How chastity can raise your relationship with others on a personal level.
Updated: Oct 6, 2021
Many people view chastity as a big no, and they believe that it stiffens any chance at pleasure and interpersonal communion associated with love (Wojtyla, 1960). This, of course, is a false concept of chastity which is based on a utilitarian concept of love (the doctrine that actions are right if they are useful). Chastity instead, helps us integrate our emotions with the more objective and nobler aspects of love (goodwill, friendship, virtue, total commitment, and self-giving) instead of stifling the emotions and sensual pleasure that are often put before the person. Emotions that are put before the person miss the subjective dignity of persons involved and never comes to the unification of persons. In other words, love and intimacy are never personalized. And thus, only an individual who lives the virtue of chastity can have an interpersonal communion with another. The chaste person is self-possessive and capable of making a real gift of self to the other. He does not push the emotions aside but elevates them to the personal level and directs them to the good of the other person.
The question then is why do people resent chastity if it is a sure way to love? Wojtyla (1960) argues the fact that sensual and emotional feelings develop more rapidly and are felt more intensely than what we see in a cultivated virtuous relationship that is centered on mutual self-giving. Virtuous relationships take time and greater effort. It is this more vital effort that is given less significance than it deserves because it demands more effort of the will and so "pleasure takes the place of superior values" (Wojtyla, 1960, p. 143).
The superior values are diminished and distorted as an actual good. For example, Wojtyla (1960) states, "a systematic case has been built up against [chastity], which seeks to show that it is not beneficial but harmful to human beings... ─ 'a young man must have sexual relief' ─ is always in fashion. But chastity and sexual continence are seen above all as dangerous enemies of love" (p. 144). The evil of chastity permeates our culture; one only needs to look at Hollywood, art, music, literature, college campuses. We do not see chastity held up as the ideal. Instead, we see selfish egoism being celebrated.
Authentic chastity as the Church understands it is said to combat selfish egoism and free us to love. Selfishness does not lead to freedom, flourishing, or love as Wojtyla (1960) affirms, but this is also confirmed by multiple studies that show that people who are constantly preoccupied with their own happiness tend to be the least happy. Some examples, are Mauss, Tamir, Anderson, and Savino (2011) in "Paradoxical effects of valuing happiness" and Schwarts, Ward, Monterosso, Lyubomirsky, White, and Lehman (2002) in "Happiness is a matter of choice." We also see that altruism leads to happiness (George, Brief, 1992). Seligman (2004) states in his book “Authentic Happiness” that "when we are happy, we are less self-focused, and we like others more" (p.43).
So, why should it be any different for those searching for happiness in love and relationships? It follows that an exaggerated sense of self and egoism threatens authentic love between persons. Therapists are quick to see the harms of selfishness; they are even smart enough to see the harms of sexual addiction (Paul J. Wright, 2012). Can we not then also see the damage mutual selfish gratification can do to both persons in a relationship? True lasting love must be based on virtue, committed to the other person's good, and mutual self-giving. Chastity is the only means of accomplishing this, and the therapist should help people live this virtue in their relationships, so they may flourish in those relationships.
Wojtyla (1960) acknowledges that each person is made for their own sake. This is made evident by the word he termed, personalistic norm: man is a good that cannot be treated as an object of use, and thus a means to an end. "In its positive form the personalistic norm confirms this: the person is a good towards which the only proper and adequate attitude is love" (p. 41). We are not only made for our own sake but personal communion as he discusses at length in "Theology of The Body" (Paul II, 1997). The communion, however, is no excuse to use the other person as a mere object of gratification as that would violate the personalistic norm. Even being married and open to children does not prevent this violation from occurring according to John Crosby's (2004) analysis of Wojtyla personalistic norm. He also notes that "sexual intimacy is not personalized until in and through it each person affirms and loves the other for his or her own sake" (p.249).
