Does this sound familiar?:
“Sex is bad and dirty and it angers God if you do it before you get married. You must practice self-control by never thinking about sex, lest you anger God and violate his commands in the Bible. Sex should only be experienced in marriage, in which case then a married couple can have at it as much as they want.”
This, of course, IS NOT Catholic teaching—however, it can sometimes be an outsider’s perspective of a Christian’s understanding of sex. What disturbs me, however, is when I see good Christians take this understanding of their sexuality. I see this, on occasion, when couples practice abstinence in their relationship apart from chastity.
Chastity is the virtue which allows you to express your sexuality according to God’s designs. It is what enables the human person to express their sexuality as an act of love instead of an act of using another person as a means to an end. Abstinence is simply saying no, or abstaining, from sex. Abstinence is a necessary part of chastity, but shouldn’t be practiced apart from chastity.
Problems can arise within a relationship or within a person, when the sexual appetite is treated as something inherently bad and evil, instead of something that must be tempered for the sake of love. I’ll give you a few examples of people who I think take abstinence too far:
– I recently heard a story of a 17 year old boy and girl who were dating. They got in trouble because they had “crossed second base.” What had they done? The boy had put his arm over the girl’s shoulder.
– I have a female friend who recently spoke at a conference where someone approached her and asked her why she would speak on chastity while also leading men into sin with the way that she dressed. What body part was exposed? Her elbows.
– I recently saw a video where an engaged couple stated that they hadn’t expressed any physical intimacy other than a side hug.
– I recently heard a young woman tell me how she was struggling with chastity and that she just couldn’t control her thoughts. She said, “I just need to get myself to a point where I never think about sex!”
It is impossible for me to judge the hearts and intentions of these people and their relationships. But, when I hear stories like these, my first thought is that these people don’t have a healthy understanding of God’s plan for their sexuality—and they are trying to repress their sexual appetites rather than live them out according to God’s plan.
Don’t get me wrong; it is commendable and encouraging to find couples and individuals who strive for the virtue of chastity. For the chaste couple, the relationship needs boundaries and those boundaries need to be agreed upon by both parties in a relationship. The reason why you set physical boundaries in a chaste, dating relationship is because it is an act of love. The reason why you dress modestly is so that a person looks at you and sees a person rather than body parts. It is also true that when setting boundaries or dressing modestly, it is better to err on the side of being too conservative. But there is huge difference between saying, “no” to sex and saying “yes” to love.
When I was doing my undergraduate studies in theology, someone asked my marriage professor what he thought of couples who saved kissing for marriage. He replied, “There is nothing wrong with saving kissing until marriage provided the intention is for the right reasons. But there is something very wrong with having an attitude toward your beloved of ‘I love you—BUT DON’T TOUCH ME!’” His point was very clear; chastity should be practiced as an act of love. When practiced, it brings freedom and blessing into a person’s life.
Everett Fritz works in Catholic Youth Ministry and enjoys speaking on the topics of chastity, discipleship, and youth evangelization. He is the Content Development Coordinator for YDisciple at the Augustine Institute and holds an MA in Pastoral Theology with concentrations in Catechesis and Evangelization from the Augustine Institute. He also holds a BA in Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville. Everett resides in Denver with his wife Katrina and their three children. You can connect with him through Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/