Imagine my surprise when a friend who works with the parish youth group asked me to give a chastity talk to the middle and high school aged girls. “Who, me?” I said, raising an eyebrow suspiciously. I thought, Why not someone who has actually lived chastely her whole life? Me? I did it all wrong.
I was not a virgin on my wedding day. I wasn’t a virgin beyond my first week of college. I had every intention of being a virgin on my wedding day. But after having too much to drink at my first college party, and a senior who wouldn’t take no for an answer, that was that. Then came the shame that crawls under your skin and won’t be washed away. Then, the resignation. Well, I’ll never be able to give that gift. So why not? Why not became my mantra for the next two years.
I believed all those purity talks I attended, the ones which inevitably included a post-it note being attached and removed from each person’s shirt, or a cup we passed around for everyone to drink from. The implied point of those demonstrations being, “If you give in to temptation, if you commit this sin, you will be the cup from which everyone has drunk. You will be that post-it note that can’t stick. You will be damaged goods and no one will ever want you.”
The problem with those chastity talks I attended in high school was that they didn’t tell me why I should live chastely, for me. For no one’s sake but my own. No, the message emphasized the external. It was all about waiting for a spouse that may or may not come along. While yes, the pain I experienced at not being able to give that gift to my husband was deep, there has to be more to chastity than that if teens are going to embrace it. Trying to scare people into living chastely just doesn’t work most of the time.
Chastity is not a prison sentence, it’s an invitation to true freedom. I wish someone had told me that. The chastity talks I attended, while well-intentioned, planted a seed in me that if you don’t do it right, you’re damaged goods and no good man will ever want to love you.
I believed that for so long — even after I found theology of the body and it saved me from myself. It helped me understand that I had worth and dignity as a daughter of God, and that living chastely wasn’t for anyone else. It was for me. It was for my self-respect. It was to protect and nurture my desire for true and lasting love. It was my path to healing. No chastity talk ever told me that the reason we live chastely is because to engage in sexual behavior with someone we aren’t married to is telling a lie with our bodies. No one ever told me what sex is — a free, faithful, fruitful, complete self-gift — or what it was really for — the bonding of two people together for life, and for bringing immortal souls into the world.
Even when I discovered theology of the body, believed that it was all true, confessed my sin, and embraced chastity, I still did not believe that a good man would love me. I had that post-it note image burned into my brain.
Then I met my husband.
When I had prayed, I said to God, Please don’t let me marry a virgin. I’d be so heartbroken if he could give me that gift, but I couldn’t give it to him.
God said, Let your heart be broken. I will use him to heal it.
And He did.
I married a man who was a virgin on our wedding day. And it was beautiful. And heart-breaking. And healing. It was what I needed. And that man, he didn’t view me as a post-it note that couldn’t stick, or a cup that everyone had drunk from. No, I was his bride. He knew my brokenness and he wanted me anyway. Just like Jesus does.
It’s often said, but bears repeating; no matter what secrets or sins our past holds, Jesus still wants us. He wants our love, our brokenness. He wants to kiss our scars and make us new.
When I embraced chastity, I had people ask me, “How will you know when you’re ready for sex? How can you marry someone without knowing how the sex will be?”
I used to struggle with how to respond. How do you explain virtue and sacrament in a sentence? Then I got married. As I stood before God, my fiance, and everyone I knew, we were asked these questions:
“Sarah and Eric, have you come here freely and without reservation to give yourselves to each other in marriage?”
“Will you honor each other as man and wife for the rest of your lives?”
“Will you accept children lovingly from God, and bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church?”
And after we said yes, I looked that man straight in the eyes and said,
I, Sarah, take you, Eric, to be my husband. I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.
Then he said the same to me. We both meant it. That’s when I was ready for sex. When I could promise to God and this man that I would be bonded to him all the days of my life, and I would welcome the life God wants to give, then I was ready for sex, because I had vowed to live the truth of what sex is.
That’s the message I hope to share with these beautiful young women.