Dawn Eden has been an online force for Catholic bloggers for several years now and I have respected her efforts from afar. “Afar” because she often writes about relationship issues and chastity. This is her speaking to her conversion to Chastity:
As a late convert to chastity, I sometimes have a hard time explaining my vocation to people — and not just to those who think it’s bizarre to forgo premarital sex. There are Catholics of traditional upbringing who look at me as if they’d never met a 38-year-old woman who wasn’t either a mother or a nun. When I wrote on my blog about the response I gave to the Irish Times reporter, a male reader commented, “[T]hough there might be something to be said for ‘easing’ into the idea of a lifetime of singleness, at some point, I think that making an affirmative commitment to single lay celibacy would give that life the same focus and purpose that men and women living holy orders or marriage enjoy.”
I believe that a small but significant number of people share that reader’s perspective, in that they are uncomfortable with the idea of uncertainty. They can’t imagine themselves leading a chaste single life for an extended period of time, and so they feel uneasy at the idea that someone would choose a life lacking the “focus and purpose” of celibacy vows. To them, the idea of an unmarried person’s attempting to live chastely without consecrating their choice before God is the equivalent of a couple’s shacking up rather than making their union official. I feel as though they think I’m just playing at chastity.
When it comes to faith, God recognizes no mushy middle. On the one hand, the Bible is filled with exhortations to take a stand, perhaps most eloquently in Revelation 3, when Jesus tells the Laodicean church to be cold or hot — but not lukewarm. But on the other, the Bible makes clear that our life on Earth is an ongoing study in reconciliation. “I have been a stranger in a strange land,” said Moses, and God’s people have always been strangers among the worldly. The Lord wants us to rely solely upon Him for direction, as David writes in the 25th Psalm: “Mine eyes are ever toward the Lord; for he shall pluck my feet out of the net.”
In other words, as I see it, we are supposed to be absolutely certain of where we stand — but not so sure about where we’re going.
Through Jesus’ reconciling the world to himself, Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5, we as Christians are given the “ministry of reconciliation.” This ministry is intended to be ongoing. It does not end when one lives under vows, regardless of the sense of closure such vows may provide.
A friend of mine, while training me to volunteer at a charity that helped homebound senior citizens, warned me not to assume that a healthy-looking client was able to take good care of himself. “Not all disabilities are visible,” she said.
In the same way, not all abilities are visible. It is impossible to tell from observing someone’s life what spiritual graces that person has received. “The world admires only spectacular sacrifice,” wrote St. Josemaria Escriva, “because it does not realize the value of sacrifice that is hidden and silent.”
Being a good twenty years older and having grown up in a much more innocent age where HIV-AIDS had not yet ravaged the dating landscape, my sexual coming of age was given over to the Playboy philosophy and learning how to become a sexual predator. I continued polishing my skills after separating from my wife in my late thirties. So my fascination with Dawn comes from wondering how my life could have been different had my conversion happened in my teens and I had learned about chastity earlier. I also spent my 20s and 30s in Japan which had a highly developed sexual predator culture that I smoothly adopted. It also gave me an excuse – I wasn’t being any different from any other Japanese man I knew. In fact, I partook of none of their sexist behaviors but used my skills to seduce my prey.
Chastity, Dawn tells us, “is often used to mean abstaining from sex, as if it were equivalent to celibacy. One remembers St. Augustine, grappling with his desires, crying out to God, “Give me chastity . . . but not yet!” According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, ‘All Christ’s faithful are called to lead a chaste life in keeping with their particular states of life.’” Yet if being chaste were the same as being celibate Christ’s faithful wouldn’t be that great in number.
Chastity flows from the moral virtue of temperance which along with Prudence ( the ability to judge between actions with regard to appropriate actions at a given time); Justice (proper moderation between self-interest and the rights and needs of others) and Courage or Fortitude (the forbearance, endurance, and ability to confront fear and uncertainty, or intimidation) combine to comprise the Four Cardinal Virtues. You may note that all four do not come naturally and require not only an education in but a devotion to their practice. Needless to say they are not taught in school and form no basis for any practical outlook in our culture – outside of the Boy Scouts perhaps, which I had abandoned in my early teens.
