Human Life Education

Chapter Six: Teaching Teen Chastity

By John Kippley
Founder of Couple to Couple League International

Years ago a young man found himself overcome with emotion. The woman with whom he had lived for years was leaving him. "My heart which had held her very dear was broken and wounded and shed blood," he said.

This man, whose name was Augustine, would undergo great turmoil and anxiety. Furthermore, he was convinced of the truth of Christianity, but there was one obstacle to giving his life to Jesus Christ: "What held me so fiercely bound was principally the sheer habit of sating a lust that could never be satisfied . ."

Augustine's plight could be that of any guy or girl today. Society then, as now, had a loose idea of sex. Like Augustine, many people today indulge in "free love"- but deep down inside are unhappy. Yet St. Augustine at age 31 rejected his lust, converted to Christianity and became a great saint. In the same way, people today can change their ways and live happy lives of sexual purity, whatever their state of life.

What is chastity?

The sex drive is a good thing. It allows a husband and wife to participate with God in the greatest act of creation - the making of a new human being, with a soul which will last forever. But like any good thing, sex has its place, and that is in marriage. The proper place of sex is protected by chastity.

Chastity is the strength that enables us to order our sexuality toward our own greatest good and the good of society. Chastity is also a spiritual energy that helps break the bonds of selfishness. This virtue is expressed in many ways - through self-control, through acting in wholesome and pure ways towards others and ourselves. It is expressed by appreciating modesty and by developing emotional self-control and control of the will. Chastity is expressed by loving other persons and not just their bodies.

Why do we need that strength called chastity? Why? Because we are tempted towards immoral sex. We are frequently tempted to use others or our own bodies as objects rather than as persons. This tendency is the result of sin in the human race. Some of the wrong uses of sex are fornication (sex outside of marriage), masturbation, homosexuality, adultery, and contraceptive or sterilized intercourse. While our bodily desire for sex is a good thing, placed there by God for the continuation of the human race, our tendency is to allow free reign to impure desires. Sin offends God and ultimately hurts us, and we must wage war against it.

God's will

There are all kinds of reasons why a person should be chaste and pure. For example, sexually transmitted diseases are running rampant, to say nothing about school-age pregnancies. Psychological maladies, relationship-related problems, and guilt from immoral sex plague many. But the best reason for chastity is that it is part of the divine plan for sex. God created you to be happy with Him now and forever in heaven. It only makes sense to live according to His will. It is like following the owner's manual for a car: if you follow God's way, you will be happy. If you disobey Him, you will suffer.

Christians have always insisted on chaste, pure behavior. The Bible says, "Keep away from fornication" (1 Cor 6:18). It also says, "It is God's will that you grow in holiness: that you abstain from immorality, each of you guarding his own body in sanctity and honor" (1 Thess 4:3-4).

Pre-marital sex is sinful, but how much so? The Bible states that, "When self-indulgence is at work, the results are obvious: fornication, gross indecency and sexual irresponsibility . . . those who behave like this will not inherit the kingdom of God" (Gal 5:19-21). This passage tells us that we can send ourselves to hell through sexual sins if we die without having repented.

In its 1975 Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics, the Vatican said, "the use of the sexual function has its true meaning and moral rectitude only in true marriage." In this same document we are told that it is not enough just to say we are for God in some general way. It teaches that we can sin mortally (in a deadly way) through our individual actions. As the old saying goes, "Actions speak louder than words."


The Bible teaches us that sexual intercourse is morally wrong outside of marriage, but why? It's a matter of honesty. Of its very nature, the marriage act ought to look back to your wedding and help to renew your promise of lifelong love. That means that first you have to commit to the covenant of lifelong marriage, for better and for worse, in order to engage in a true and symbolic renewal of your marriage covenant.

However, sex outside of marriage pretends to be something it isn't. It's dishonest. There is no covenant to renew. This helps to explain why so many feel so awful after they have committed the sin of fornication - they know they have been dishonest with themselves and with their sex partner, and also with God.

Helps from heaven

How is it possible to channel sexual energy in wholesome and holy ways? The first thing to do is to recognize that the power to be chaste does not come from you. It comes from God. Sexual purity is possible only in the power of the salvation which comes from Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is both God and man, both now and when He walked the earth. He taught us to ask for all our needs. His help is called grace. He will give you this grace, if you want it and ask for it.

Make use of God's special way of giving help through frequenting the sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Communion. Also, do you have a daily prayer life? If not, start now! These are great channels of grace to maintain sexual purity.

Pope John Paul II has noted that there have been times throughout history when it has been difficult to be a Christian. Ours is one of those times. But doesn't this very challenge make the choice for Christ so attractive? It is the difficult things that call for courage, and courage is a noble thing. And yet, despite difficulties, Christians today find much cause to laugh and sing. Their experience teaches us that joy arises from sacrifice when it is taken on for the love of Christ who told us at the Last Supper, "All this I tell you that my joy may be yours, and your joy may be complete" (Jn 15:11).

