Want to become a chastity speaker? Here are seven steps to get started:
If you are willing to speak to a million people, are you willing to pray and fast for as many? You don’t need a stadium to reach the masses. You just need to offer your Masses. Your zeal for souls is a great thing. Therefore, entrust your desires to God, and ask that the doors would open in His time.
2. Read Soul of the Apostolate.
This classic, by Jean-Baptiste Chautard, will help you understand the importance of step one.
3. Continue your education.
If you’re not yet in college, choose a solid Catholic college, if possible. In the meantime, read great books, such as Love and Responsibility by Pope John Paul II, or a simplified version of it, such as Men, Women, and the Mystery of Love, by Dr. Ted Sri. To teach chastity, you don’t need a degree in Theology, although it helps. To further your education without having to get a four-year degree, look into the immersion courses offered at the Theology of the Body Institute. These are brief, intense courses offered to deepen your grasp of the Church’s teaching on human sexuality through the lens of the Theology of the Body.
4. Bloom where you’re planted.
Instead of strategizing ways to speak internationally, find ways to promote purity in your own community. Here are several ways to begin:
Contact local Crisis Pregnancy Centers to see if they run an abstinence program, and ask if they need any help. Many of them do work in schools and churches in your community to promote abstinence.
Volunteer for a local youth group. Through retreats and teaching nights, you should have plenty of opportunities to witness to others about chastity. Life Teen is a great place to begin.
If you know a religion teacher at a local Catholic high school, ask if you and some friends can speak about chastity in a classroom to the students.
Start a chastity club on your high school or college campus.
Your diocese may have a chastity program, and may be looking for volunteers. By calling the diocesan offices in your area, you may find an opportunity. In particular, ask for the diocesan directors of youth ministry, pro-life, and marriage and family.
Contact the National Abstinence Clearinghouse. They may be able to point you to abstinence movements that are looking for volunteers in your area. Also, contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org and get on thier email list, so you’ll stay up to date on the latest news and developments in abstinence education, STDs, legistlation, etc.
Once you’ve spent some time ministering in your own area, consider serving on a missionary team. Here are four great apostolates to consider:
6. Plan wisely.
If you’re looking for full-time employment as a chastity speaker, realize that speakers typically never start as speakers. Most of them first held jobs as youth ministers, diocesan directors of youth ministry, high school teachers, and such. It takes at least five years of public speaking before people will know of you, and during this ramp-up time, you would not be able to support yourself unless you had another profession to financially sustain you. This other profession doesn’t need to be a religious one. You could pursue any career, while teaching chastity on the side, thorough any of the volunteer opportunities mentioned above.
7. Prepare your talk.
Click here for tips on how to give a chastity talk.
If a man loves you for who you are, then he won’t lose the person he loves by being pure with you. However, if a guy leaves you because you are unwilling to do sexual things with him, then you can know for certain that he never loved you to begin with. If his real interest is in sex rather than in you, your purity will bring his intentions to the surface. This is one of the functions of chastity: Not only does it free you to love; it also frees you to know if you are really being loved.
Take some time to think about what you really want in a guy. Odds are, you want a man who will challenge you to grow spiritually, not take from you sexually everything that you are willing to give him. There’s a widespread myth that guys are the ones who battle sexual temptations, while it’s the woman’s job to be the chastity cop. This isn’t fair. Girls have their own temptations as well, and persevering in purity is challenging enough when both people agree on the importance of chastity. Being pure becomes all the more difficult when the responsibility of keeping the relationship chaste falls on your shoulders alone.
Also, keep things in perspective: Your boyfriend is not doing you an immeasurable favor by not having sex with you. It is his duty as a gentleman, and you owe him nothing for doing what he ought to do. If he is pouting that you have imposed upon him an unjust sentence of abstinence, then he’s trying to emotionally manipulate you. You should not have to deal with a guy who will give you the silent treatment when you make a vow of purity, or question your decision to live by God’s standards instead of his.
It is better that he be mad than you lower your standards. Some women are so timid and afraid to hurt a guy’s feelings that they often end up causing themselves immeasurable harm. Listen to you heart and follow your conscience.
If he can quickly get over his disappointment and grow in his understanding of the value of the gift of sexuality, the relationship might be salvaged. But don’t get wrapped up in months and years of missionary dating. Instead, guard your heart and trust the guidance of your family and close friends.
If he persists in his pouting, then don’t be afraid that love will pass you by if you leave this relationship. It just may open up the door for the kind of love you’ve wanted all long. Here are some tips on how to know when it’s time to let go.
God’s will is your happiness, and if the Lord wants the two of you together, then waiting until you’re married to act like a husband and wife will not ruin this. As I mentioned above, if purity kills a relationship, then you can be sure that it was never built on love in the first place. Just as a strong wind will fuel an enormous fire and extinguish a weak flame, so too will purity intensify authentic love and extinguish it’s counterfeit.
Lastly, make sure to ask God the same question you asked me. Sometimes we’re so busy listening to music, scrolling around on the screen on our phones, watching TV, talking to friends, and messing around online that we never take time to sit still and pray. If we do not make time for that silence in our souls, we’ll have a very difficult time hearing God speak to us. For starters, set a regular prayer time and stick to it. We can’t expect to grow spiritually if we think that prayer times will just happen. My favorite place to pray is before the Blessed Sacrament at church. Wherever we choose to pray, we must be disciplined, and we will reap what we sow. When you begin to pray, invite the Holy Spirit to bless your prayer time. Spend some time reading the Bible, because the Lord often uses that to talk to our hearts. Also, ask our Lady to help you pray. If you persevere in doing this, you will see what you should do with this relationship.
If I could make an educated guess, I’d say that you’re looking for intimacy, not sex. There’s a huge difference, but women often realize that the hard way.
One gynecologist remarked:
“I’ve asked hundreds of teenage girls whether or not they liked having sex, and I can count on one hand those who said they did. Once they confront their smashed expectations, many teenagers feel that something is wrong–not with sex itself, but with themselves. So, they try harder to make sex ‘work,’ to make sex provide those things they think it should: intimacy, love, trust, acceptance, appreciation of their masculinity or femininity, relief from their loneliness. When it doesn’t work, millions of teenagers assume something is wrong with them, and turn their anger and hurt inward, resulting in depression. . . . We repeatedly return to certain behaviors such as sex, drugs, or drinking to get something that continually eludes us. When we feel empty, we return to a place in which we hope to find some relief or satisfaction of our desires or needs. Even when our behavior fails to satisfy those needs, we return again and again, trying harder to find what doesn’t exist.”
You mentioned spontaneity, and I agree that it is fun to have that in a relationship. The problem is that most people think that they are being spontaneous by giving in to their hormones and emotional urges at the drop of a hat. This is often either lust or dependency, under the disguise of romance. But hooking up is very different than pure spontaneity.
Chastity doesn’t ruin the spontaneity of love. Rather, it purifies it from selfishness so that you can be free to love and be loved. It doesn’t eliminate your attractions, but orders them. Christopher West noted: “Authentic sexual attraction is always an attraction to the beauty of the other as a person, not merely as an object of selfish consumption. This is the enormous value of the virtue of chastity.”[i]
I think that the romantic spontaneity you have in mind is not what a hook up buddy is capable of giving you. Hooking up may feel romantic and exciting, but it comes at a price, which is the regret that emerges when you realize you settled for a counterfeit. You deserve better, and so do the men in your life. So keep your spontaneity—that’s a fun quality to have. But don’t compromise your purity.
. Meg Meeker, M.D., Epidemic: How Teen Sex Is Killing Our Kids (Washington, D.C.: Lifeline Press, 2002), 78.
. Christopher West, Song of Heaven (West Chester, PA: Ascension Press), 47.
Image via Flickr, CC 2.0.
As difficult as this may be, try to uncover the cause of your fear. For example, I know of a young woman who had been the victim of rape, and from that point forward in her life, she never said “no” to doing sexual things with guys. Her reasoning for this was because in her mind, she “knew what happens when a girl says no,” and she never again wanted to experience such a violation of her will. Therefore, by saying “yes” to every man’s lust, she thought she was robbing them of their power to control her. Unfortunately, in doing so, she had also surrendered her own power to love and be loved.