Chastity helps us direct our sexuality and sexual desires toward authentic love and away from using persons as objects for sexual pleasure. Chastity is not, as I had imagined, a matter of repression of sexual feelings and temptations, but is the successful integration of the gift of sexuality within the whole person. To integrate the gift of sexuality means to make it subordinate to love and respect through the practice of chastity.
Dawn Eden writes: “Part of chastity entails the proper ordering of sexual pleasure — which means engaging in it only within marriage. But more than that, it is really a way to look at all of one’s relationships so that they no longer become mere exchanges of commodities. It means experiencing others’ presence — not just what they do, but their existence itself — as a gift. A spouse is a particularly special reminder of that most perfect gift of self made by Jesus Christ.
While sex can bring pleasure, the jury is still out on whether it can bring joy…The Catholic Church believes that true joy comes from God. In that light, the only way a sexual relationship can bring such joy is if it is undertaken by a man and woman who have brought God into it through the sacrament of marriage.”
One of the great secular best sellers while I was growing up was “The Joy of Sex,” a 1972 best seller by the aptly named but now deceased Dr. Alex Comfort. That highly graphically illustrated book became the coffee-table Kama Sutra of the baby-boom generation. Its three versions sold more than 12 million copies and earned the good Doctor who morphed from a physician into poet, novelist, scientific researcher, anarchist and pacifist and author of 51 books over three million dollars, most of which he gave away to charities. Supposedly the actual work of churning its hymn to Sex and Freedom took only three weeks.
But this is the Freedom which counsels the satisfaction of appetites. It is hard to recall the Church’s definition of freedom, which was not the political license to follow our bellies or the philosophical encouragement to send our elders packing. Freedom was understood, rather, as a growing into the habits, the virtues, that allow us to fulfill our end as human beings without the impediments of vice.
As Dawn points out it is “in sacramental marriage, spouses’ commitment of unending love for one another emulates God’s unending love for them. As a result, their temporal feelings of sexual gratification are transformed — gaining a deep and fulfilling sense of spiritual permanence.” Had this been the Joy of the “Joy of Sex,” perhaps something good may have come out of it.
But in 1968 the median age of the United States was my own, 21 years old. The average age of the soldier in Vietnam was 19. There wasn’t much premium on wisdom and few could recognize it. As consumers the young drove the markets and if you could package stupidity and sell it as wisdom so much the better. And it came out during a perfect storm: when the birth control pill had removed some constraints to sex, and before AIDS added new ones.
When Dr. Comfort passed, the NY Times hunted about for a tribute to him and the book. They knew just where to look: ”Dr. Comfort’s ‘Joy of Sex’ was a landmark book that made an important contribution to human development and healthy sexuality,” said Joan Malin, chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of New York City. ”The groundbreaking publication of this book took us from an era of silence and shame about sexuality to one of greater openness and discussion.”
Those folks are still with us and probably look on in horror at the phenomena of Dawn Eden.
But to get back to my summary here, Dawn tells us that beyond marital happiness, there are countless reasons why chastity is worth pursuing in the here and now. I’ve distilled seven from the 10 and ½ she offered.
One (#1) she writes on is to find joy in unexpected places:
“Becoming chaste requires a conscious decision to change perspective…. The decision is that only after taking the focus off love, acquired or absent, that it is possible to see life’s blessings as the gifts they are….Relationships can no longer be viewed through the lens of entitlement: You accept the fact that love is too precious to be a thing “deserved,” as most of the broader culture seems to teach.
With this new vision, true love means being loved for who you are, not what you do. Likewise, there is a desire to share that same kind of unconditional love with others — not only a spouse, but also anyone else — because giving love is the only way to truly live.
