Saturday, 27 April 2013

Why I Do Not Heart Chastity Talks

Everybody who writes me letters should know that I do not like chastity talks. When I was a teenager, the chastity talks at life issues conference were always packed. Dozens of bright-eyed Catholic and Evangelical teenagers filled the room to listen to a heavily made-up Evangelical lady talk about sex---I mean, chastity. And, of course, since the American Evangelical tradition involves public "When I was a sinner...." confessions, we heard some deliciously gory details. We also heard some absolute codswallop.

I once read a chastity book, written by a priest, that said God might punish boys and girls who snogged (although he probably wrote "necked") in the back of cars by giving birth defects to their future children.  I think it was this book, which I read at twenty or so, that gave me my great distaste for chastity lectures. The fact that listening to chastity lectures is in itself a mild turn-on I merely thought was funny. I thought the chastity book was sick.

Oh, I should mention that I also got a chastity newsletter.  Like the paradoxical sexual thrill of chastity talks, it was rather funny. It gave helpful hints on chaste things you could do on dates, and included back massages. Hmm. Yes. Great idea. Not.

Another problem with chastity talks, one to which readers have alerted me, is that they tend to be over-optimistic about the extent to which women suffer from celibacy. Chastity speakers concentrate on making women understand how very, very, very difficult celibacy is for men, which is why we must make things easier for them by wearing denim sacks, etc. Chastity speakers focus less on how very, very, very difficult celibacy is for women, who "just want love", which makes the poor hormonally-crazed women think that there is something seriously wrong or unwomanly about them. There isn't. They're just human beings.

I was thinking yesterday about the expression "I'm not that kind of girl." I have never come across the expression "I'm not that kind of boy." While reading an Art of Manliness chastity talk, it occured to me that when men shout at each other about chastity and fidelity, they seem to assume that they're all that kind of boy. In reality, there are probably many men who are just not that tempted and toddle along quite happily, unless they hear that they are supposed to be raging hippopotami of lust and begin to worry that there is something seriously wrong or unmanly about them.

The myth that absolutely all men are raging hippopotami of lust can cause quite a lot of misery, especially to women who throw themselves in a hippopotamus's path, expecting wild thrills, and then open their eyes to discover the hippopotamus peacefully plodding about in the river, humming to itself. The women feel like unattractive morons, and well they might. But instead of apologizing for their folly, they throw rocks at the poor hippopotamus, who feels sad and wonder if there are any nice women left in the world, etc.

But most of the time sexual attraction is one of the most powerful non-lethal forces there is. It's amazing that something inside you can be as dangerous and potent as vodka or other drugs, but it really is. It can make you do all kinds of terribly stupid and unkind things, even if you are not "that kind of girl." Actually, newsflash, most of us would be "that kind of girl" under certain circumstances, at a certain age, with certain people. The greatest protector of chastity is humility, and the sooner we stop telling lies to ourselves about how wonderfully chaste we are, the better.

The other great protector of chastity is distance. The best and most effective way not to end up on the couch under someone with whom you have "great sexual chemistry" is to stay far, far away from him.   Saint Paul's advise was a terse "Flee fornication." The second word, which sounds so nasty said out loud, will no doubt make you all flinch, so just concentrate on the word "Flee." Saint Paul didn't say, "Have a heart to heart chat" or "Sit on another couch."  He said flee. So flee.

We all hate the word fornication, particularly when it is associated with our beautiful selves, and I am using it deliberately so that nobody gets any illicit thrills from this post which, I see, has turned into a chastity talk. Usually fornication is not what we want from the incredibly cute guys we (you, anyway, since I'm hors de combat) meet at parties. No, the most we want, at this stage, is a bit of a snog.

Well, I am not an anti-snog hardliner although there was a Church ruling in the fifteenth century or something like that that deliberate snogging outside of marriage was a mortal sin. The way the chastity books used to put it was "deliberate excitation of the sexual appetites" which is actually a very sexy phrase in itself, shame on them.  But if a friend of mine got drunk and snogged some pretty girl or cute guy at a party and then called me up the next morning in floods of tears of remorse, I would say, "Ah, well. What are you gonna do?"

I also shrug at marriage-track Catholics and engaged couples snogging because sexual attraction goes to the head like vodka, and what are you gonna do? If they must snog, let them snog, but let them do it in private and not tell me about it.