When we are preoccupied and concerned with our own egoism and calculus of pleasure but consent to serve someone else's egoism in a like manner there is no unification of persons, but something likened to mutual masturbation. St. Josemaria Escriva (2002) was right when he said, "when you have sought the company of a sensual satisfaction, what loneliness afterwards" (n 136). This does not sound like a good recipe for the foundation of relationships. However, this is commonplace in many relationships today. It is also why many relationships do not stand the test of time, because when there is no longer a mutual benefit, there is nothing left to unite the two people (Wojtyla, 1960). Wojtyla (1960) also adds that, "The sensual and emotional reactions that flow from within these relationships most often “arise before and develop more quickly than virtue… [it is] something less than love. They are however more often than not taken for love and given that name ─ and it is to love thus understood that chastity is hostile, and an obstacle to" (p. 146).
The resentment to chastity is because of a distorted understanding of values. This distortion is based on a purely subjective aspect of love (based on feelings of sensual and emotional pleasure) that ironically never rises to the level of the person. Wojtyla (1960) argues that love is not really love if it is merely an emotional attitude to the other person (p. 124). If it is simply emotional, it is only responding to the body as an object of use. However, the value of the person is bound up with the whole person. −Authentic love as a virtue is guided by chastity and oriented by the will to determine the value of the person. Wojtyla (1960) states that chastity is connected with emotional love, and with the love contained in sensual desire. Our concern is simply to bind these values tightly to the value of the person, since love is directed not towards ‘the body' alone, nor yet towards ‘a human being of the other sex', but precisely towards a person (p. 123).
This response to the person can only be done by a free act of the will. It is hard to do when the modern world afflicted by materialism recognizes nothing else in man but the body and instinctual pleasure. With this neo-Manichaean culture, we have a failure to do justice to the embodiment of persons (Crosby, 2004). But if we were to see the person and know that the person has a value beyond consumption and use, worthy of our total commitment, then the virtue of chastity would not be seen as something that obstructs the expression of spousal donation and flourishing, or happiness. We would see it as something that guarantees the personalistic character of the spousal union (Crosby, 2004), leading one to the very happiness they desire in their relationships.
The spousal donation is compromised by "loving" someone because of their sexual value alone. Chastity on the other hand helps us to see the good in sexual values and orient our sexual urge to the person who has these values. We choose a person who has sexual values and are left with the option of either using them for these values or loving the person as a good. What we have here is the distinction of selfishness in relationships and altruism in relationships, and chastity leads to the later. As shown above, in more than one study, altruism brings about the happiness we desire. When we use our reason and recognize the good and will the good of the other person we have a personal union that brings us the happiness we desire, and "it is natural, that is in accordance with nature, for a reasonable being such as man to desire and strive for that which reason recognizes as good" (Wotyla, 1960, p. 168).
Therapy should then guide the person with reason to these natural ends if their clients are going to find happiness and joy in their relationships. It is with reason that I have shown our sexual instinct is meant to orient us toward the person and not the body alone. A life lived according to reason is a life of joy. The Church has acclaimed sexuality as a good thing (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2000, para. 2331-2336), and our natural sexual inclinations as a good thing (Pinckaers, 1995) which provide us a solid bedrock for the formation of chastity that leads us to the good ends of sexuality. Viewed in this way it is not regarded as a constraint imposed on sexuality from without, as limiting as possible, but would rather be reason's interior mastery, which would integrate sexuality within the human person better than anything else could and would place it at the service of true love (Pinckaers, 1995, p. 439).
Explicit in this understanding of chastity is the role of the will. The will is involved in the participation of love. The ability for man to be able to rise above instincts and make use of the will is what separates human sexual acts from animal sexual acts. Again, "It is natural, that is in accordance with nature, for a reasonable being such as man to desire and strive for that which reason recognizes as good" (Wotyla, 1960, p. 168). Sexual instinct in and of itself is not wrong, but you are going to have to integrate this into the value of the person if you want to call it love. When the will and intellect get involved, it does not stop at sexual values precisely because the will is free. The will is "capable of desiring everything related to the unqualified good, the unlimited good that is happiness. And it commits this capacity, its natural and noble potentiality, to the other person concerned" (Wojtyla, 1960, p. 137). The will is not combating the sexual urge (repressing) but raising it to the level of the person, not losing sight of the absolute, unlimited good, and happiness of the other person. "The sexual instinct [by itself] wants above all to take over, to make use of another person…[whereas] love wants to give, to create a good, to bring to happiness" (Wojtyla, 1960, p. 138). And it is this good and happiness that chastity affords us.