Your part

You must do your part, too. Guard your thoughts. The imagination is often the "battlefield of the mind." The eye can be a window to impure thoughts; take custody of your eyes. The Bible says, "Fill your minds with. . . everything that is good and pure" (Phil 4:8).

When you are tempted by an attractive young man or woman, pray. "Thank you, God, for making such an attractive person. Help me to see her/him as your creation, not as a sex object." This can be aided by making good choices concerning sexual matters. Choose friends carefully. Engage in wholesome activities. Play sports. Avoid foul language. Dress modestly. Mixing drinking and dating is dangerous for the young. Socialize in groups. Don't "go steady" before you are ready for marriage; this can lead to great temptation.

Much music, television and movies create in one's mind a false picture of romantic love, which often leads to lust. It is also good to avoid "heavy metal" music and vulgar videos. Much of what is on the screen is nothing but fornication and adultery presented in ways designed to arouse lust within you. So don't watch the X and R-rated materials or anything else you find to be sexually arousing.

When it comes to expressing affection, are you stumped over the question of "how far to go?" Becoming passionate is the worst preparation for marriage, and many married women today complain bitterly about their husbands who have never learned how to express love and affection outside the bedroom. For the single person, problems arise when the line of limit is drawn closer and closer to the danger point. The best counselors advise that a simple kiss is enough. Learn how to verbalize and show non-sexual signs of affection, and a simple goodnight kiss will mean a lot more.

People of purity

Many fine men and women from the past and present have given us good examples of sexual self-control. St. Augustine, mentioned before, chose a life of celibacy - sexual abstinence for the kingdom of God - at the same time that he chose to accept Jesus Christ into his life.

Another example is that of Joseph in the Old Testament. The book of Genesis explains how he overcame the sexual advances of Potiphar's wife. Joseph, the Bible tells us, was well built and handsome. Potiphar's wife looked at him with desire and said, "Sleep with me." But he refused and said, "How, then, could I commit so great a wrong and thus stand condemned before God?" (Gen 39:9).

Early in this century a 12-year-old Italian girl, Maria Goretti, who lived in a migrant camp, suffered and died for defending purity. One day while she was at home, she was attacked by a 19-year-old man, Alessandro Serenelli. He threatened to kill her if she did not give in to his immoral advances. But she held firm: "It is a sin, Alessandro. You will go to hell." Alessandro flew into a mad rage and stabbed her 14 times.

The next day, as Maria lay dying in the hospital, a chaplain told her how Jesus had pardoned His murderers. Maria said, "I, too, pardon Alessandro and wish that some day he join me in heaven." Years later, Maria was canonized a saint.

In this century, Miss America of 1984 - Sharlene Wells - explained when asked about pre-marital sex, "Marriage is very important to me, so I'm saving myself . . . So often girls think, 'I have to do it to please him,' but later they feel awful, particularly when he runs off with another girl."

Another recent beauty queen, Tara Holland, who reigned as Miss America 1997, took a very public stand for virtue and sexual purity before marriage, despite being openly attacked in the press for her "old fashioned" and "out-of-date" views. She proudly remained a virgin until her wedding in late 1998.

Finally, while many professional athletes have lost their appeal as role models, NBA star A.C. Green has not been shy about his dedication to sexual purity before marriage. He founded his own organization for youth programs, and a major emphasis in his work is encouraging teens to remain sexually pure. He explained that he is not embarrassed about being a virgin.

"I hear the locker room talk about the latest sexual conquests, but I don't let that weaken my resolve to remain sexually pure," he says. "I have chosen to follow God's standard, and I've communicated my stand to my teamates.

"Philippians 4:13 tells me that 'I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,' and I've taken that verse to heart," he says. "God has also promised that He will not give me any temptation too great."

So how does Green stay sexually pure? "Easy," he says. "First, I have respect for myself and the women I've dated. I try not to focus on idle thoughts that can turn into temptations.

"I also have certain safeguards, such as staying out of one-on-one situations with a female . . . I know there's something better for me if I wait."

Starting over

Have you fallen into sexual sin? The first thing to do is to repent. Alessandro Serenelli, who killed St. Maria Goretti, confessed his sin and said, "I must make reparation . . . I have sinned deeply, but I feel confident of salvation." He also said, "Avoid immoral things to look at and all dangerous occasions that can lead to sin."

To regain chastity, you must make radical lifestyle changes. Make a clean break with your sexual partner. Keep away from those with whom you sinned. Make new friends. You may feel that staying away from sex is impossible. St. Augustine thought that he could never live without the embrace of a woman. But he found that with God's help he could do so.

