguish from the real thing, especially if we have never known healthy intimacy before. The physical closeness seems to meet deep needs that may not have been filled elsewhere.

We all have a need to be loved, but some people stay in unhealthy relationships because it seems to bury the hurt and loneliness. This is where chastity comes in, because it alone has the power to differentiate between love and lust. For those who seek love, chastity is the answer.

Have you ever had a crush on someone and formed an idealized image of him, only to see a different person emerge when your emotions faded and reality set in? Was it the other person who changed, or was it you? He probably did not change at all. You just opened your eyes. Just as having a crush on a person clouds our objectivity, physical intimacy does the same. Personally, the more physical my relationships have been, the more difficult it was to judge their worth while I was in them. After a relationship ended, it was easier to evaluate how healthy the relationship was.

But while I was in it—and to the extent that we were physically involved—it was tough to recognize that it was not worth keeping. Frequently we do not want to look at a relationship objectively because we do not want to admit that it is not love. We do not want to lose the other person.

Whenever love is present, there is a desire to please the other. This is especially common in young women who want to please guys in order to win their affection. However, love sometimes demands that we refuse to please the other, because what the other finds to be pleasing is not what is best for him. You would agree that when you refuse to have sex with a guy, it does not mean that you do not love him. It just means that you love him more than he may be able to understand.

Without a clear standard of purity in a relationship, couples begin to experiment with physical intimacy. Initial intimacies become familiar, and the couple gradually push back the boundaries in a desire to find new levels of excitement and closeness. Before long all that is left is sexual intercourse. When a couple depend on physical pleasure to feel close to one another, they may not realize that they hardly know how to express love in other ways. In the long run the couple’s impatience for sexual oneness may contribute to their separation. They have deprived themselves of the opportunity to grow in love and thus to experience true joy.

Don’t feel you will miss out if you live chastity to the fullest. Sure, you will experience an initial loss of the physical union that you desire, but you move beyond this when you see the value of the other person and the benefits of a chaste lifestyle. In the end the only thing you miss out on is the empty counterfeit of love. While chastity is not the easiest choice, it is the best one.

To see how this works on a practical level, consider your options. A guy who does not intend to save sexual arousal for marriage will often approach a date as a formality to get through before the real “fun” can start. When a couple is striving for purity, the dates can be enjoyed as time spent getting to know each other. You are free to fall in love for all the right reasons. If you do not embrace chastity but still wish to remain a virgin, where does this leave you? You will become all revved up, only to slam on the brakes repeatedly. Not only is this unloving because it arouses desires that you cannot satisfy morally, but it also leads to sexual frustration.

Often a couple will share the gift of sexual arousal to feel closer, but they end up feeling alienated from each other and regretful. They would be much closer if they entrusted the relationship to God and made sacrifices together to glorify him. Love always involves struggle, so if they are both willing to be generous with God, this will create a union between their hearts that no illicit pleasure can match. Purity will become their superglue.

One man told me that the power of temptation rests on the deceptive promise that sin will bring more satisfaction than living for God. It is only God’s way that can satisfy us. In the words of Psalm 16:11, “You show me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy, in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.” We all desire happiness, but sin and happiness cannot live together. Sin is a counterfeit of happiness that brings with it shame and regret. On the other hand, sacrificial love brings true joy, and a life of virtue brings happiness. Try it and see.

You’ll come to see why the Church teaches that chastity defends love from selfishness.[3] Where there is selfishness, there is no love. Where there is no love, there is no joy or peace. No wonder Pope John Paul II said, “Chastity is the sure way to happiness.”[4]

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[1]. Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II), Love and Responsibility (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), 171, emphasis added.
[2]. Pope John Paul II, general audience, December 3, 1980. As quoted by Man and Woman He Created Them (Boston: Pauline, 2006), 325.
[3]. Pope John Paul II, apostolic exhortation, Familiaris Consortio 33 (The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World) (Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 1981).
[4]. Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II), Love and Responsibility, 172.
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