In other cases, a young woman might be afraid to say no because she fears a man’s rejection. She’s afraid to discover that some men don’t really want the woman. Rather, they want only the pleasure obtained at the woman’s expense. By always saying “yes” to the men’s desires, such a woman lives in denial of what she already knows in her heart: she isn’t being loved.
When it comes to saying “no,” keep in mind is that a girl who never learns to say “no” is a girl who will have the hardest time finding love. This is because of how much time she wastes trying to be who she thinks men want her to be. As a result, she settles for lust when she longs for love.
A girl I know came home crying after a date, and her mom asked her what went wrong. She said that as soon as she got into the guy’s car, he started to make sexual jokes, and she informed him that she practiced chastity. He replied, “That’s okay—there’s lots of other stuff we can do” (meaning everything short of intercourse). She gave him a quick tutorial on the definition of chastity, and how it meant that she respected her body, and that she would not be doing anything with him that she would not want her future spouse to be doing with some other girl. He looked at her and asked, “So, you mean I’m not going to get anything tonight?!” She confirmed his suspicion, and he turned the car around and dumped her off at home.
Was it embarrassing? Perhaps. But regret lasts much longer than embarrassment. Instead of giving him what he wanted as a way to keep him interested (while secretly wondering of he really loved her) she stuck to her morals, and tested his love—or the lack thereof. It turned out he was not man enough for her. Game over. This leaves the door open for real love in her life because she wasn’t clogging up her love life with guys who only loved pleasure.
Being desperate only harms a girl’s chances of finding love because it makes her more naïve. One young woman admitted to me, “My stupidity coupled with my effort to be nice to everybody makes it hard to stand up for what I believe in.” If you can relate, then it’s time to get a backbone. If you don’t have a backbone, then you will give more and more of yourself away, and yet you will feel that you have less and less to offer. Before long, many girls end up thinking that sex is the only way to gain a man’s interest. For some guys, this is certainly the case. But why would you care about winning such a man’s approval?
Sure, at times the standard of purity can bring about times of loneliness. But don’t feel too depressed about that. Even the most popular people in the world experience loneliness, and perhaps more than you would ever imagine.
Most importantly, if you want to be pure, avoid tempting situations. If you find yourself needing to say no to a man’s sexual advances, then you’re dating the wrong guy. A real man will guard your purity, not wear it down. Moreover, a real man will guard his own purity, without needing a religious girlfriend to beg him to behave!
Often, a girl will find herself asking her boyfriend time and time again to stop. Her real problem is not learning to say no to him, but looking in her heart to see why she is so desperate for the love of a guy who does not respect her.
Hold out for love, and imagine your future spouse out there going through the same struggles. He should have the strength to wait for you, and you should have the strength to wait for him. All we must do is pray, have courage, and act. How do you say no when things are going too far? Click HERE for some tips.
As you know, when you arrive at college, no one will be at school to hold your hand and take you to church. No one will be there to choose your friends or tell you when it’s time to go back to the dorm on Friday nights. Because of this, you have the opportunity to advance in spiritual maturity or to fall away. The decision is in your hands. Therefore, have confidence. St Julian of Norwich said, “God] did not say: You will not be troubled, you will not be tempted, you will not be distressed. But he said, You will not be overcome.”
To help you stay strong, here are some tips to keep in mind:
1. Find good friends. This is perhaps the best strategy to stay strong in college. If you study the lives of the saints, you’ll discover that a great number of them were friends with other saints. St. Francis Xavier was the college roommate of St. Ignatius Loyola. St. Clare and St. Francis were great friends, as were St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila. You may think, “That’s nice, but I don’t think the people in my dorm are going to get canonized a saint any time soon.” While that may be true, it shouldn’t stop you from finding friends who will help you become more fully yourself.
At some truly Catholic colleges, this is an easy task. However, most universities aren’t exactly brimming with students who value the virtue of chastity. This means that you may have to do some searching. Get involved in the Newman Center, FOCUS, campus ministries, or things like that in order to find like-minded students. Many campuses, such as Harvard and Princeton, have student-run chastity clubs you can join. If yours does not have one, do not be afraid to start it! Finding such friends is not always an easy task, but it is always worth the effort.
Finding good friends also means sometimes turning down the opportunity to hang out with those who will wear down your morals. When you arrive on campus, you will certainly receive invitations to attend parties during pledge week, where fraternities and sororities recruit members. Most of these gatherings are like high school parties, with the difference being that parents never break it up to send everyone home. As a result, it’s not the best place to be if you’re hoping to maintain your purity. You would be wise to skip such parties. Respectfully declining the opportunity to attend a certain party will not mean the end of your college social life. In fact, it may open the door to finding better friends.
If you have friends who waver between what kind of lifestyle they want to lead, come up with ideas of fun things you can do on weekends that won’t involve them making harmful decisions. Keep them busy with good things, and they’ll see what most college students realize in the silence of their hearts: hookups and hangovers aren’t as much fun as advertised.
2. Choose your college carefully. Consider attending a college that will directly strengthen your faith. Click here for some examples. Also, some state colleges have fantastic Catholic groups on Campus, so make sure to look into that as well. Texas A &M would be a prime example, but there are many others.
3. Pray in Private: In order for you to keep your faith, you’ll need to become more disciplined in your prayer life. Start now with a routine of morning and night prayers. Perhaps you could get into the habit of doing the Liturgy of the Hours through a prayer app. That way, you’ll have a good habit to bring into college. Also, stay close to Our Lady. Carry a Rosary in your pocket at all times. You’d be surprised how often it reminds you to pray. If there is a Eucharistic adoration chapel anywhere near your school, make a habit of making frequent visits there. A weekly holy hour would be a good place to start.
4. Pray in Public: Never stop going to Mass & confession. There is a good reason why the Bible commands us not to stay away from the assembly of faith (Heb. 10:24-25). We need the support.
5. Stand up: Don’t be afraid to stand up for your faith in the classroom and out of it. You will be tested in many new ways, but God allows such purification in order to strengthen you. You may need to learn how to intellectually defend your faith and your lifestyle as never before. This is a good thing.
6. Read good books: Bring holy reading to college. For starters, you may want to read Pure Faith, How to Stay Catholic in College, Disorientation, and The Way. Also make a practice of reading a few chapters from the Bible each day. If you’re female, consider starting up a book study of How to Find Your Soulmate without Losing Your Soul with other women on campus.
7. Don’t date right away: Resist the temptation to jump into a romantic relationship right away. It’s exciting to meet so many new faces when you get to college, but take some time to get settled in. Get to know others as friends long before you consider dating him or her.
8. Ask for what you lack: Do not forget that faith is a gift from God. Ask for the gift of faith each day, and it will be granted to you. If you lack courage, ask for that. If you lack purity and conviction, beg for those virtues as well. In the words of Christ, “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:9-13)
I’m sorry to hear that your friends are pressuring you to make such a life-changing decision. You could reply to them in a number of ways:
1. Tell them virginity is not something to “get done and over with.” That’s an expression that should refer to getting your wisdom teeth pulled out.
2. Tell that that you’d rather your first time be with a husband who will never leave you, not with a hormonal teenage boy who might be gone tomorrow.
3. Ask them if they’d be willing to come to your college dorm next year at 3:00 am to change your baby’s diapers when this guy accidentally impregnates you with a child he has no desire to support. Tell them you’d rather worry about your college entrance exams than pregnancy tests right now.
4. Apart from these blunt replies, it’s important that you tell them with sincerity and charity why you value the gift of sexuality, and why you have no desire to reduce this gift to a loan.
I am sorry to tell you what you already know, but these “friends” do not care about what’s best for you. To them, sex isn’t big deal. It’s just a way to make a guy interested in you. Therefore, I’d strongly suggest you find better friends who bring out the best in you. As St. Paul said, “Bad company corrupts good morals” (1 Cor. 15:33).
These girls may act like sexual activity outside of marriage is harmless fun, but the reality is quite the opposite. I think that sexually active girls often act so carefree to cover up the fact that they are deeply unhappy, confused, lonely, and frustrated. Some of them I’ve met are scared to cry because they’re afraid that if they start, then they won’t be able to stop.
I am not alone in my observations. In 2005, the Washington Times published an article entitled, “Depression: A new sexually transmitted disease.” In it, the author reported that according to the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, depression often follows early sexual activity. The study followed over 13,000 middle and high school students for two years. Of the abstinent teens, only 4% experienced depression.
