I was thirteen when I was given my chastity ring and made a promise to God that I would save myself for marriage. Now that I think about it, making this promise wasn’t hard at all because as a teenager, I was never interested in sexuality. I was that girl who would write a short story during Sex Ed instead of taking notes on human anatomy. A book about Helen Keller was more interesting to me than a magazine with scantily-clad models.
I misplaced my chastity ring during my first year of college. I couldn’t find it until the night before I broke up with my first boyfriend, who couldn’t handle my “no-sex-till-marriage” rule. The tiny golden ring shimmered at the bottom of my jewelry box.
It was on my finger when I told him that we were done.
I’ve worn it every day ever since.
After ending a relationship that had posed a threat to my promise to God, I decided to investigate the true meaning of chastity. “I should be good to go. I always dress modestly, I never watch steamy movies, so I’m fine,” I thought. Mind you, this was before I became a movie-reviewing blogger, which requires me to watch movies with some steamy content, but that’s another story for another day. Reading the segment on chastity in the Catechism (talk about “light reading,” huh?) was a major eye-opener for me. I learned that chastity is so much more than just dressing modestly and not watching movies that contain sex scenes.
Chastity is the successful integration of sexuality into the individual’s innermost being. In other words, the natural sexual urges and desires are something that you control and not the other way around.
The Catechism points out that, “Chastity is an apprenticeship in self-mastery, which is 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, pg. 562).
Here’s an example: A wife is too tired for intimacy and just wants to go to bed. Now while the husband may want to be intimate with her, the self-mastery brought on by chastity allows him to control his urges and respect his wife’s wishes.
Some argue that chastity contrasts with human freedom, but part of being a free person is being free within yourself. For instance, no one is free from becoming angry, but if you let that anger overpower you and cause you to scream at a loved one or start throwing things, then you’re not really free within yourself.
No one is free from sexual desire. Sexuality is a gift from God that is a part of our biology. What you do with those natural desires is where self-mastery or lack thereof comes into play.
Now there are those who argue that chastity falls in line with sexual repression. To that, I say not necessarily. Chastity doesn’t call for an all-out embargo on desire, but rather a mastery over them. You acknowledge that they are present, but you don’t let them rule your life. You give yourself the freedom to choose whether to control your hormones or let your hormones dictate you.
Self-mastery in chastity is like self-mastery in every other arena of your life. The self-mastery to stop eating when you’re full instead of gorging yourself, the self-mastery to have one or two drinks instead of getting ridiculously drunk, the self-mastery to get yourself up for your 6 am job instead of sleeping in and being late for work.
Is chastity a difficult proposition? Yes, especially in our culture, which has a stalker’s obsession with sex. However just because something is difficult doesn’t make it impossible.
The world defines the body as a tool for lust; Chastity says the body is a temple. Chastity allows us to see each other not as objects for pleasure, but as the unique, multifaceted human beings that God created us to be.