It is important that the therapist helps the client find the happiness and flourishing they desire by implementing their natural reason, their natural inclinations for the good, and the virtue of chastity that helps order these inclinations, especially when this happiness involves other people. When one lives a life according to the appetites alone, the real good of the person is compromised since the appetites only know the good that they are ordered to (not the universal good) (Ripperger, 2013). Helping the client use their capacity to reason will help them order their relationship to the higher good, bringing them the happiness they naturally desire. If the appetites are ordered by right reason, they can actually lead to the good of the individual, for the good which the appetites pursue are real goods and so reason should take those real goods into consideration in the universal good of the individual (Ripperger, 2007, p. 209).
It is with the participation of the will aimed at the truth and the good of the other person that man can fully participate in giving of himself in the spousal union. This freedom is what makes self-surrender possible, and appropriately personal. Self-possession does not interfere with authentic personal love and union, because if persons did not belong to themselves, then their union would be subpersonal (Crosby, 2004, p. 247). Love is empowered precisely by this self-possessive power to give ourselves to others.
Karol Wojtyla (1960) ends his book on "Love and Responsibility" with a therapeutic approach to sexuality. He starts this section by noting the sexual instinct is entirely natural and has no intrinsic moral value, but that there are morally bad uses of our sexual instinct. Further, man should come to the understanding that he is capable of controlling his sexual urges and that he must not be of the opinion "that sexual reactions are determined by necessity and entirely independent of the will. He must be persuaded that his body can be made to 'obey' him if he trains it to do so" (Wojtyla, 1960, p. 287). As we have seen, it is this ordering of the sexual urge by the will, united to a common good, that will ultimately make our relationships flourish with the personal communion and fulfillment we long for. This self-control is not what some would call repression. It is no more repression than taming a wild horse is to tie him up and putting him in a barn. The therapist should take the totality of man and his nature into account. Too often, modern therapeutic advice makes the client more neurotic, less of a man, and less capable of love. He must convey to his client that he is capable of self-determination, ordered to the good, which leads to flourishing relationships. Wojtyal's (1960) final words in his book "Love and Responsibility," are
All correct sex education, including that which must take the form of therapy, cannot take as its starting point only the ‘natural' plane of the sex instinct, but must proceed from the plane of the person, with which the whole subject of love and responsibility is bound up [emphasis added]. Proper knowledge of biology and physiology in regard to sexual matters is important and valuable, but it cannot achieve its proper end unless it is grounded in an objective view of the person and the natural (and supernatural) vocation of the person, which is love (p. 289).
Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd ed.). (2000). Strathfield, NSW: St Pauls.
Crosby, J. F. (2004). Personalist Papers. Washington D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press.
George, J. M., & Brief, A. P. (September 01, 1992). Feeling good-doing good: A conceptual analysis of the mood at work-organizational spontaneity relationship. Psychological Bulletin, 112, 2, 310-329.
Mauss, I. B., Tamir, M., Anderson, C. L., & Savino, N. (2011). 'Can seeking
happiness make people unhappy? Paradoxical effects of valuing happiness':
Correction to Mauss, Tamir, Anderson, and Savino (2011). Emotion, 11(4), 767.
Paul II, P. J. (1997). The Theology of the Body. Boston: Daughters of St. Paul.
Pinckaers, S. (1995). The sources of christian ethics. Washington, D.C: The Catholic University of America Press.
Ripperger, C. (2013). Introduction to the science of mental health. Sensus Traditionis Press.
Schwartz, B., Ward, A., Monterosso, J., Lyubomirsky, S., White, K., & Lehman, D. R. (2002). Maximizing versus satisficing: Happiness is a matter of choice. Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology, 83(5), 1178-1197. doi:10.1037/0022-35126.96.36.1998
Wojtyla, K. (1960). Love and responsibility. London: William Collins Sons & Co.
Wright, P. J. (January 01, 2012). A longitudinal analysis of us adults??? pornography exposure: Sexual socialization, selective exposure, and the moderating role of unhappiness. Journal of Media Psychology: Theories, Methods, and Applications, 24, 2, 67-76.
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