Another (#2) is to experience true freedom:
True sexual freedom can exist only when the dignity of the human person is recognized. That is impossible in an environment that upholds works like Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues, inviting people to reduce their self-image to their anatomy. Likewise, there is no dignity in a society that encourages touching another person’s body but not allowing that person to touch your heart.
The Church’s teachings on chastity enable us to discover, understand, and live out our liberty in Christ. G. K. Chesterton wrote nearly a century ago in Orthodoxy: “Catholic doctrine and discipline may be walls; but they are the walls of a playground. . . . We might fancy some children playing on the flat grassy top of some tall island in the sea. So long as there was a wall round the cliff’s edge they could fling themselves into every frantic game and make the place the noisiest of nurseries. But the walls were knocked down, leaving the naked peril of the precipice. They did not fall over; but when their friends returned to them they were all huddled in terror in the center of the island; and their song had ceased.”
A third (#3) is to recognize that fornication is a mortal sin:
“If there’s a Heaven worth getting to, then it’s impossible to ignore the fact that Jesus said that sex outside of marriage separates us from Him.
The Catechism defines sin in two categories, venial and mortal, according to their gravity, particularly how they affect charity — that is, one’s ability to love God and thereby truly love others. “Venial sin allows charity to subsist, even though it offends and wounds it,” but “mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God’s law; it turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to him” (1854-55).
“Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself,” the Catechism adds. “It results in the loss of charity and the privation of sanctifying grace, that is, of the state of grace. If it is not redeemed by repentance and God’s forgiveness, it causes exclusion from Christ’s kingdom and the eternal death of hell, for our freedom has the power to make choices for ever, with no turning back.”
The Catechism specifically mentions fornication — sex outside of marriage — as a sin, and the Church has traditionally taught that it is a mortal sin. This teaching can be traced to the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus said, “I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt 9:28). If lustful looks are adulterous, how much worse is lustful physical contact?
St. Paul tells us that “fornicators” and other “unrighteous” “will not inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). Willful sin of any kind, including fornication, deprives one of heaven.
A friend of mine offers another sobering thought: If you have sex outside of marriage, what you’re really saying to your sex partner is, ‘I wish you hell.’”
A fourth (#4) is to build true intimacy, not forced or premature intimacy:
“Before taking marriage vows, the best way to practice for married love is by not having sex. That’s because most of marriage is not having sex. It’s a lesson that many couples learn too late.
Studies show that the top three reasons why couples divorce are communication problems, unhappiness, and incompatibility (see “Perceived Causes of Divorce,” Journal of Marriage and the Family, February 1985). These problems often arise because couples have not learned, before their marriage, to communicate effectively and to make sacrifices for the good of the other. A major reason for this is often that they have skipped steps to intimacy, using sex to create a false bond while failing to make necessary efforts to deepen their relationship.
Part of the pseudo-intimacy that sex can bring is caused by body chemistry. Numerous scientific studies, some of which are cited in Dr. Miriam Grossman’s Unprotected, have shown that the hormone oxytocin, which is released during sexual arousal, facilitates or fabricates a feeling of bonding, particularly in women.
Moreover, the nature of sex itself — being a complete physical self-giving — puts pressure on relationships where emotional intimacy has not been fully and deeply established.
For those who attempt to use sex as a shortcut to intimacy, the results are often painful. A study in the Journal of Sex Research found that college students in committed dating relationships often consented to unwanted sexual activity out of the belief that it was necessary for intimacy:
Approximately one quarter of the men and one half of the women who participated in this study reported consenting to unwanted sexual activity during a two-week period. This finding indicates that these experiences were not uncommon for our sample. . . . Participants typically reported consenting to unwanted sexual activity to satisfy a partner’s needs, to promote relationship intimacy, and to avoid relationship tension. Diminished intimacy and/or relationship discord may be a consequence of violating such an implicit contract.
