I’ve been finding myself in a bit of a tight spot when talking with people of my generation. You see, many of my close friends and I are a little different because we live a Christian lifestyle: we go to church on Sundays; we pray regularly; we believe in God, etc. Oh, and also, we live chastely.
This last one seems to really stick out, to the point that we are often simultaneously treated as though we are as rare as unicorns and as perplexing as platypuses. (This treatment is particularly distressing because generally we’re trying to be as shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves, but I digress.)
Now, I think it would be one thing if chaste people were only treated as though we are missing out on some great joy of life, or as though we are misguidedly repressing ourselves. But I’ve noticed an evolution that is making me feel just plain old sad for the rest of the world. Right now, those of us who choose a chaste lifestyle are considered foolish, imprudent and reckless by many of our peers, even if they do not say it in as many words.
The logic goes like this: If you want a successful marriage, you should do everything you can to make sure you are a good fit with your potential spouse beforehand. Therefore you need to live with your partner to make sure everything is in working order. Those who skip this step are missing vital pieces of information that are needed to make a good decision about whom to marry.
I have been reflecting on this logic for quite some time (i.e., my entire adult life), and I have come to realize that the reason I don’t like it is because it treats sex as a diagnostic tool. Rather than being an expression of love and a committed sharing of each other without reservation, sex is used to test a relationship to see if it is good enough. And if the other person fails the test, well, that’s OK because you can just find a new person to take their place.
This reasoning turns the meaning of sex completely on its head. It no longer sees sex as a gift to be given and received, shared and enjoyed, but rather puts pressure on sex to become the litmus test for whether or not happiness can be achieved. However, as Rev. Ron Rolheiser recently wrote, “When sex is asked to carry the primary load in terms of human generativity and happiness, it cannot help but come up short.”
When sex is used to achieve happiness rather than to express it, it cannot do other than fail. Like a depressed person trying to fight loneliness through a faked smile, the person who uses sexual intimacy as a means to an end can only run from reality for so long before he or she will have to face the emptiness of his or her own unfulfilled needs.
If I could sit down with my peers for 15 minutes to explain my reasons for choosing chastity, I would want to share that sexual intimacy is an expression not only of love but of creativity and joy. At its best, this form of physical intimacy can bond a couple together in a way that nothing else can because it allows them to share their generative ability and the delight they have in one another (or so I’ve been told). Isn’t that beautiful!
I would add that while sexual intimacy is beautiful, it is also powerful. This power often blinds us to other ways of expressing ourselves, making it easy to overemphasize the value of sex to the detriment of so many other life-giving means of self-expression. A commitment to chastity allows one to develop these other means of self-expression and to recognize the joy that can come from experiencing a wide variety of relationships.
Living chastely provides relationships with the space they need to mature and allows sexual intimacy to flourish as an expression of love. It may not always be an easy way of life, but it is a fruitful one.
I have no doubt that for many readers my innocence is palpable throughout this article, but that really doesn’t bother me. Maybe a little innocence is what our world needs right now.
Deutscher holds an MA in Public Ethics from St. Paul University in Ottawa. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Public Policy at the University of Saskatchewan.