On the other hand, girls who were sexually promiscuous were eleven times as likely to be depressed. What’s significant about this study is that the depression did not seem to cause the sexual activity, but vice versa. They discovered that any sexual experimentation increased the likelihood of depression for girls. They concluded, “Given the present findings, girls who are engaging in substance use or sexual intercourse should be screened for depression, and provided with anticipatory guidance about the mental health risks of these behaviors.”
You don’t need any of this drama. Follow your intuition and respect yourself. You won’t regret it. In fact, the more you save, the less you regret.
. Hallfors, et al., “Which Comes First in Adolescence—Sex and Drugs or Depression?” American Journal of Preventive Medicine 29:3 (October 2005): 169; Hallfors, et al., “Adolescent Depression and Suicide Risk: Association with Sex and Drug Behavior,” American Journal of Preventive Medicine 27:3 (October 2004): 224–231
Sex is not a tryout. If she fails to live up to your expectations in the bedroom, will you love her less? If so, you can be certain that you never loved her to begin with.
It might help to know that your friend is not on a quest for sex. Perhaps your friend has some hurt or loneliness in her life, and she figures that if she has sex, it will feel like love and security, and she will be happy. Or perhaps she’s just curious and too immature to realize the consequences of sex. Either way, if you look into her heart you will see that she is not longing for a series of physical relationships with random guys. She is looking for enduring love and for intimacy, to be accepted by a man and cared for by him.
Your friend deserves these things, but she needs to be careful and courageous so that she does not fall for a counterfeit. There are plenty of boys out there who will tell her how beautiful her eyes are and how much they love her and will “always” be there. They will give her “love” for the sake of getting sex, and she may want to give them sex for the sake of feeling loved. Her heart is made for something better than this, and so she needs to realize that she is worth the wait. She cannot find happiness otherwise. As the Bible says, “She who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives” (1 Tim. 5:6).
The following are some of the bad effects of premarital sex; do not dwell on them any longer than is necessary to give her a reality check. What she needs more than the bad news about premarital sex is the good news about what she is worth and what plans God has in store for her. She needs to be encouraged to wait not because sex is bad but because real love is so good.
The negative consequences of premarital sex can be seen from the relational, physical, emotional, and spiritual points of view.
Consider how premarital sex can affect relationships. One high school girl wrote, “I am sixteen and have already lost my virginity. I truly regret that my first time was with a guy that I didn’t care that much about. Since that first night he expects sex on every date. When I don’t feel like it, we end up in an argument. I don’t think this guy is in love with me, and I know deep down that I am not in love with him either. This makes me feel cheap. I realize now that this is a very big step in a girl’s life. After you have done it, things are never the same. It changes everything.”
Another young person said, “I slept with many, many people trying to find love, to find self-worth. And the more people I slept with, the less self-worth I had.” Some people may argue, “Well, what if I really care about him or her? I think sex will bring us closer together.” Indeed, sex creates a bond. However, 80 percent of the time, the physical intimacy of a teen’s first sexual relationship won’t last more than six months. Couples who want what is best for their relationship or future marriage will have the patience to wait.
Most of the time, when a girl gives away her virginity, she assumes the relationship will last forever. However, click here and scroll down to page 4 of the document, under the first graph. Look at your friend’s age at the bottom, and it will tell you how many more sexual partners she will probably have if she plans on losing her virginity now. If she’s like most freshmen, she’s probably 14 years old. This study of more than 10,000 women shows that when a girl loses her virginity at that age, she’ll probably have about thirteen more lifetime sexual partners.
Beyond one’s relationship, premarital sex frequently causes tension within families because of the dishonesty that usually accompanies the hidden intimacies. Relationships with friends are often strained, and when things turn sour, the gossip and social problems often become unbearable. Everyone talks about how hard it is to say no to sex, but no one tells you how hard it is when you say yes.
In regard to the physiological side of things, it is dangerous for a young single woman to be sexually active. Because a teenage girl’s reproductive system is still immature, she is very susceptible to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). (Click here for the biological explanation.) In fact, early sexual activity is the number one risk factor for cervical cancer, and the second is multiple sexual partners. A girl’s body, like her heart, is not designed to handle multiple sexual partners.
While your friend might plan on sleeping with only one guy, she could be exposing herself to the STDs of hundreds of people through a single act of intercourse. Here’s how: Scientists studied the sexual activity of a public high school of about one thousand students. About half (573) of the students had been sexually active, and most of them had only been with one partner. However, when the scientists tracked the web of sexual activity among the students, it was discovered that more than half of the sexually active teens—without knowing it—were linked together in a network of 288 partners within the school! (Click here to see the web of this sexual activity.) So if your friend slept with a guy from this school, theoretically she could be in bed with one-fourth of the entire student body.
The emotional side effects of premarital sex are also damaging to a young woman. One of the most common consequences of teenage sexual activity is depression. Girls who are sexually active are more than three times as likely to be depressed as girls who are abstinent. In fact, the condition has become so predictable that the American Journal of Preventive Medicine recommends to doctors: “[Girls who are engaging in] sexual intercourse should be screened for depression, and provided with anticipatory guidance about the mental health risks of these behaviors.” Even if a girl experiments with sex once, research shows an increased risk of depression. Also, consider the fact that the rate of suicide attempts for sexually active girls (aged twelve to sixteen) is six times higher than the rate for virgins. Tragically, these girls do not realize the purity, hope, and forgiveness that they can find in Christ.
Unfortunately, many young women search for meaning only in relationships with guys, instead of with God. It is not uncommon for a girl to have sex in order to make a guy like her more or to encourage him to stay with her. She may compromise her standards because she is afraid of never being loved. Once he leaves her, though, an emotional divorce takes place. A person’s heart is not made to be that close to a person and then separated.
Since teenage sexual relationships rarely last, the girl’s sense of self-worth is often damaged. She may conclude that if she looked better, he would have stayed longer. This mentality can lead to harmful practices, such as eating disorders. Or the disappointment she feels may drive her into a state of self-hatred. Some young women even begin to hurt their own bodies in an attempt to numb the emotional pain. Such practices never solve the problems, though. If she wants to be loved, she needs to begin by loving herself.
In her heart, a girl who has been used knows it. However, she may immediately jump into another sexual relationship to escape the hurt. If she tries to boost her self-esteem by giving guys what they want, then her self-worth often ends up depending upon those kinds of relationships. Her development as a woman is stunted because without chastity she does not know how to express affection, appreciation, or attraction for a guy without implying something sexual. She may even conclude that a guy does not love her unless he makes sexual advances toward her. She knows that sex exists without intimacy, but she may forget that intimacy can exist without sex. A girl on this track usually feels accepted initially, but that acceptance lasts only as long as the physical pleasure.
Such a lifestyle will also take its toll on her ability to bond. Here’s why: Sharing the gift of sex is like putting a piece of tape on another person’s arm. The first bond is strong, and it hurts to remove it. Shift the tape to another person’s arm, and the bond will still work, but it will be easier to remove. Each time this is done, part of each person remains with the tape. Soon it is easy to remove because the residue from the various arms interferes with the tape’s ability to stick.
The same is true in relationships, because neurologists have discovered that previous sexual experiences can interfere with one’s ability to bond with future partners. This does not mean that if a person is not a virgin on the wedding night, he or she will be unable to bond with a spouse. It simply means that when we follow God’s plan, we have the most abundant life possible. But when we turn from his designs and break his commandments, often we are the ones who feel broken afterward.
Sin cuts us off from God, and this is the most serious consequence of premarital sex. After going too far, many of us know all too well the cloud of guilt that weighs on our hearts. The solution is not to kill our conscience but to follow it to freedom. It is calling us, not condemning us. Provided we repent, God will be there to welcome us home and let us start over (see John 8 and Luke 15).
What this all means is that our bodies, our hearts, our relationships, and our souls are not made for premarital sex. We are made for enduring love.
. Thomas Lickona, “Sex, Love, and Character: It’s Our Decision” (address given to assembly of students at Seton Catholic High School, Binghamton, N.Y., January 8, 1999), 10.
. All About Cohabiting Before Marriage, “Myths About Cohabitation,” http://www.leaderu.com/critical/cohabitation-myths.html.
. Suzanne Ryan, et al., “The First Time: Characteristics of Teens’ First Sexual Relationships,” Research Brief (Washington, D.C.: Child Trends, August 2003), 5.