However, constantly meeting up for a snog with some guy who is just not good marriage material for you, either because you don't know him that well, or he's the wrong religion, or he's used to fornication as an "ordinary, normal part of every relationship", is rather more serious in my book. It's almost as stupid as drinking-and-driving. It's one heck of a risk to take. And anyone who writes to me about how to manage such a relationship without the snogging is not going to get a satisfactory answer from little Auntie, because all I will say, with Saint Paul, is "Flee fornication." Snogging really is a gateway drug. Avoid it if you can.
Oh, and the last thing I will say is that the best way to stop feeling terrible about living an admirable life of chastity in continence is to stop thinking about sex stuff at all. And that includes chastity stuff. Don't read about all the things you're not doing and how delicious wicked they are. Don't read trashy romance novels. Don't watch trashy movies. Don't read trashy blogs.

By the way, nobody has told me yet: is any of the Theology of the Body stuff about sports, breathing, running, dancing, eating, singing, or any kind of movement not directly involved in the unitive-and-procreative-aspects-of-marriage? Because if it is, I may actually get around to reading it. Otherwise, zzzz.

Update: No time like the present to mention that one of my readers was pressured into much sexy talk and making out by a professional chastity speaker. Just because a boy talks about sex, I mean, chastity all the time and enjoys the applause doesn't mean he is automatically and immediately to be trusted.


Roadkill Rhapsody said...

I remember a half-hour-long sermon which was entirely about What To Do If You Suddenly Think About Sex. It made sure everyone thought about it for that half hour at least. Likewise, it seems odd to try to teach men to be chaste by stating over and over how susceptible they are to women and their exquisite delights. I call that setting someone up for a fall!

Jessica said...

"Raging hippopotami of lust!" - too funny!

Domestic Diva said...

Great post, Seraphic; I agree with much of what you said here. Certainly helpful with my own dating life!

I'm curious about one thing. I'm in the business of religious education for teenagers, and that includes encouraging chastity. Ideally, of course, chastity ed would be the parents' job, but I can't tell you how many parents have abdicated their responsibility in this (and in many other areas as well). Even some very good & conscientious parents really don't know how to counter the culture's arguments about sex. How do you recommend that teens be taught to be chaste and why, given the lack of parental involvement and the culture's obsession with sex?

I really do hear your concerns (and hope I avoid them) and am open to alternative solutions.

Nzie said...

Thank you. I think your critique should be read by a lot of people. There are folks doing good chastity talks that focus on building the habits and virtues that will help us lead holy lives, and that's where it should be - ESPECIALLY if it's in mixed crowds. LOVE this post. LOVE LOVE LOVE.

Also, I've heard whispers about NPF talks that make me shudder - anyone else heard of married couples sitting together being taught about... bodily fluids? I hope that is not the norm... It might not provoke thoughts likely to get one into trouble, but sitting in a room with strange men listening to that... no.


MaryJane said...

I want to second every single part of this post. So, so well-put! (Perhaps most especially the "just stop thinking about it all together": the good and the bad. It's akin to Fulton Sheen's advice on all sin: don't drive it out, crowd it out. Just be too busy to think about it at all.)

maria5 said...

I agree about the hippos! Hilarious mental image!
Auntie, I'm confused about your last paragraph, the one about Theology of the Body. Do you mean what I think you mean? I've never delved into ToB, so please explain!

Maria said...

Could it ever happen that a couple was super chaste for their entire dating/engaged relationship, and then (after getting married) found out that they had different levels of interest in sex? That would be a problem, right? Is there any way to prevent that?

I ask because I suspect I may be part hippopotamus, to be completely honest.

Tanny said...

Oh, gosh, that's terrible! (About the reader who was pressured by a professional chastity speaker.) As someone who reacted in (hopefully disguised) shock last week when a friend's response to me moping over an awfully-cute-but-probably-not-boyfriend-material guy was, "Oh well, he's probably good for a quick make-out session if nothing else," I probably needed to read this post. I do think it's easy to forget about humility in the chase after absolute, stand-up-and-be-proud-of-it chastity, and especially to forget about what we're actually saying when we say, I'm not *that kind of girl*. What does that say about the girls who are, presumably, not like us? It's so easy to fall into the trap of being super judgmental instead of humbly chaste...
Re: ToB, I don't think there's anything about sports or eating, but I'm fairly certain Mr. West does sing rather a lot on the DVDs. But, more seriously, I did take part in a small study group using Dr. Shivanandan's book on ToB, and found the material on the integration of body/soul extremely helpful and perspective-changing. I think Christopher West's take has its time and place (and I have found his talks self-affirming and helpful, too), but I was surprised and pleased to see how much deeper John Paul II's teachings went.
PS. Sorry for the excessively long comment...but I must say -- I just finished reading your 'Seraphic Singles' book and really enjoyed it! You have such a knack for sharing truths and experiences. I also spent far too much time reading your blog this month whilst procrastinating on final papers. :)

Seraphic said...

