I was 23 and head over feet for the guy who sat beside me on the couch.
It had been there, in his Tampa apartment, where we already had discussed what he brought up again in our conversation that evening: sex.
I was a virgin; he wasn’t. I wanted to wait until marriage; he didn’t.
And in an effort to try to get me to change my mind, he stared into my eyes and told a lie: “No man will wait that long.”
His is one of countless voices that consistently shout a detrimental message at anybody who dares to admit to saving sex (or to saving sex from now on) in a culture that says we shouldn’t: “You are alone.”
I, today a 29-year-old virgin, now know that it isn’t true. I know that I am not the only one, that I am actually one of many whose faith in Christ has inspired us to go against the grain.
We have decided to live like we believe that sex is what God says it is: a sacred physical sign of the vows a man and a woman made at the altar where they were married — an expression of the unity achieved by the sacrament of matrimony.
But I also know now that we are few and far between — that we can quickly feel alone in a culture like ours and that feeling alone can make saving sex seem impossible.
That’s why it is my mission to remind you that it isn’t, to remind you that you are not alone, that there are steps we each can take to save sex successfully, even when the world that surrounds us calls us crazy for it.
1. We must practice the virtue of chastity (which is not the same as abstinence).
I used to have a bumper sticker on my car’s rear windshield: CHASTITY IS FOR LOVERS, it said. A colleague who saw it had a question: “How can chastity be for lovers if it means you can’t have sex?”
I smiled and said, “It doesn’t.”
That’s because chastity is not synonymous with abstinence. As I wrote in an essay in the Tampa Bay Times, “Abstinence just challenges us not to have sex. Chastity challenges us to live lives in which desire is subservient to reason, which equips us to love as Jesus does.”
A virtue is a “habitual and firm disposition to do good,” according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. So it’s a decision we make, over and over, every day, to do the right thing. Chastity, one of several virtues, is “the successful integration of sexuality within the person,” also according to the Catechism.
Chastity, then, is a decision we make, over and over, every day, to do the right thing regarding sex. It doesn’t hold the past against us; you can start practicing it today if you haven’t yet.
Abstinence outside chastity is a “no.” Without chastity, it’s a wall we inexplicably build between ourselves and sex. But chastity, which requires abstinence from sex outside of marriage, is a yes to sex as God designed it.
Discussion of abstinence doesn’t require discussion of sex, but discussion of chastity requires us first to define sex and then to uphold its definition. Abstinence ends at marriage, but chastity never ends, because married people are supposed to practice chastity, too — to do the right thing regarding sex.
Abstinence simply requires us not to have sex if we aren’t married. But chastity requires us to know why. And that is why we should practice it instead of abstinence. Feeling alone in your quest to save sex is easier to overcome when you know why you are saving sex in the first place. And we are saving sex because of what sex is and because we are called to love like Jesus does: selflessly.
2. We must surround ourselves with (and date!) people who believe what we do.
While it’s easy to feel alone in our quests to save sex, it’s important to consider that if you feel alone, you probably are.
But it’s also important to consider that you don’t have to be.
Several years ago, I had the opportunity to meet a man who decided on a whim to fly to Calcutta for a summer. There, he worked alongside Mother Teresa and some of her sisters in one of their homes for the dying.
He also lived in a leper colony, where he served as caregiver and friend to people who had leprosy, a disfiguring disease. People who don’t have it tend to be afraid of the people who do.
The man I met spent his summer doing things that the culture that surrounded him at home called crazy — things that the culture that surrounded him at home didn’t value. And the experience changed him. So upon his return to the U.S., he made a change of his own.
He moved into the poorest part of the city in which he lived so he could serve the poor and homeless who lived there, too.
Yet again, he had done something that the culture that surrounded him called crazy — something the culture didn’t value. Which is why, when I met him, I had to ask: How do you survive that?
How do you live your life in such a way that others call you crazy — that others call you the only one?
He thoughtfully paused. Then, he answered.
“My lifestyle requires me to go against the grain,” he said. “And going against the grain is a lot easier to do when you do it as part of a group.”
He had not moved into the ghetto alone, but with friends who felt called to serve the poor there, too. He had surrounded himself intentionally with people who believed what he did, people who would encourage rather than discourage him.
We who save sex for marriage also are committed to something that requires us to go against the grain. The culture that surrounds us calls our decision crazy — the culture that surrounds us doesn’t value it.
And that’s why we, too, must surround ourselves intentionally with people who believe what we do — people who will encourage us to uphold sex’s definition rather than encourage us to forsake it.
That doesn’t mean we can’t have friends who don’t practice chastity, but if we don’t want to feel alone in our choices to practice it, we have to seek out friends and significant others who practice it, too.
3. We must focus on (and therefore spend time with) Jesus.
One night about a year ago, while I worked out on an elliptical, I repeatedly checked my phone for texts from a man I hoped to date.
I never heard from him.
I ached while I hoped he would reach out, and while I ached, a thought popped into my head that only could have come from God.
“You don’t ache because you’re alone. You ache because you’re looking in the wrong direction.”
I had turned my head. I so had focused on some other guy that I had stopped seeking Christ first. I nearly had stopped spending time with Him.
I can see now how great a risk that is for somebody who practices chastity in our culture, for somebody who goes against the grain.
When we are focused on Christ, we participate at church and in Bible studies. We pray, and we study the Scriptures. We listen to and talk with Him. We sit silently in His presence.
We spend time with Him.
Why is that important for a person who practices chastity, a person whose faith requires us to go against the grain? Because we become like the people we spend time with. And I can’t think of anybody better at going against the grain than Jesus Christ.
Jesus turned water into wine. He walked on water. He died, and He rose from the dead. He has shown us over and over that He can survive being surrounded by a culture that calls Him crazy.
When we are focused on Him, so can we.
Copyright 2015 Arleen Spenceley. All rights reserved.