. A. B. Moscicki, et al., “Differences in Biologic Maturation, Sexual Behavior, and Sexually Transmitted Disease Between Adolescents with and without Cervical Intraepithelial Neoplasia,” Journal of Pediatrics 115:3 (September 1989), 487–493; M. L. Shew, et al., “Interval Between Menarche and First Sexual Intercourse, Related to Risk of Human Papillomavirus Infection,” Journal of Pediatrics 125:4 (October 1994), 661–666.
. R.A. Hatcher, et al., Contraceptive Technology (1994), 515. . Peter Bearman, et al., “Chains of Affection,” American Journal of Sociology 110:1 (July 2004), 44–91.
. Robert E. Rector, et al., “Sexually Active Teenagers are More Likely to be Depressed and to Attempt Suicide,” The Heritage Foundation (June 3, 2003) .
. Hallfors, et al., “Which Comes First in Adolescence—Sex and Drugs or Depression?” American Journal of Preventive Medicine 29:3 (October 2005), 169.
. Hallfors, et al., 168; Hallfors, et al., “Adolescent Depression and Suicide Risk: Association with Sex and Drug Behavior,” American Journal of Preventive Medicine 27:3 (October 2004), 224–231; Martha W. Waller, et al., “Gender Differences in Associations Between Depressive Symptoms and Patterns of Substance Use and Risky Sexual Behavior among a Nationally Representative Sample of U.S. Adolescents,” Archives of Women’s Mental Health 9:3 (May 2006), 139–150.
. As reported by D. P. Orr, M. Beiter, G. Ingersoll, “Premature Sexual Activity as an Indicator of Psychological Risk,” Pediatrics 87 (February 1991), 141–147.
. Joe McIlhaney and Freda McKissic Bush, Hooked (Chicago: Northfield Publishing, 2008).
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.” He also said that “purity is a requirement of love.” 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. 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.”
. Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II), Love and Responsibility (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), 171, emphasis added.
. Pope John Paul II, general audience, December 3, 1980. As quoted by Man and Woman He Created Them (Boston: Pauline, 2006), 325.
. Pope John Paul II, apostolic exhortation, Familiaris Consortio 33 (The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World) (Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 1981).
. Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II), Love and Responsibility, 172.
The easiest way to know if you are ready to have sex is to look at your left hand. If you do not see a wedding ring, you are not ready for sex. This may seem like a simplistic answer, but look at the logic behind it. What does it mean to be ready for sex?
Sex cannot be reduced to a biological act. Every aspect of the person is affected: the body, heart, mind, soul . . . and your future. Therefore, a person is physically able to have sex long before he or she is ready for its consequences. But instead of zeroing in on the negative consequences, it is more important for a person to understand the meaning of sex. Then it becomes clear when we are “ready” for it.
We are commonly told with regard to sex, “Just say no.” Why? “Because sex before marriage is bad.” But what kind of answer is that? Most people have never been told why—why sex within marriage is so good and beautiful and why sex outside of marriage is a counterfeit of the love that we have been created to give and receive. Instead of fear tactics, we need to hear the truth about the goodness and beauty of sex and God’s plan for love.
To help us understand the gift of our sexuality, Pope John Paul II gave the Church a series of teachings known as the “Theology of the Body.” In it he explained that when we accept the demands of love and live according to the truth of our sexuality, we make visible in our bodies the invisible reality of God—that he is love. If we don’t understand this deeper meaning of sex, marriage may seem like nothing more than a piece of paper that legalizes intercourse. Once we are aware of the greatness of the gift of sex, we will have an attitude of reverence toward it, and only with God’s permission will we lift the veil of its mystery. This demands faithfulness to him while we are waiting to find our spouse. And we can start preparing for a good marriage right now by avoiding anything that could harm a relationship with a future spouse.
If a person does not understand the meaning of sex, he or she may give it away to the first bidder. Some say that they want to save the gift of sex for the “right” person, someone they really love. But strong feelings of love do not make a person ready for sex. This is clear in sexually active couples who are afraid of what sex means. They fear that their lovemaking could bring forth life. They also hide what they are doing from those who love them, such as their parents, and they fear that the incredible bond they have created might not be permanent.
Within marriage no such fears exist. Instead a husband and wife are ready to give and receive each other without reservation. They understand that sex is like saying wedding vows with your body. It is making a complete gift of yourself to another person.
When a person understands the meaning of sex, it becomes obvious that premarital sex is dishonest: it is a lie in the language of the body. With your body you are saying, “I give myself to you entirely. There is nothing more of me that I could give you,” but in reality there is no such commitment and gift of self. There is a total physical gift but no total gift of the person. The gift is reduced to a loan or a lease, because the body is given to the other temporarily. In other words, you are ready to have sex when your body speaks the truth: “I am entirely yours. Forever.” Therefore, only in marriage can one be “ready” for sex.
To read about some of the consequences of sexual activity before marriage, click here.
The short answer to your question is “all authority in heaven and on earth.” Why? After he rose from the dead, Jesus told his apostles, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations. . . teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matt 28:18-20).
Since some of God’s commandments involve sex, and Christ ordered his Church to teach all that he commands, the Church has the duty and authority to pass on to us what God has revealed about sexual morality. Scripture is clear that Jesus instituted his Church with such a mission. It would be unfaithful to Christ if it did not fulfill this aspect of its calling.
However, your question is really asking, “What authority does the Church have in my life at all?” Consider some of the ways Jesus made it clear that he was investing the Church with his authority. In commissioning individuals to go and preach his message, Jesus emphasized: “He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me” (Luke 10:16). At the Last Supper Jesus told the apostles that he was conferring a kingdom upon them (Luke 22:29). He previously had promised them that whatever they “bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever [they] loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 18:18).
Jesus stated that the gates of hell would not prevail against this one Church (Matt. 16:18), which was to be the pillar and foundation of truth (1 Tim. 3:15). He invested the Church with his own teaching authority because he knew that he would not be with the apostles on earth forever. He established a Church with “bishops” who “give instruction in sound doctrine” (Titus 1:7, 9). The faithful are to submit to these spiritual leaders and defer to their authority in order not to be led away by strange and diverse teachings (Heb. 13:17).
The authority of the apostles has been passed on to bishops from age to age through prayer accompanied by the imposition of hands (Deut. 34:9; 1 Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 1:6). Through the bishops of the Church, we are able to trace this “laying on of hands” in an unbroken line back to the apostles.
The Holy Spirit guides the Church (John 16:13) so that it teaches what God entrusted to it. The Church guards its children as a mother watches over her young. The children may not always understand the mother’s reasons for her rules, but they would do well to trust that her commands come from a loving heart and not a dictator’s whims.
Anyone who says that the Bible is silent on premarital sex has not spent much time reading the Bible. The phrase premarital sex does not appear in the Bible, because Scripture uses the term fornication instead. This term is used in passages such as 1 Corinthians 6, where the apostle Paul says:
Do not be deceived; neither fornicators nor idolators nor adulterers . . . will inherit the kingdom of God. . . . The body, however, is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body. . . . Avoid immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the immoral person sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own. For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body. (1 Cor. 6:9–10, 15, 18–20, NAB)
In 1 Thessalonians 4, Saint Paul says, “This is the will of God, your holiness: that you refrain from immorality, that each of you knowhow to acquire a wife for himself in holiness and honor, not in lustful passion as do the Gentiles who do not know God. . . . For God did not call us to impurity but to holiness. Therefore, whoever disregards this, disregards not a human being but God, who [also] gives his holy Spirit to you.” (1 Thess. 4:3–5, 7–8, NAB). Elsewhere the Bible exhorts us, “Immorality or any impurity . . . must not even be mentioned among you, as is fitting among holy ones” (Eph. 5:3).
This provides biblical support, but it hardly answers the real issue. A person who claims that the Bible says nothing about premarital sex is often a person who is trying to suppress his conscience. Impurity erodes our faith. When we live an immoral lifestyle and go to church, we have to grapple with the tension between how we are living and what we believe. If our behavior does not match our religious doctrine, one of them has to go.
