Traditional. Pure. Restrictive. These are the words the culture uses to label chastity.
Even amongst Christians though, many of us lack a full understanding of this beautiful virtue. I’ve found that “chastity” oftentimes is one of those buzzwords that gets thrown around in Catholic circles, leaving many young people confused and without a clear path to direct their sexual desires.
So, what does chastity actually mean?
To give you a clear definition of chastity – chastity is the virtue which aligns the level of intimacy in a relationship with the level of commitment in a relationship.
Chastity is a lifestyle which ensures we live in the reality of our relationships – helping us love the people in front of us in the way that we are called to right now.
Every person is called to live out the virtue of chastity in all relationships, not just romantic ones. Whether you are single, dating, engaged, married, 14 years old, 19 years old, 38 years old, or 74 years old, you are called to live a life of chastity.
Let me explain, the way I interact with a stranger on the street versus the way I interact with a new friend versus the way I interact with my best friend versus the way I interact with my mom versus the way I interact with my boyfriend versus my future husband looks different because my level of commitment in each of these relationships varies. And the commitment level affects the reality of each of our relationships.
Here’s an example: say you’ve been on a few dates with a guy. You’ve been getting to know him, and he’s great. On your next date, you go out to lunch and go on a walk and the whole time you’re so hoping he is going to ask you to be his girlfriend. Sure enough, as you are saying goodbye in the parking lot, he asks you to be his girlfriend. And of course you say yes! So exciting, right?
But now, let’s jump ahead to your wedding day. Your fiance and you are standing on the altar before God surrounded by all your family and friends. Says his wedding vows to you, he is looking into your eyes and commits the rest of his life to you.
Wouldn’t you say that the level of commitment in these two situations is different? Yes.
In dating, the level of commitment is clearly not nearly as high as it is in marriage. So, the level of intimacy in these two types of relationships will look different.
In marriage, a man and a woman give themselves completely to each other through their vows and are then able to give themselves completely to each other through their bodies during sex. On the other hand, in dating, a guy and a girl do not make a lifelong commitment to each other, so they are called to save sex and all sexually intimate acts until marriage.
I share all of this information with you so you have a fuller understanding of what chastity actually means and why it actually makes sense.
Below are some tips to help you live out the virtue of chastity in your life no matter how old you are or what state of life you are in:
- Learn more about what chastity actually means. We cannot live out this virtue if we don’t fully understand it. If you want to experience the joy and freedom you were created for through living a chaste life, educate yourself! Check out more of The Culture Project’s blogs, read a Theology of the Body beginners book, or listen to podcasts.
- Put your “why?” into your own words. Think about the reasons why you want to live out chastity. Have a statement in your head you can say to yourself when you are feeling tempted in sexual sin or tempted to treat someone as less than they dessere. For instance, “I practice chastity because I believe in God’s plan for love. Or “I practice chastity because I honor the sanctity of marriage!” or “ I practice chastity because I know it is the surest way to happiness (as JPII said)!
- Create boundaries in your relationships. Boundaries are not only healthy in romantic relationships. Rather, we should have boundaries in all of our relationships – be it with family members, friends of the same sex, friends of the opposite sex, the list goes on. Physical boundaries in dating relationships are necessary (at The Culture Project we suggest drawing the line before making out) to live out chastity. I also suggest thinking of and implementing emotional boundaries in all of your relationships.
The Church’s teachings on sexuality are not insane and outdated. Rather, they are radical and empowering. Know that you are capable of loving in powerful ways, and living out the virtue of chastity will prove just that.