Chastity and Love: Please Don’t Let Them Be Misunderstood


chastity-for-loversChastity and love are two of the most misunderstood concepts in our culture today. In her new book Chastity Is For Lovers: Single, Happy, and (Still) a Virgin, Arleen Spenceley does a masterful job clearing up the confusion. About chastity and how it differs from abstinence, she says:

Chastity neither pretends sexuality doesn’t exist nor treats it as if it is the only significant part of a person. … Chastity infuses sex with love, and love with sacrifice. Abstinence doesn’t. Chastity never trivializes sex, and it refuses to use or objectify people, It says we can have what we want when what we want is good for us and it equips us to discern whether it is.

This explanation of chastity shows how our sexuality fits into our lives. Sex outside the protective embrace of marriage is not good for us. That’s why the Church, in its wisdom, counsels against pre-marital and extra-marital sex. Sex inside marriage, when there is a grave reason to avoid pregnancy, might not be good for us either.

That’s why the Church supports periodic abstinence, or Natural Family Planning, if a married couple seriously cannot handle a child (or another child) in their relationship. Deciding whether to get married or whether to get pregnant both require discernment.

About love, Arleen says:

I wanted to get married because married people get to love. And married people do get to love. But they don’t have a monopoly on love. What I hadn’t grasped yet was that love takes multiple forms, and all of them require sacrifice.

Love is not about what you get (or what you get to do between the sheets). Love is about what you give and how you give it. Single virgins don’t get to have sex, but they also don’t have babies wanting milk from them every two to four hours day and night. It’s all a balance.

The culture tells us that love means having sex, but sex doesn’t mean having babies. Arleen explains that single people love in lots of ways that don’t include sex, and married people (in most cases) share love through having sex and having babies. Both single and married people can achieve happiness through loving and being loved.

I do disagree, however, with some advice Arleen gives on chaste dating. She insists that chaste daters need to keep the bar high, particularly with respect to virtue. She’s no longer willing “to date guys who aren’t ‘it,’ in hopes that they would grow on me.” But what she discounts is that a person might grow in virtue precisely because she demanded more of him and showed him a better way — a way to love, a way to faith, a way to God.

God’s love says we can do better and be better. But it’s the love of a good person that gives us a tangible reason to try. When I met my husband-to-be Manny, I didn’t exactly believe in chaste dating. When he told me that all he wanted was to hold hands, I felt he had rejected me so deeply that a crack fissured right through my heart. But what really broke was my hardness of heart, my misconception that my sexuality and my sexiness was my deepest value, my badly mistaken assumption that if he didn’t want sex, then he didn’t want me. He did want me, but he wanted all of me, healed by his love, healed by God’s love, forever.

So should chaste daters demand chastity from those they date? Sure. But chaste daters can teach chastity as well. God chooses the one who is “it” for us, even if they have to grow a bit to get there.


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  • Tom in AZ

    “single virgins don’t get to have sex, but they also don’t have babies wanting milk from them every two to four hours day and night.” So single men like me can have sex? I like what I’m hearing.

  • Episteme

    I’m always confused, as a chaste single man, about what woman want (the perennial male question) in a date. I’ve long ago accepted that secular women won’t date me – they have literally laughed in my face on multiple occasions the moment they find out that I’m a virgin; plus, at 35, I need to date with some intentionality. That question of intentionality is where I’m always stymied with Catholic women, however. Even leaving aside those whose own chastity isn’t the same as mine (see the reaction above), I get rejections mainly on economic fronts because of the “Man as Provider” issue (I’m caregiver to my elderly father – and my late mother before that – so my work has been back-burnered to part-time for a decade) so I hear the “not It” clause from successful single women in their thirties (and late twenties…and forties) very often.

    It’s heartbreaking, especially since the married rest of my parish seems to misinterpret my chastity as “If we keep foiling him talking to women long enough, we’ll get him to settle and become a priest yet!,” given the amount of ministry I perform there. The other part of the equation, so often unnoted is the difference in the social circles that men and women maintain. If you look over the Catholic Blogosphere, single women have large circles of tight friendships supporting each other (even online friendships between bloggers) and supporting their dating decisions. Men past college age don’t really have friends – the only guys with friends are married guys with “couple friends” or the immature guys living lad culture with “the boys” and their wingmen in a perpetuance of college friendships. We single men in our thirties and beyond live without love in more than a physical sense, especially when our church community rejects us and far too often mentally packs us in with the ‘bros’ and we find ourself rejected by our single female peers for reasons decided by their internal community that we cannot often even fathom.

    I keep thinking that i wish there would be a book like all of these, but for Single Catholic Men – and I don’t really count the bits that reference “hey guys, here’s what to do” parts in these, any more than I count the throwaway lines for singles in homilies/sermons directed at married couples as “Sermons for Singles” – but I honesty don’t know that any of us men know any longer past a certain age what to do besides Surviving in Wartime…

    • Marion (Mael Muire)

      Hello, Episteme, and may God bless you and your father.

      Our pastor began a “Mens’ Group” which meets on Saturday mornings from 7 AM – 9 AM, just at the time that our parish daily Mass begins, so many of the Mens’ Group participants stay over for Mass, as well. I’m female, so I can’t say precisely what the format is, but I think the format is an opening prayer, a brief informal talk by the pastor, and then a friendly and informal discussion. I hear the group is great, and wildly popular with married and single men, seem to be mostly in their 20s to 40s.

      Maybe your pastor would consider doing the same at your parish.

      Also please read the Book of Tobit. The message I took from it is that if it is the Lord’s Will that one should be married, the Lord will arrange circumstances to make this possible. In His own time.

      And, yes, the Lord can accomplish whatever He desires, no matter what, no matter the social conditions or cultural environment which may prevail in our world. Doesn’t matter. God accomplishes His designs, praise be His Name forever. Full Stop.

      Our job is simply this: to be open to whatever He wants for us. Full Stop.

      May God bless you and keep you forever.

    • Christine

      Our daughter recently married a man ten years older than she, about your age. Don’t give up hope. If I could give you any advice, it would be to seek out edifying friendships first, with both sexes. It doesn’t have to be at church. Join a club or a service organization. Have fun with people, the right kind of fun, of course. I think this is the right way to begin a relationship with a woman anyway, by being her friend without any kind of romantic expectations. Properly ordered, romance grows from friendship anyway.

      Pray. We have a friend whose daughter married at 35 after many years of waiting. She used to make regular holy hours, praying for her future spouse, even before the met.

      May God bless you.