As this tension mounts, we search for moral loopholes, such as “The Bible doesn’t say it’s wrong.” When no loopholes are left, we grope for some reason to leave the faith altogether. “I think the faith is unreasonable,” we argue. Or “I don’t care for organized religion.” “I have doubts about the reliability of the biblical manuscripts.” “I won’t obey the Church because Church leaders don’t always live up to its teachings.” There is always something to divert us and keep us from studying and confronting the truth. We may claim to be “spiritual” but not “religious.” The words of Saint Paul are a challenge to us all: “They profess to know God, but they deny him by their deeds” (Titus 1:16).
If we love God, we will obey him. If we do not obey him, we cannot claim to love him. Or in the words of Saint Augustine, “If you believe what you like in the gospel, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself.” People in this situation need to turn to Christ and allow themselves to be transformed. God’s laws are not burdens. He is not a taskmaster who overwhelms us with rules so that we will blindly conform and live miserable lives to satisfy him. He wants to raise us up as his sons and daughters, training us in discipline so that we can become free to love. His laws exist because he loves us and wants us to share in that love.
“Jesus loves you.” We hear that often, but do we ever let the message sink in? Could it be that the God of love is not out to ruin our lives? Could it be that God has an interest in our love lives beyond making sure that we don’t go too far? And could it be that he has established a Church to guide us to the truth? If we come to God with sincere and humble hearts, we will know the truth and be set free. We will not be bound by the illusion that God and his Church are out to rob us of our freedom.
. See also Romans 1:18; 6:12–14; 1 Corinthians 6:9–11; 2 Corinthians 7:1; Galatians 5:16–23; Ephesians 4:17–24; 5:3–13; Colossians 3:5–8; 1 Timothy 4:12.
. John 14:23–24.
. St. Augustine, Sermons 20:2 (inter a.d. 391–430).
A poll in Rhode Island asked seventeen hundred students in grades six through nine if it is OK for a guy to force a young woman to have sex if the two of them have dated for six months or more. Two-thirds of the guys said that this was acceptable—and half of the girls did as well! 86 percent of the young men said that it was OK to rape your wife, and 24 percent said that it was OK to rape a date if you spent “a lot of money” on her.
Modern culture tells us that if something feels good and we want it, we should have it. Go ahead. Gorge yourself. But when this mentality seeps into the minds of the youth, we end up with grade-schoolers who don’t see a problem with rape.
Are you willing to “accept” those students’ responses as those of “people having different values”? There is no doubt that times have changed since the Bible was written, but does the morality of an act depend upon where you live, when you live, or how many people agree with you? For example, if you created a time machine, how far into the future would you need to go in order for child abuse to become moral? If you went back in time and took a poll of Nazi guards, and the majority said that killing Jews was good, would that mean that we should be open-minded and accept their different values? Even today, if I were taken to court for shooting a clerk and shoplifting, do you think that the judge would be convinced of my innocence because I “just have different values”?
I hope you agree that no matter how times change, these acts will always be immoral. Why is it then that when we get to the sixth and ninth commandments (the ones regarding sexuality), people feel that morality is subjective and the Ten Commandments are multiple choice? Morality is objective, and a properly formed conscience can see this.
No one likes to be told that what he wants to do is wrong, but we are not the authors of right and wrong. We need to overcome the temptation to judge God’s laws by our standards and begin measuring our standards by his laws. We cannot construct our own private system of values. As Pope John Paul II said during the 1993 World Youth Day in Denver, Colorado: “Do not give in to this widespread false morality! Do not stifle your conscience.” Saint Paul also warned us that “the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths. As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry” (2 Tim. 4:3–5).
Although our civilization has lost the sense of sin, God still takes sin seriously. Look at a crucifix. There on the cross is our answer. Sin is still sin, and for this reason Christ’s call to holiness applies for all times to every person on the globe. Christ makes demands on us precisely in the arena of sexual values. He asks much because he knows we can give much. We cannot dismiss our responsibilities by saying, “I gotta be me,” or, “Boys will be boys.” We will either glorify God or offend him by how we use the gift of our sexuality.
Ask yourself, “Do I really desire union with God?” If so, the quickest route is simple and humble honesty. Since God is truth, our union with him depends on whether or not we are willing to submit our lives to the truth. We must love the truth and desire it with every fiber of our being, regardless of how inconvenient it may be. In the words of Scripture, we must, “even to the death, fight for truth” (Sir. 4:28, NAB). This is the sincerity of heart that God longs to find in us.
One man noted, “There are few better tests for whether or not someone lives a life in submission to God than what he or she does with their sexuality. Sex is such a powerful and meaningful desire that to give it up and obey God in that area is a true sign of worship.” As Jesus said in his agony in the garden, “Not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). If we say that we love God but we still want to make up the rules when it comes to sexual desire, we have made pleasure our god. We should ask ourselves, “Am I willing to disregard God’s will in order to pursue mine, or am I willing to disregard my own will in order to pursue God?”
. J. Kikuchi, “Rhode Island develops successful intervention program for adolescents,” National Coalition Against Sexual Assault Newsletter, Fall 1988.
. Henry Cloud and John Townsend, Boundaries in Dating (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2000), 252.
Engagement is a special time, and during this period couples may feel that they are “almost married,” but in reality being married is like being pregnant—you either are or you are not. No matter how committed a couple may feel, until they actually pledge themselves to one another on their wedding day, they cannot pledge themselves to one another with their bodies in bed.
Some might feel that this idea is old-fashioned. It is definitely old, but it still works. Waiting to receive each other from the Lord allows the couple to establish authentic intimacy. By waiting on God and focusing on what he is calling them to, the couple receive the freedom to see that intimacy is not simply about how close your body is to someone else’s. A healthy relationship does not require sex in order to be intimate. Love is patient, and a man and woman who are confident in their love know that they will have the rest of their lives to enjoy sex. But now is their only time to prepare for marriage—to lay the foundation for the rest of their lives together.
Waiting to share the gift of sex should be seen not as a passive delay of passion but as an active training in faithfulness. In the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Those who are engaged to marry are called to live chastity in continence [abstinence]. They should see in this time of testing a discovery of mutual respect, an apprenticeship in fidelity, and the hope of receiving one another from God. They should reserve for marriage the expressions of affection that belong to married love. They will help each other grow in chastity.” Don’t you want to know before the wedding if your spouse will be able to resist temptations after the wedding?
Since engagement is a time to prepare to become a sacrament, the months preceding a marriage are a time of serious discernment. By having sex during this time, couples hinder their ability to look at the relationship clearly. They feel so close as a result of sex that they are often unable to look at the past, present, or future critically. The sexual intimacy may even blind them from seeing that their relationship lacks real intimacy, and it may prevent them from bringing to the surface worries or hesitations they may have. In fact, sex may cover up defects of love.
When a woman says yes to her boyfriend’s proposal, this is not the end of their discernment process for marriage. Until they pronounce their vows, no permanent commitment has been made. Imagine if you were engaged, but you knew in your heart that you needed to call off the wedding. Consider how much more difficult it would be to break an engagement if you were already sleeping with your fiancé.
Some people ask, “Well, how do you know if you want to marry a person if you don’t sleep with her?” I would reply, “How do you know you should marry her once you have slept together?” If anything you are less clear-minded, because sex is not designed to be a test to find a good spouse.
Just because a person is capable of physical intimacy does not mean that he or she is capable of the other kinds of intimacy that hold a marriage together. Because sex has the power to bond, the experience may seem wonderful in the initial stages of a relationship, and both partners will feel quite “compatible.” But think about a couple you know who have been married for fifty years. They sit on their front porch swing, smiling with all their wrinkles at each other. They are still together because they have been refined by the fires of love, not burnt by the counterfeits of lust.
So why not wait for the honeymoon? I know of couples who were sexually active long before their wedding, and when they arrived at their honeymoon suite, they immediately fell asleep. They had been there and done that, so why not rest up for something new and exciting—like jet skiing? They only robbed themselves. On the other hand, one woman who saved that gift for the honeymoon said that it was “unspeakably worth the wait.”
How often do you hear of promiscuous couples experiencing such joy? If a man and woman refuse to wait, what are their motives? Does impatience, lust, or pride motivate the couple to disobey God? These vices only harm a marriage. It is through humility, obedience, chastity, patience, and a willingness to sacrifice that a couple build a lifelong love. So why not practice these virtues now?
