In a comment beneath a chastity post I once wrote, a reader left a disconcerting note: “I’m not a virgin, so I guess I can’t practice chastity.” The comment hurt my heart.
The person who wrote it had dismissed chastity as irrelevant as a result of sexual experience — a sign of a misconception of chastity that says it isn’t designed for all of us. But chastity is a moral virtue, which is acquired, in part, by “human effort.” You don’t have to be a virgin to practice it. Here’s why:
Because chastity doesn’t hold the past against you.
Chastity is the successful integration of sexuality within the person. It’s a decision a person makes to live like sex is a sacred physical sign of the vows a husband and wife made at the altar, an expression of the unity achieved by the sacrament of matrimony. Virginity is not a pre-requisite for it. In fact, chastity has virtually no pre-requisites outside the decision to practice it — and that’s a decision any person can make today, single or married, active or abstinent, straight or gay.
Because chastity isn’t solely for single people.
While chastity is for single people, it’s also for married people — sexually active ones. Abstinence is supposed to end for a person who gets married, but chastity is never supposed to end. Outside marriage, chastity implies sexual abstinence. In marriage, chastity implies that we neither use nor abuse each other; that we uphold the definition of sex (a sacred physical sign); that we preserve sex’s purposes — babies and bonding — by working with, not against our bodies (in part by rejecting contraception).
Because chastity is for lovers.
According to St. John Paul II, “only the chaste man and the chaste woman are capable of true love.” The virtue of chastity equips us to love with authenticity. It requires, and fosters, and reinforces our abilities to moderate our behavior, to govern our appetites, and to transcend the urge to use each other — traits that make love possible. We are called as Christians to love one another, as Christ loves us. He loves us regardless of our sexual histories, and we’re invited to be chaste, starting now, despite them.