Re: differing interests. What you would do is talk it out and work it out, just like everything else in married life. Presumably you would be in love with this guy, and he with you, so you would both be willing to come up with a plan that suits the both of you.

It's like snoring. It may come as a terrible shock, and go against various scientific studies, blah, blah, blah, but some married couples sleep apart at least some of the time to catch up on sleep undisturbed by snoring. If you know nothing about marriage except what the "experts" tell you, you may think this terrible and shocking and ungood and a one way road to divorce. But it isn't. It's a solution that such married couples come up with on their own, agree on and shake on it.

Seraphic said...

Maria5, I have heard about Theology of the Body for years and years, but I have only heard about it in the context of the-marital-act-and-what-it-is-for-and-is-it-not-wonderfully-holy-when-approached-properly. I have never heard that it was actually about the body. And if not, this is too bad, because a theology about being corporal beings, who are ensouled bodies (as well as embodied souls) would be awesome.

Seraphic said...

I will have to think about the question on how to educate teens for chastity. That's a toughie. I know for sure that it should not be done in mixed groups, and in schools (including Sunday School) it should start at about 11 or 12. Eleven years of blissfully ignorant innocence is about all anyone can expect these days.

Seraphic said...

Tanny, thanks for buying my book!

Andrea said...

Yes, I think all the talk, talk, talk about chastity has been approached wrongly and people think you need to get down to the details in order to understand chastity. We definitely need some better literature out there for Catholics on chastity. Or better so, just common sense.

Lydia Cubbedge said...

Regarding TOB. The actual texts of John Paul II's Wednesday audiences have a lot to do with a theology of ensouled bodies. There are several texts having to do with physical attitudes of prayer, and most have a good deal to do with the phenomenon of being human and all that entails. I have a feeling most people read commentaries, and most of the commentaries have to do with sex because sex sells. It's a tough read. You definitely need a decent philosophical background, and a good deal of patience, to get through it.

MaryJane said...

It seems to me that there are a lot of things taught by "experts" about married life, even Catholic married life, which are said to be crucial, but in reality are just matters of prudential judgment- Sleeping in separate beds, having separate bank accounts, or even going on vacations separately with friends of the same gender. I know of good Catholic couples who do all of the above, and their marriages don't suffer for it. (Obviously, they have high levels of openness and fidelity, etc.) They have just figured out what works best for them over the years. Sometimes I wish people preparing couples for marriage would just tell them that there are some things you just figure out as you go along, and that is fine and normal.

Urszula said...

How about we have more talks about charity, and less about chastity? I feel like if you really delve into the meaning and details, being unchaste is being uncharitable - with yourself, your partner, and your potential future spouse. I honestly overdosed on 'chastity' and 'chaste relationship' talks as a young college student in Poland because that's the only thing priests thought we struggled with. Honestly, I had more problems at that point with dealing with the liberal agenda being pushed down my throat in every language class I took.

Also, I love your hippo comparison :)

For what it's worth, the only book I've encountered so far which seems down-to-earth, practical, yet uplifting when it comes to this particular topic is Dawn Eden's "A Thrill of the Chaste". It might be a bit shocking for any more sheltered readers, but for that reason may be easier to relate to for some of us.

Anonymous said...

Seraphic, this was an most interesting read! I, too, have been skeptical about most of today's chastity literature. Humanae Vitae, JP II's Love and Responsibility, and the Catechism are enough for me.

What are your thoughts on NFP counseling and NFP info sessions?

Any opinions on Jason Evert and/or Christopher West?

Isabelle said...

From St. Josemaria Escriva:
"Never talk of impure things or events, not even to deplore them. Look, it's a subject that sticks more than tar. Change the conversation, or if that's not possible, continue, but speaking of the need and beauty of holy purity--a virtue of the men who know what their souls are worth." He added, "I have never talked about impurity. . . . But I have spoken many times, as I have to do, about chastity, purity, and the joyful affirmation of love."