In the meantime, know that each time you resist sin you bless one another. In addition, God has issued a special challenge to men. When a man perseveres in the virtue of chastity, he helps fulfill that challenge: to love his bride as Christ loves the Church, to give himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, that he might present his bride to God “without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:25–27). A man should consider his acceptance of this challenge to be the measure of his love for his bride. Imagine Christ hanging on the cross, saying to you, “This is how I got my bride to heaven. How else do you think you will get yours there?” When an engaged man embraces such a challenge and grows in purity with his fiancée, you will notice on his wedding day that his bride’s soul matches her dress. She glows. . . And so will he when he sees her walking down the aisle to him.
If we do not understand these principles, perhaps we do not understand marriage. Is it merely a public declaration of the love that a bride and groom feel? Is the wedding a decorative formality, or is God present there, establishing a supernatural bond—a covenant with the couple that can only be severed by death?
At every sacramental marriage a spiritual reality will take place on that altar when a man and woman become a husband and wife. The couple enter into a union that is a sacrament. That night, the marital embrace will become the visible expression of this union blessed by God. Until the marriage vows have been said, a woman is not a wife and should not be treated as one.
When a husband gives his body to his bride and a bride gives herself to him, their bodies speak the truth: “I am entirely yours.” On the other hand, sex anywhere but in marriage is dishonest. No matter what, it cannot say, “I am entirely yours.” Therefore, having sex during the engagement is not a matter of “peeking under the wrapping paper.” It is a matter of completely missing the point of sex and marriage.
If you are engaged, ponder for a moment the gift of your partner. Look how generous God has been with you. When you come to the altar, do you not want to give God a gift in return? Do not come empty-handed. Make the sacrifice to keep your engagement pure, so that you come to the altar with this gift for him.
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. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2350.
. Elisabeth Elliot, Passion and Purity (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Revell, 1984), 179.
To begin with, your sexual attraction toward women has been stamped into your heart by God, not by the devil. There is nothing sinful about being sexually attracted to a girl. It is normal and healthy. Do not feel guilty about sexual attraction because it is not the same thing as lust. Just because you have strong desires, this does not mean that you are impure.
Lust is a different matter because it is a conscious act of the will to allow your mind to imagine illicit sexual acts. Lust treats the person as an object—a thing to be used for your pleasure. Therefore it is a distortion of love, and it will never satisfy. Illicit sexual acts such as premarital sex—or deliberately imagining premarital sex—are always incomplete.
Jesus wants us to have the fullness of love and not sell ourselves short with lust. So he warned us that whoever looks lustfully at a woman has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matt. 5:28). By saying this, Jesus is not condemning us but is calling us. Work as Saint Paul did to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).
In regard to what to do with tempting thoughts, I recommend what I have recommended elsewhere: If you have impure magazines, videos, and music, get rid of them. Become a man of prayer. Be patient with yourself. Impure thoughts are bound to come. Take it one day at a time, one minute at a time, and one thought at a time. Do not get overwhelmed. Purity of heart does not mean that you are never tempted and that you cease to be sexually attracted to others. Some people even think that they are pure just because they do not have strong desires or because they never had the opportunity to do something impure with a girl. This is not purity. To be pure requires an act of the will to love, not the absence of sexual desire.
One way to grow in purity is to be grateful for the beauty of women. Lust and true gratitude cannot coexist. So when you see an attractive woman, instead of thinking of her as a mere temptation, give thanks to God for making women so amazing. You could pray the words of Psalm 84, “How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord Mighty God!” How fitting, since every woman is a temple of the Holy Spirit, a dwelling place of God.
All beauty comes from God. Therefore, allow the beauty of every woman to remind you of the infinitely greater beauty that awaits you in heaven if you persevere in faith. By doing this you turn your heart toward God when you otherwise may be tempted to turn away from him. Now, I’m not recommending you gawk at a woman and offer a twenty minute prayer of thanksgiving, or you seek out gorgeous women for the sake of having more reasons to be thankful. Rather, be grateful for a woman’s beauty when you notice it, and then move on.
All that God asks is that you be faithful to him as he reveals himself to you in the present moment. He loves you and will give you the grace you need to maintain your purity. As you grow in control over your mind, you will have greater control over your body. “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13).
It is not wrong to have sexual desires. It is what we do with them in our thoughts, words, and actions that can be good or bad. So here are some tips for training.
Don’t place yourself in relationships or situations where you know mistakes will happen. Sometimes we march right into tempting situations and then blame God that the temptations were too strong to resist. Surround yourself with good friends, because as Saint Paul said, “Bad company ruins good morals” (1 Cor. 15:33). We may have heard our parents say that before, but research backs it up: when most of a teen’s friends are sexually active, that teen is 31 times as likely to get drunk and 22 times as likely to have smoked pot compared with teens who don’t hang out with sexually active friends. Other researchers have noted, “only 4 percent of young people whose friends were not sexually active were sexually active themselves. Amongst those whose friends were sexually active, the figure was 43 percent.”
If you watch MTV or vulgar sitcoms or if you read Cosmopolitan, Seventeen, or other things that are impure, get rid of them. Consider them love pollution. Also avoid being idle. This is the chief means by which we end up falling into sin. Keep yourself occupied with friends, service work, sports, hobbies, and similar activities.
This all requires a determination for purity. But consider how people deny themselves to get the perfect body. If people spent one-tenth that time caring for their souls, we would be a world of saints. No one thinks a man is repressive if he eats healthy food to prepare for a marathon. In the same way, what you are preparing for—love and holiness—requires serious training. You will not be repressing your sexual desires but redirecting that energy toward selfless love.
You are not alone in your struggle with temptation. In fact, even the saints endured similar battles. In the words of Saint Paul, “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. . . . But I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members” (Rom. 7:19, 23). During this struggle, remember that God’s grace is sufficient, for his power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).
Ask God for the wisdom to avoid temptation and the grace to please him. He will give these spiritual gifts and many others—to those who ask for them. In the words of a wise priest, “The one obstacle that can turn our lives to misery is the refusal to believe that God will give us the victory of perfect chastity.”
How do you obtain that victory? Step number one is prayer. Set a daily prayer time and stick to it. I also recommend the frequent reception of the sacraments, especially Mass and reconciliation. The Eucharist is the fountain of purity, so take advantage of those graces. Going to Mass will not take away all your temptations, but it will give you the grace of charity. In the Eucharist Christ gives himself fully to us so that we might give ourselves fully. This is the foundation of chastity, because love motivates us to live for others instead of for ourselves. Make time for daily Mass and go whenever possible. If there is a church in your area that has a Eucharistic Adoration chapel, make frequent visits to Jesus there. In other words, make your life intensely Eucharistic.
There are many devotions that can strengthen your life. For example, pray a rosary every day. This takes only fifteen to twenty minutes, so set some time aside for that. Praying the stations of the cross is another source of tremendous power that people tend to overlook. For a simple prayer, quietly and devoutly say the names of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Take up a devotion to your guardian angel, who is always there to help you resist temptation. Turn to the Bible, because it is a great source of grace and consolation whenever we need it. For starters, read 1 Peter 5:6–10. Lastly, if you’re serious about wanting to make moral progress in your life, find a good confessor or spiritual director. As they say, “He who has himself as a guide has a fool for a disciple.”
. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, “National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse IX: Teen Dating Practices and Sexual Activity,” Columbia University (August 2004), 6.
. The Australian Family Association 7:1 (February 2001), as reported by Abstinence Network 5:1 (Spring 2001), 9.
. Paul M. Quay, S.J., The Christian Meaning of Human Sexuality (San Francisco:
Ignatius Press, 1985), 106.
It is understandable that a couple would want to lie down together. After all, who would not want to wake up next to their loved one? However, this kind of intimacy belongs only in marriage. To lie down with a woman in bed is marital. When we use the expression, “They slept together,” we usually are not thinking about sleep at all. But this phrase is used because the marriage bed is reserved for the marital act.
In Hebrews 13:4 we are told to keep the marriage bed undefiled. It is to be sacred, and this means it is to be set apart for holy use. The holy use that God has in mind is marital union. In your heart you know that this belongs in marriage, because if you knew that sleeping in the same bed with her was pleasing to God, you would not have asked this question.
If you want to save sex for marriage, sleeping in the same bed is not the best way to guard that commitment. Granted, you may not be having sex, but as Proverbs 16:18 says, pride goes before a fall. There is wisdom in avoiding occasions of sin and not trusting ourselves too much.
