Wednesday, 10 February 2010

A Modestly Modest Proposal

Somebody asked me a chastity question yesterday, and I gulped like a goldfish. I can talk about the Single Life all day long, and I can talk about Strategic Dating for hours. But ask me to talk about Chastity, and I will look at you with eyes darting backwards and forwards like those of a cockatoo who's just made a 48 hour journey from Australia in a cardboard tube.

One reason why I would never give a Chastity Lecture is because of the fatal opening line of "When I was a teenager". Is there an introduction more dire than "When I was a teenager"? But anyway, when I was a teenager, passionate kissing (like in the movies) was still thought to be a relatively harmless and completely desirable recreational activity. Now that I am old and cranky and, it must be said, married, I don't quite believe that anymore.

So if I were the Queen of the World, I would make it a rule that nobody could kiss lingeringly on the lips unless they were almost-engaged. That is so retro I am dying of embarrassment here. When a young married guy said almost the exact same thing at a Theology of the Body lecture two years ago, I rolled my eyes and thought, "Oh, pul-eeze, married guy!" But as a matter of fact, when B.A. first kissed me, I knew we were almost-engaged.

This is not to say that I think you are Bad People because you made out like bandits yesterday. All over this little world, young Single People of Every Religion were making out like bandits yesterday. And yesterday was Tuesday, so imagine Saturday afternoon. Therefore, nobody write in, "Seraphic, do you think I am bad because...?" I don't think you are bad because of anything. God created you good. Jesus died for you. You're good. And don't ask me about "purity" because I don't really believe in the concept of "purity" applied to human sexuality because human bodies cannot be compared to Ivory Soap, as I explain very forcefully in My Book. What counts is treating everyone, including yourself, like beautiful Temples of the Holy Spirit.

But what I have concluded, after 39 years, and also now being married, which I admit makes these things seem a lot simpler than they do when you're Single, that one way to keep out of trouble of all kinds, especially emotional, is not to kiss people passionately unless marriage is definitely in the air and a diamond ring is immanent.

My parent's generation (but not my parents) ushered in the Sexual Revolution and screwed us all up. Maybe your generation will save us. I hope so.


Dominic Mary said...


I'm slightly bewildered - is there a theological concept of Diamond Rings that I've missed, or is your spellchecker playing you up ?

An 'Immanent' diamond ring ?

A Diamond Ring is not Indwelling or Inherent (otherwise you wouldn't need to be given one); and is clearly not God (even if otherwise a 'Girl's Best Friend' !) - although that would scarcely be more helpful, as one could hardly suggest that it was 'permanently pervading and sustaining the Uuniverse' - so presumably we are suggesting that it is 'something entirely within the mind of the subject producing no external effect' (OED) - which also seems wrong.

I'm Confused ! :-)

MargoB said...

A wise (because humble) theology professor, who, I hasten to add, was at least 15 years married at the time, once said, "A kiss is a promise." While some may disagree with this, it struck me as rather accurate, and as a useful guide to wise and charitable living.

theobromophile said...

It would be nice to live in a world in which passionate kissing without an engagement ring in sight were "bad"!

I don't think that my generation can move things back; it's just getting worse, not better. (I have stories about what is going on at my former high school that would raise your hair.) What seems to be happening is that small groups of people who don't think that the sexual revolution was a good idea are forming their own, very insular, groups.

Thwarted Throne said...

Don't be embarrassed. Let me be a prude for you.

The solution to not being Ivory soap isn't to roll around in the dirt.

I'm a huge fan of the Manuals tradition which just about disappeared after Vatican II.

A really good one dealing specifically with sexuality, modesty and purity can be found on the EWTN website. With regards to passionate kssing, it says: "If one has no right to the marital act (that is, is not married), he has no right to the preliminaries. Such preliminaries are: passionate kisses and embraces, ..." and so on.

The authors footnote this by providing a rather good set of reasons why these acts are wrong which isn't particular to the Catholic world-view: "(1) Heavy petting teases the emotions without satisfying them, thus making self-control more difficult. (2) Petting is properly a prelude to the marital act; (3) It is selfish since it is done for the thrill, not for love; (4) It breaks down reserve; (5) It cheapens personality; (6) Many half-experiences make the next temptation greater."

The book also gives great advice on how to deal with temptation, which is the other side to knowing where to draw the line and why.

Kate P said...

Nobody understood why I didn't want to date or "hook up" while I was in high school--you've pretty much spelled it out. It was far too serious to play at.

While there are some absolute rules about what is appropriate and what is not (ever!), some judgment calls are going to depend on the individuals. I for one come from a culture/upbringing/background that shows a great deal of affection and believes in the importance of human contact (we have osteopaths, reflexologists, and the like in the family). I'm not saying that gives me or anyone else excuses for sinful behavior--in fact, it was all the more important that I knew myself well and knew what was good and what crossed the line and could lead to more trouble.

Seraphic said...

Wow! These are great answers.

DM, I was in a rush and, speaking as a former theology student, immanent/imminent is one of my common mix-ups!

Thwarted Throne, that is a great answer, and whenever anyone asks me, I will read the EWTM's ruling from a cue card. Well, hmm...maybe I will fix it for tone. All this talk about "rights"--so, er, masculine. That's not what I mean, though. Maybe that's good language to use on American men, but rights-talk is not always so convincing, especially when we Catholic women deny, willingly give up and spit on the so-called "right to choose." I think it better to frame the question in terms of love and honesty--and emotional safety! Scary bonding hormone trigger. Eeeek!

Theobromophile, oh no--insular! I was worried when I saw that because I think the BXVI generation should evangelize the whole world and show it the way, the truth and the life. But on the other hand, the monastic movement--which saved western civilization--began as little insular groups. Maybe God will send us a new St. Benedict (and St. Scholastica) or a new St. Francis (and St. Claire) to restart a culture of chaste dating-courtship-marriage, one that will sweep the world.

theobromophile said...

Seraphic: I think it's a numbers game. If you look at the small group of people who want to live chaste lives and the much larger group that does not, it just makes a bit of sense to split off. Safety in numbers and all. :)

I agree with your take on the "rights" thing. The other thing that strikes me as masculine is to look at all sexual touching as a prelude to sexual intercourse. I'm guessing that most wives would be rather upset if their husbands thought that passionate kissing, affectionate touching, and backrubs are only a prelude to sex and not good in their own right. Women tend to think, "Just kiss me BECAUSE!"

Seraphic said...

You are certainly right! And in married life, watch out for theologies that seem to say you can't do X sexual thing unless it ends up as Y sexual thing. Like, say what? There's a long, long way to go between a nice backrub for its own sake and, er...


MargoB said...

Thwarted Throne - thanks for the EWTN quotation! I appreciate its spelling out why "A kiss is a promise." :)