Seraphic and co., I really think you would love TOTB if you knew the real thing. Christopher West - well, God bless and reward him for his work, but he writes in a style that is too explicit and unpleasant for some people (ie me) - and from what I can tell focuses largely on the physical marital act. I think those two things have given TOTB a bad rap. The original TOTB delves deep into the theology of how being male or female is an essential part of a man or a woman, not an accidental quality, and that the universal call to fatherhood (for men) and motherhood (for women) can be followed in our daily lives, in home, at church and in the workplace and public life. (This includes people who never had sex or don't have biological children. The original TOTB covers so, so much more than just the marital act, sacred and beautiful though that is.)
Jason and Crystalina Evert (from whom I got the quote) write what I think are excellent and much-needed materials, books and chastity ed programs for middle schoolers and high schoolers. They do not always address TOTB by name, but do incorporate its ideas into their view of humanity as made male and female, so I think it's a great starting point for TOTB without the unpleasantness of Mr. West's books. They do talk about unchaste actions if necessary, but as little as possible, in as little detail as possible (hey, when a speaker takes questions from teenagers these days, there will be some raunchy questions!). Mostly they focus on the positive things - that everyone is cherished by God, is a wondrous being and deserves true love, etc. Here is a link to their facebook page:
God bless!

Undecided said...

Dear Auntie Seraphic,
You've blogged before about taking SSRIs and how much they helped you. I've had a rough couple of years, and my counselor is recommending that I begin taking them. I've seen my (Catholic) counselor off and on for many years, so she knows me well and her advice has always led to good resolutions of my struggles. I don't think I'm struggling as much now as I have in the past, but she says I'm not responding to her therapy as well as she thinks I should, and that I'm "stuck".
My hesitation is not with any sort of stigma or feeling like I've failed. Rather, I've heard some things about side effects of the SSRIs that concern me. Among others, I've heard that SSRIs can really slow your metabolism and that it's hard to get it restarted, even after you stop taking them.
Can you and/or your readers comment on the benefits and drawbacks of SSRIs?

Seraphic said...

Well, I am not a medical doctor, and you should not take my thoughts as a substitute for a doctors' advice. I will just say that I was on SSRIs for at least a year, and I am very glad I took them. I did not suffer any unpleasant side effects and they certainly made me more productive.

I was told that SSRIs should not be used by women who might get pregnant anytime in the next year--they apparently interfere with fetal brain development (eek!)--so I came off the SSRIs when I got engaged.

MaryJane said...

Just to add to the TOB discussion: John Paul II never gave it that title. At times he says "this might be considered a kind of 'theology of the body'" - everyone thought that was great and the advertisers ran with it, but his series of Wednesday audiences were called "reflections on Genesis" or something like that, for a while.

I personally think his section on consecrated virginity is quite beautiful and inspiring even for people not in/called to that life. It's about a life lived for God, not about sex.

Amen to the charity over chastity talks. Maybe also things like temperance and fortitude - their opposite vices are raging loudly in the culture, so why not go on and on about these virtues?

(That being said, I'm not opposed to chastity talks in very secular settings, like public high schools. But even then I think it should be done in the wider context of "respect", etc.)

On Medications and Glad of it said...

(Using a different name for this post)


I've taken various psychopharmaceuticals over the past six and a half years in treatment for depression. In my case, it wasn't really optional; although no one forced me to take them, I was suicidal during the first year or searching for a good combination of medications and nothing else I did even scratched the surface of the pain.

I would recommend that you find a good doctor. A good doctor, preferably one who specializes in psychiatry, will listen to your concerns about your medications, including concerns about side effects. I honestly don't know how many of the drugs I took were SSRI's because there are so many kinds of antidepressants out there now. If one doesn't work or has unwanted side effects, there's nothing saying you can't try a different one. If you know you have a particular concern going into it, such as how it will affect your metabolism, tell your doctor that and s/he may be able to start you on one that doesn't tend to have that side effect.

As far as metabolism goes, I was about 15-20 pounds underweight (due to loss of appetite from depression) when I started taking one of the drugs. It was the first drug that helped at all, and it helped a lot. It also made me gain about 50 pounds. I was on it for a couple of years because as much as I hated the weight gain it was far better than being suicidal. After a couple of years, my doctor and I talked about how I'd been stable for a while and could try going off of it due to the side effects (in addition to the weight gain, it made it very hard for me to wake up and caused me to sleep through several classes). When I got off of the drug, it was like the weight just fell off, and in no time I had lost 30 pounds without much change in my diet or exercising.

ceciliamaria said...

I agree w/Lydia and Isabelle re: TOB. I've combed through various materials on TOB and prefer those who focus on the integration of body and soul aspect. It has been very healing for me to reflect on this integration and how it applies to the art form of dance since I grew up hearing chastity talks that continually said physical expression of any kind was wrong.

Undecided said...

Thank you, Seraphic and On Meds & Glad of It, for your input!