Promise each other that the next time the two of you share a bed, it will be as husband and wife. There is a time and a season for everything under the sun, and as difficult as it may be, purity calls you to make this sacrifice. After all, if the Lord calls you to marry her, you will have the rest of your life to fall asleep looking at her.
The term “hooking up” can mean a lot of things, but it always means some kind of casual sexual contact, up to and including intercourse itself. Regardless of what you mean by it, you should not be having sexual contact with anyone who is not your wife. Even if you both like it, it shows mutual disrespect because you are exchanging a sign of commitment, love, and unity that does not exist.
Speaking of such relationships, Pope John Paul II said, “Deep within yourself, listen to your conscience which calls you to be pure. . . . A home is not warmed by the fire of pleasure which burns quickly like a pile of withered grass. Passing encounters are only a caricature of love; they injure hearts and mock God’s plan.” In the long run, no one benefits from these kinds of relationships.
I read of one young husband who said, “I would do anything, anything, to forget the sexual experiences I had before I met my wife. . . . The pictures of the past and the other women go through my head, and it’s killing any intimacy. The truth is, I have been married to this wonderful woman for eight years and I have never been ‘alone’ in the bedroom with her.”
When you “hook up” for fun, physical intimacy begins to lose its depth, greatness, sacredness, and power to bond two people. Sex is shared as easily as a handshake, and the couple lose all reverence for the sacredness of each other’s body. You begin thinking that physical pleasure is basically for fun and can solve the problem of boredom or loneliness. This leads to the idea that as long as two people agree to do something, then it is OK to do it.
Often this is nothing more than two people agreeing to use each other for mutual gratification. They receive the physical pleasure of being held and the emotional pleasure of being desired, and they remain together so long as they are a source of pleasure for each other. This is not far from prostitution.
You both desire and deserve love. But as long as you are treating one another as objects, you will never be satisfied because neither of you is giving or receiving real love. Have the courage to admit your mistakes with women, and do not fall back into the habit of using them or allowing yourself to be used by them. If you cannot lead a woman to holiness when you are not that interested in her, how will you lead a woman to God when you are head over heels in love with her? If you can be trusted with the smaller things, you will be responsible with the larger ones.
When you do meet someone you are seriously interested in, take it slow. Intense physical intimacy at the beginning of a relationship is a cover-up for the absence of love that failed to develop. The real love that you long for takes patience and purity. In fact, purity is the guardian of love.
. Pope John Paul II, address, April 29, 1989, Antananarivo, Madagascar. As quoted by López, ed., The Meaning of Vocation, 28.
. Tom and Judy Lickona, Sex, Love & You. (Notre Dame, Ind.: Ave Maria Press, 1994), 74.
If you are being called to marriage, then right now your future spouse is somewhere out there. Do you ever wonder what she or he is doing right now? Maybe he is running drills during basketball practice, or maybe she is laughing with friends at a coffee shop as they cram for a test. Suppose that he or she is elsewhere, namely at the house of a person who finds him or her attractive.
The parents are not home, and as you read this, that person is trying to talk your future spouse into having oral sex. If you could speak to the heart of your future spouse right now, would you say, “Oh, go ahead—just make sure you don’t go all the way, honey!” Probably not. You would also have some words for the other person, such as, “That’s my bride!” or “That’s the man who will be raising my children one day.” You would feel offended by what that person is trying to get from your future husband or wife.
One reason why oral sex is gaining popularity is because people think that it is a safe alternative to sex. Although you will not get pregnant from it, it is anything but safe. I once asked a microbiologist which STDs you could not get by means of oral sex. She replied, “I can’t think of any that you can’t get from oral sex (including HIV).” Sure enough, doctors today are seeing dramatic increases in cases of oral gonorrhea and herpes. According to the International Journal of Cancer, cases of oral HPV (human papilloma virus) are reaching “epidemic” levels,  and now HPV is the leading cause of throat cancer. Other forms of head and neck cancer can also be caused by orally transmitted HPV. Oral sex is anything but safe.
Some people resort to oral sex so that they do not lose their virginity. Although you do not technically lose your virginity by having oral sex, it still robs you of innocence and puts you in situations where you could easily lose your virginity. It does not relieve sexual tension in a man but creates it and reinforces in him the myth that he has sexual “needs” that must be met, even at the expense of a woman’s dignity and innocence. The bottom line is that you don’t need oral sex to keep from going all the way. You need grace, courage, and self-respect.
. Karen S. Peterson, “Younger Kids Trying It Now, Often Ignorant of Disease Risks,” USA Today, November 16, 2000, 1D (www.usatoday.com).
. Lalle Hammarstedt, et al., “Human Papillomavirus as a Risk Factor for the Increase in Incidence of Tonsillar Cancer,” International Journal of Cancer 119:11 (December 2006), 2622.
. Gypsyamber D’Souza, et al., “Case-Control Study of Human Papillomavirus and Oropharyngeal Cancer,” The New England Journal of Medicine 356 (May 10, 2007), 1944–1956.
. Lalle Hammarstedt, et al., 2620–2623; Justine Ritchie, et al., “Human Papillomavirus Infection as a Prognostic Factor in Carcinomas of the Oral Cavity and Oropharynx,”International Journal of Cancer 104:3 (April 10, 2003), 336–344; Rolando Herrero, et al., “Human Papillomavirus and Oral Cancer: The International Agency for Research on Cancer Multicenter Study,” Journal of the National Cancer Institute 95:23 (December 3, 2003), 1772–1783.
This kind of guy is not interested in guarding a girl’s heart. His goal was sex, and her goal was intimacy. He got what he wanted. The thrill of the chase is over, and his respect for her is gone. She was only desirable as long as she was unattainable.
He might also feel uneasy around her because he used her. When he did that, he missed the point of what it means to be a man. As a result, he probably feels shame when he sees her; her face might remind him of his emptiness. He might even feel sorry for her, so it is easier to ignore her. If a guy is exchanging sexual intimacies with a woman before he marries her, he has made the mistake of asking for her heart before he is willing to hold and guard it with his life.
Here is a glimpse inside the heart of an honest guy who did just this:
“I finally got a girl into bed—actually it was in a car—when I was seventeen. I thought it was the hottest thing there was, but then she started saying that she loved me and was getting clingy. I figured out that there had probably been a dozen other guys before me who thought that they had “conquered” her but who were really just objects of her need for security. That realization took all the wind out of my sails. I could not respect someone who gave in as easily as she did. I was amazed to find that after four weeks of having sex as often as I wanted, I was tired of her. I didn’t see any point in continuing the relationship. I finally dumped her, which made me feel even worse, because I could see that she was hurting. I felt pretty low.”.
During premarital sex two bodies are speaking a language of permanence that does not exist in reality. If either person’s heart is invested in the union, that person will be disappointed, hurt, and angry when the breakup comes. One girl wrote, “I thought Mike really loved me, but last night we had sex for the first time, and this morning he told my girlfriend that he didn’t want to see me anymore. I thought that giving Mike what he wanted would make him happy and he’d love me more.” To avoid this disappointment, a girl needs to realize that sexual intimacy is the culmination and reward of total commitment, not a way to keep a guy interested.
Unfortunately, many young women think that a physical relationship will draw a guy closer. I have seen plenty of relationships that started out fine, but as the couple became more physical, the emotional, social, and spiritual aspects of the relationship atrophied. (Atrophy is what happens to your muscles when you’re paralyzed. Because they’re not used, they wither away.)
That is what happens to the other dimensions of a relationship when physical intimacy dominates. The solution is restraint. A young woman will find the intimacy for which she yearns only by respecting herself.
. Thomas Lickona, “The Neglected Heart,” American Educator (Summer 1994), 7.
. Josh McDowell, Why Wait? (Nashville, Tenn.: Nelson Book Publishers, 1987), 16.
You could respond in any number of ways. For one, you could ask the person, “If I can prove that the majority of high school students are virgins, will you be abstinent?” The most authoritative research on the sexual activity rates of high school students is the Youth Risk Behavior Survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control. According to this nationwide survey of more than 150 high schools, only about a third of all students are currently sexually active. Since 1991 teen sexual activity rates have been dropping, and now the majority of high school students are virgins.
In fact, between 1991 and 2005 the sexual activity rate of high school boys dropped twice as quickly as that of high school girls! Among teens who have already lost their virginity, two-thirds of them wish they had waited longer to have sex (77 percent of girls and 60 percent of guys).
