What comes to mind when you hear the word chastity?
We all have preconceived notions of what it means to be chaste. Chastity is a buzz word for many people, and especially for teens. But what is chastity really? Chastity simply put is: living out your sexuality in the way it was intended. Chastity is expressing your sexuality in a healthy way and realizing that what you do with your body does affect your mind and soul as well.
Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being.
– Catechism of the Catholic Church #2337
Nowadays, most people don’t know what healthy sexuality looks like. For young men experiencing puberty and hormonal changes, it can be difficult to even know what is going on at times. Chastity affects almost everything we do. When we talk about chastity, our minds might jump to pornography or how far is too far within dating. But chastity equally concerns sexuality in marriage, being single, and coping with stress on a daily basis. In therapy and ministry, and as a man myself, I encounter many questions about sexuality. I hope these following 5 points will be of help as tools and reminders for both young men and parents on the subject chastity.
1. There is a healthy way to learn about sex – talk about it
If teens aren’t talking about sex with their parents, they will ultimately search for answers in other places. There are many helpful resources for parents and teens to discuss sex and normal bodily functions in a healthy and appropriate way. There are even video resources and programs, such as the YOU program from Ascension Press, that dive into sex, purpose, and happiness which parents and teens can watch together and discuss.
The average age of exposure to pornography is now about 8 years old. ( see Porn Addiction: Where Do We Begin?) If your teens aren’t asking questions, they will (or have already) started seeking out answers elsewhere. We all know that what teens hear about sex from their peers, TV’s shows, and the internet is usually far from healthy, normal, or real so bring the topic to light, be real, and be available for questions.
2. Your body will react naturally to things, that is okay
Guys, its okay! It’s a common concern so let’s talk about it. If your body feels a bit out of control and you are reacting physically to certain things during your adolescent years, don’t worry…you are normal. Life won’t be like that forever and understanding what is happening can help a lot. Go to helpful resources and know that biologically things happen during puberty that are new and that you don’t necessarily know how to control yet. It gets better and more understandable. Talking about it as a normal function without shame can help. You are not alone and your body is going through normal changes. When in doubt, ask an adult you trust.
And no, you will not die from being abstinent, or from being sexually inactive. Abstinence is a part of life, so is sexual desire and chastity. Some teen guys believe being abstinent or single will be the death of you, yet most humans go through huge chunks of their life, if not all of it, being abstinent and celibate. Believe it or not, your body regulates your sexual functioning and you will not die from being abstinent! Marriage also requires chastity and isn’t a free pass when it comes to sexuality. You are never to young to build and form healthy views and habits of sexuality.
3. Thoughts matter, but they don’t have to define you
Things might pop in your head and that’s okay, but you decide if they stay. Thoughts lead into our feelings, actions, and behaviors. Sometimes we think about random things, weird things, and we might not even be sure where they came from. It happens, but we can control whether or not we entertain those thoughts. If a thought pops into our head about a certain person or attraction, there comes a time where we decide whether or not to entertain that thought and keep it or let it go. That instance is usually when we become conscious about the fact that we are thinking about a certain thing and we can make a decision on whether or not to keep on thinking about it. Thoughts can be caught, and let go. Thoughts form habits; habits form patterns. Thoughts do matter. If you are struggling with thoughts, pray and give them to God, pray a Hail Mary, and keep yourself busy with productive and fruitful things.
Thoughts and feelings can also be confusing. No one is defined by their thoughts, feelings, or sexual desires. We often encounter a false dichotomy of needing to repress our sexual desires, attempting to ignore them and being miserable in the process, or fully giving into them. Neither of these is a healthy view of sexuality or living a chaste life. There is a third way. Feeling a certain attraction to someone doesn’t define who you are. Your identity in God alone defines you. If you are unsure of your attractions or sexuality, again talk to credible loving people you trust and seek out good Catholic resources. Pray and look to Scripture and don’t give into the myths that society tells you. Know that above all else, you are “Beloved”, a child of God, and are made for authentic and healthy love.
4. Practice the little things & be accountable
For anyone struggling with chastity, we can underestimate how much doing community service can help. Participating in something that takes us out of our own heads can make a world of a difference. Doing little acts of service or even fasting in small ways can help us say “no” to little things. In doing so, it helps us to prepare to say “no” to bigger struggles and addictions. Saying no to desserts, our favorite TV show, or social media at certain times/days builds our self-discipline and mastery over our desires. Additionally, chastity is not something to work on alone. Even in trying to be chaste we need community. It is super helpful to have an accountability partner or a group of friends to check in with honestly about chastity and struggles. Youth Ministry groups can be a great resource to find other teens that share your values and struggles.
Practice being alone in non-tempting situations and not giving in to these temptations. Whether that means going to a church to pray silently or hanging out in the living room instead of your bedroom, take the necessary steps to build a tolerance and strength to fight temptations. Taking your date into a bedroom can really be asking for trouble. Attractions and explorations are normal. So whether you are with your girlfriend or by yourself, find healthy and fun things to do. Also try to limit screen time watching TV, Netflix, video games, etc. Limiting time on the smart phone and things like instagram will help you avoid temptation and idle searching on the internet. Keep in mind that healthy expressions of sexuality won’t lead you to isolation, push away family or friends, and won’t leave you feeling ashamed or dirty.
5. Have hope & look to Christ and the Saints
Jesus is hope itself and believe it or not, the Church He founded knows a lot about sexuality. Humans are sexual beings by nature and the Church is made up of them. For over two thousand years Christians have been writing about how to live the faith and live out their sexuality. Seek these amazing people out. For example, check out St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body (and the many summarized versions of it). Read stories about St. Augustine, St. Maria Goretti, and others. There are so many current writings and resources that answer specific questions and offer services such as Jason & Crystalina Evert’s chastityproject.com.
Don’t give up. If sexuality and chastity are a struggle for you, know that things can get better. I have seen many men overcome porn addictions, work through chastity struggles in relationships, and even reclaim chastity in marriage and the single life. God made man with sexuality and it is a very good thing. Sexuality is a gift, and chastity teaches us how to best use this gift and not abuse it. Whether you are struggling with sexual addictions, avoiding lustful thoughts, or struggling with chastity in general, there is hope. Give your struggles to God; don’t try to do it alone. Invite Him in, seek help, and find a good accountability partner, a group of supportive friends, a solid Youth ministry, and a therapist to help you grow and make healthy and fulfilling changes.
To schedule an appointment with Adam Cross MFTI please call (805) 428-3755, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the contact page at adamcrossmft.wordpress.com/contact