So, popular culture’s ideal of sexual freedom, in practice, means making yourself available so that someone can emotionally pressure you into sex.
The fifth (#5) is to deepen your relationship with god
“Different stages of life bring different priorities. “He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord — how he may please the Lord,” writes St. Paul to the Corinthians. “But he who is married cares about the things of the world — how he may please his wife.”
Likewise, Paul writes, “The unmarried woman cares about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But she who is married cares about the things of the world — how she may please her husband” (1 Corinthians 7:32-34).
The time that God gives for the single life is precious — and not merely because you have more freedom to do what you want to do when you want to do it. It’s precious because it provides a unique opportunity to bring all your spiritual graces into full flower — and to do so in ways that will bear fruit for the rest of your life.
It costs no money and often takes very little time to share God’s love with someone in need, yet the rewards are incalculable. In years to come, you may be very thankful that, when you were unmarried and in good health, you used your time to learn holiness.”
The sixth (#6) is to dramatically increase your odds of having a lasting marriage
Numerous studies suggest that if a couple has had sex before marriage, the pair is far more likely to get divorced. The divorce rate for couples who live together before marriage is nearly twice that of couples who do not cohabitate (see “The changing character of stepfamilies,” Demography 32; and “Cohabitation and Divorce in Canada,” Journal of Marriage and the Family 57).
Likewise, research by Robert Rector and Kirk Johnson shows that experimenting with one or more sex partners doesn’t prepare one for being able to maintain a committed relationship — just the opposite, in fact. The Heritage Foundation researchers, analyzing the 1995 National Survey of Family Growth, found that for women 30 or older, those who were monogamous (only one sexual partner in a lifetime) were by far most likely to still be in a stable relationship (80 percent). Having sex with just one extra partner dropped that probability to 54 percent. Two extra partners brought it down to 44 percent. Who would have thought that the price of sleeping with even one partner would lead to divorce for almost half of those who had only one extra tryst?
And the last one (#7) she lists is to learn how to love others the way god loves you
“The hunger for love is so great that people often attach its name to emotions or impulses that are far inferior to the real thing.
As St. John wrote, God is love. In becoming man, He showed us how we are to love one another — fully, completely, and sacrificially, with nothing held back.
The key to love is chastity, because it is only through chastity that we can learn to love one another as God loves us. That kind of love does not depend upon what another does for us. We love others because God gave us the ability to do so, and it is in doing so that we fulfill our destiny as His children.”If we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us” (1 John 4:12).
This love, as we have seen, can be experienced only when it is accepted as a gift, not as what one deserves. The beauty of it is that, to fully experience the gift of another, one must become a gift. “Anyone who wishes to give love must also receive love as a gift,” writes Pope Benedict XVI in Deus Caritas Est (God Is Love): “Certainly, as the Lord tells us, one can become a source from which rivers of living water flow (cf John 7:37-38). Yet to become such a source, one must constantly drink anew from the original source, which is Jesus Christ, from whose pierced heart flows the love of God (cf John 19:34).”
Loving others as God loves them requires truth and integrity — qualities that are absent in sex outside of marriage.
In non-marital sex, your body says, “I give myself to you completely,” while your heart says, “nope,” “maybe,” or “hope so.” The dichotomy between what is done and what is felt is spiritually damaging, because what you do with your body affects your soul.
“The body, and it alone, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine,” John Paul II says in the Theology of the Body. “It was created to transfer into the visible reality of the world the mystery hidden since time immemorial in God, and thus be a sign of it.”
That mystery has its source in the ultimate union — that of God and His Church in heaven. To the extent that you reflect God’s love, your body and soul are at heaven’s leading edge.
Living chastely means recognizing your true residence and living as though you are already there. The size of your home is determined by the size of your heart. As countless saints have discovered, it is truly living large.”
As you see Ms. Eden makes some powerful arguments. The full article with some interesting comments from readers is here. Her blog and all things Dawn is here. She no longer blogs but her posts are still there.