An old sexual habit is like an angry bull. It must be brought under the control of the mind and the will. It may take months or even years before its slavery is abated. Take one day at a time. Do not get discouraged. The very fact that you are trying is a sign of God's grace in action.

Who's responsible?

Traditionally, the girl has been the one who has been expected to say "no" to a guy's advances. Today, the guy must often protect his purity against the coercion of a girl. It is only fair to say that both are responsible for what they do. Chastity is a virtue in guys and girls.

Some people might tell you that "responsible sex" is that in which contraception is used. Isn't this just a cheap alibi? Avoiding pregnancy while sinning is not responsible sex. Sexual relations outside of marriage is fornication - a mortal sin - contraception or not. True responsibility for the single person means saying "no" to sex of any kind.

People might complain about the Church's "thou shalt not" rules about sex. But these rules reflect the great importance of sex and love. The rules about sex are actually positive commands to love within the plan of the divine use of sex. The real question to ask is not "how much affectionate behavior can I get away with?" but "how can I love God and others best with the power of sexual purity?"

What it all means

Chastity is God's will for you. Sex is a good thing but only in marriage, where it is meant to symbolize the commitment of the marriage covenant.

Chastity is possible only with God's help, called grace. We must cooperate with this grace by making up our minds to keep pure. Those who have fallen can repent, be forgiven by God and lead a good and holy life. Finally, chastity helps us on our path to happiness, both in this life, and in heaven, forever, with God.

In a 1984 speech to youth, Pope John Paul II said, "Join the ranks with those who are not willing to degrade their bodies to the level of an object. Respect your body. It is part of your human condition: it is the temple of the Holy Spirit. It belongs to you because it was given to you by God . . . 'Glorify God in your body!'" (1 Cor 6:20).

In the Bible St. Paul tells us that we should live the Christian life in the same way that an athlete competes for a crown. "Athletes deny themselves all sorts of things. They do this to win a crown of leaves that wither, but we a crown that is imperishable" (1 Cor 9:25).

Sex Before Marrige?

By Jenny Schroedel
Reprinted with permission from Stepping Stones, a Northwest Family Services Publication

When I was 14 1 asked a priest if premarital sex was wrong. He looked at me for a second, and then said, "What do you think sex is?" I had no idea how to answer that. I finally choked out, "I think sex is the greatest physical intimacy you could have with another person." "Then why would you want to have that with anyone other than the person you will spend the rest of your life with?" he asked.

He then described a study showing that couples who live together are statistically more likely to divorce than couples who abstain before marriage. This idea shocked me. It seemed to run counter to common sense. Wouldn't couples who lived together before marriage have "practice" that could make marriage less of a shock? Wouldn't they be better adjusted to each other; more aware of the issues they might face in marriage? Plus, wouldn't living together provide the perfect opportunity for an out just in case the couple really wasn't meant to be together?

But that was before I actually knew any couples who lived together. Now I'm 23, and I have been married for four years. My husband and I did not live together before we were married, although many people strongly encouraged it. They seemed to believe it was the safe approach. Because we are close to many couples who live together, we know that premarital sex and living together is anything but safe. Two couples I know got pregnant outside of marriage and were forced to forgo their education in order to support the new lives they brought into the world. As I write this, a friend of mine is dying of AIDS because of sex outside of marriage.

I know couples who have lived together for years and years, growing more afraid of marriage each day. A friend feels used because her boyfriend wants physical intimacy without the commitment of marriage. Because there tends to be a basic lack of respect in many of these relationships, trust can be difficult. Couples that live together rarely have the perspective that their relationship is forever. They may let problems grow until the situation is unbearable, or they may simply walk out when suffering enters the relationship -- and suffering is inevitable.

Part of what sustains my marriage is the support of our church community. I know couples that live together who try to keep their situation a secret because they are ashamed - and this creates a sense of isolation. When my husband John and I got married, friends and family helped us establish our home. They bought us dishes and silverware, sheets, towels, pillows and even a rocking chair! They cheered for us when we were introduced as "Mr. and Mrs. John Schroedel."

A prayer from the Eastern Orthodox wedding service says, "The foundations of homes are made firm by the prayers of parents." The Christian community is full of those "parents" who help sustain couples in the intense, purifying and transforming work of marriage.

Almost ten years have passed since that priest opened my eyes to the long-term dangers of premarital sex and living together. Although I struggled to believe his words at the time, I can now speak them with confidence, because I have seen his words lived out. I am beginning to understand the power of sexuality -- to bring life or death, spiritually, emotionally, and physically. Jenny Schroedel.

Next Page: Chapter 7: Chaste generation with glory
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18