The trend toward chastity is well underway, even if you haven’t noticed it on your campus. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy surveyed teens from around the country, asking them if it was embarrassing for teens to admit that they are virgins. Surprisingly, 87 percent of teens said no, it’s not embarrassing. Most of those who said it was embarrassing were under the age of fifteen. Only 5 percent of older teens (fifteen to seventeen years of age) thought virginity was an embarrassing admission.
Despite the fact that these teens said virginity wasn’t something to be ashamed of, you don’t hear much about it because the sexually active students do all the talking. For some reason chastity gossip just doesn’t seem to spread as quickly. This gives the impression that “everyone is doing it,” when in reality the majority are not.
You could also point out that the “everyone” who is “doing it” is also getting STDs, that “everyone” is breaking up three weeks after they have sex, and “everyone” ends up getting divorced if they stay together long enough to get married. You are in no rush to join any of these crowds. We all have a fear of not being accepted or of being a loner if we do not conform to the world. But you must hold out for the higher standard of love.
The bottom line is this: What is your motivation? Is it to please God or to conform to the world and make life-changing decisions based on the opinions of classmates, most of whom you will probably never see again after graduation? Stay strong. You are worth the wait. Besides, the world needs to see young people who are not scared out of their minds to be chaste. This is something to be proud of, and if enough people on your campus realize this and have the courage to stand up, I would bet the saying “everyone is doing it” may eventually refer to chastity.
. Centers for Disease Control, “Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance—United States, 2013.”
. Centers for Disease Control, “Trends in the Prevalence of Sexual Behaviors: National YRBS: 1991–2007,” Fact Sheet (2008).
. Centers for Disease Control, “Trends in HIV-Related Behaviors Among High School Students—United States 1991–2005,” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly 55:31 (August 11, 2006), 851–854.
. National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, “America’s Adults and Teens Sound Off About Teen Pregnancy: An Annual National Survey,” (December 16, 2003), 17.
. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, “The Cautious Generation? Teens Tell us About Sex, Virginity, and ‘The Talk,”’ (April 27, 2000), 1.
Just because a thing is good, this does not mean that it is without boundaries. For example, because sleep is good, imagine that you decide to sleep until one in the afternoon on a school day. You walk into school with the creases from your pillow still embedded in your face. When your teacher asks where you have been, you yawn, wipe the drool from your chin, and remind him that sleep is good and so you were enjoying sleep. You add that when you go home you will probably eat thirty pounds of Girl Scout cookies because eating is good, too.
Needless to say, while sleep and food are good, they do have their limits. Similarly, the good gift of sex has its boundaries as well—and the boundary for sex is marriage. When we take sex outside of marriage, it is like taking fire out of the fireplace. The beautiful gift can quickly become destructive. But what about the fact that sex feels so natural?
Suppose that one day at work I decide to have an affair with my secretary. When I come home, my wife Crystalina asks how my day was. I tell her that work went well, the drive home was pleasant, and that I cheated on her. Upon hearing this, she throws my belongings onto the front lawn. To ease her pain, I point out how “natural” the affair was. Needless to say, she would not be comforted. She is well aware that the fact that sex is natural is not a sufficient reason to engage in it.
Although pleasure is a natural result of sex, it is not the purpose of sex. If you confuse the purpose of sex (babies and bonding) with the additional benefit of pleasure, you abandon love and use the other person as an object of lust.
When people argue that couples should be free to have sex outside of marriage, they do not realize what they are asking for. “Liberating” sex from the confines of marriage is like liberating a goldfish from its bowl—not a great idea. In the same way, the intimacy of sex was never meant to be separated from the total intimacy that makes up married life. It was not meant to be “free.”
One woman explained, “So-called sexual freedom is really just proclaiming oneself to be available for free, and therefore without value. To ‘choose’ such freedom is tantamount to saying that one is worth nothing.” When we divorce sex from marriage, we inevitably meet with disappointment. We are trying to grab the privileges of marriage without accepting the commitment and sacrifice that must accompany the gift of total intimacy.
. Sarah E. Hinlicky, “Subversive Virginity,” First Things (October 1998), 15.
We cannot determine the morality of an action based upon how good it feels. Rapists and child molesters feel pleasure, but no one would doubt that their actions are immoral. Likewise, things that cause tremendous pain can be acts of great love, as when one person gives his life for someone else. If we measured the goodness of an act by the pleasure received, then adulterers would be virtuous and war heroes would be scoundrels.
If you want to know the morality of an act, ‘‘Do not conform yourself to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect’’ (Rom. 12:2, NAB).
Some people think that chastity and virginity are synonymous, but they are not. Not all chaste people are virgins, and not all virgins are chaste. For example, before their conversions, Saint Augustine fathered a child out of marriage, Saint Margaret of Cortona lived with her boyfriend, and Saint Pelagia was a prostitute. While they may not have been virgins, they became chaste—and became saints.
On the other hand, some people are technically virgins, but they compromise their purity in countless ways. Many virgins assume, ‘‘As long as I retain my virginity, I’m being good. Therefore, everything short of intercourse is OK.’’ They may give parts of themselves to people they know they will never marry and assume that they are still pure because they are not having intercourse. Slowly they begin to believe that sexual intimacy is not a big deal. By the time they meet the person they truly deserve, they need a lot of healing for all they have given away.
But chastity is not something that can be lost forever because something shameful happened in your past. Virginity concerns our sexual history, but chastity is not concerned with the past. Chastity is a virtue that exists only in the present. People often think that because they have lost their virginity, purity will always be out of their reach. It is not. Just as a person who has led a pure life can fall into immorality, a person who has sinned can return to purity. To be pure it is necessary that your heart be directed to God. In his eyes, the repentant prostitute is purer than the lustful virgin. We need to remember that our worth lies in how God sees us, not in how others see us or even in how we sometimes see ourselves.
Seven centuries ago a young man named Thomas Aquinas felt a call from the Lord to join the Dominican order. However, his family had other plans in mind. So they hired a prostitute to seduce him. When she attempted to distract him from his vocation, he chased her out of the room with a hot firebrand. Imagine if this great saint, whom we know as “The Angelic Doctor of the Church,” had succumbed to her invitation.
In the same way that a man who is planning on getting married and becoming a father begins reevaluating his life in light of the responsibilities and expectations of fatherhood, so a young person thinking about the priesthood or religious life should be thinking about living up to God’s expectations—not living down to the expectations of the world.
Besides the spiritual consequences of sex, you also have to consider the fact that one act of sex could bring a child into the world. What kind of father do you want to be? A spiritual one, or a biological one? Whichever one you choose, give yourself completely to that calling. Furthermore, what about the emotional toll this will take on you and the woman? You would be using her, as you said, “for the sake of experiencing it.” This is no way to prepare to become an image of Christ in the priesthood.
As you realize, choosing the pure life is demanding. Jesus demands that all his followers be ready to make sacrifices: “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). Persevere for Christ. “My son, hold fast to your duty, busy yourself with it, grow old while doing your task. Admire not how sinners live, but trust in the Lord and wait for his light” (Sir. 11:20–21, NAB).
Do not make the mistake of thinking about celibacy in negative terms. If you become a priest or religious, then the gift of your sexuality is not being wasted. Rather, you are being offered as a living sacrifice to God, for the sake of the Church. To give your virginity away to another would be like a groom losing his virginity to a stranger the night before his wedding. Make this sacrifice, as a groom waits for his bride. As Pope John Paul II said, young people “know that their life has meaning to the extent that it becomes a free gift for others.”. If the Lord has called you to himself, then you are his. As Saint Francis once said to his brothers, “Hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves so that he who gives himself totally to you may receive you totally.”
As a reward for such a generous donation of self, Christ promises, “There is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life” (Mark 10:29–30).
Also, remember that the one-flesh union of a husband and wife is only a sign that points to an eternal reality: we all will be wedded to God in heaven. The celibacy of Catholic priests around the world is a constant witness to humanity that there is a greater reality than the daily affairs and pleasures of earth. By giving up marital intercourse in this life, you are essentially saying to God that you are skipping the sign and beginning to embrace the reality of total union with Him.
. Pope John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1994), 121.
. “A Letter to the Entire Order,” 29 in Regis J. Armstrong and Ignatius C. Brady, trans. Francis and Clare: The Complete Works (New York: Paulist Press, 1982), 58.