Our current culture laughs at the idea of chastity saying things like, “How dare you limit sex!” or “We have a right for sex whenever we want.” The Catechism briefly describes how disordered use of sex is selfish (CCC 2351), but it doesn’t describe the negative effects a lack of chastity causes in our culture. We have many examples of the negative effects in our society because of its obsession with sex. At the same time, we have very few examples of the positive effects chastity brings.
In America, children and adults are bombarded by sex several times a day every day. It’s in our entertainment and in the media from movies to books to the daily news. Even many commercials are filled with sex. Over the years, this has created a society where many people are filled with lust. Because of this, much of the population makes decisions based on which choice will lead them closer to sex. It’s particularly bad for men, which I focus on here. Most of these examples can apply to women as well.
In our society, romance is equated with sexual relations. The romantic movies show the same old story with people dating, holding hands, kissing, and having sex. Then the movie ends. Sex is shown as the goal of every relationship, when it’s really a very small part of true romance. In a typical marriage, sex is only 1% of their time spent together. The rest of the time is nonsexual. The marital act is such a tiny part of the relationship, to focus on it is to miss the majority of the relationship.
So many men are driven by lust, their marriages greatly suffer. Many times the only thing the husband has in common with his wife is the marital act. The rest of the time they live separate lives. Even from the beginning, the relationship faces problems. The husband doesn’t truly love his wife, only her body. He showered her with positive attention, praised her, brought her gifts, offered her help when in need, and was willing to talk to her for hours about her feelings. He had no real interest in these things. He was only using her.
Men in this situation are incapable of being intimate without sex. They can’t have long conversations with their wife. They can’t spend time together in silence. They get frustrated with handholding or kissing if it doesn’t lead to the marital act. In short, they are unable to see the whole person, so the man appears two-faced. When he desires her body, he is very nice to his wife, does everything she says until he gets what he wants. Once his desire is sated, he’s back to his old self, not interested in spending time with her until lust sets in again. Many wives don’t see this going on. Having no idea why their husband is so different by the day, they can easily fall into depression and despair. These ups and downs are devastating to the relationship. Strong marriages need consistency.
These men don’t care about their children either. They will continually complain about having to go to school events, babysit their children, help with homework, change diapers or anything else for the good of their children. They don’t care about their children. Their sole interest is sex. So they are not a family man and don’t really love their wife either. They have no care for their marriage vows. Since physical attraction is the only thing keeping the marriage together, the relationship will turn sour once the wife starts aging. No longer attracted to her, the husband will leave for a younger woman.
American culture’s obsession with sex doesn’t just affect marriages. It also affects platonic relationships. Men are trained to see women as sex objects, so they are constantly evaluating all the women they come across for attractiveness. When a man sees an attractive woman, he rushes toward satisfy his sinful desires. If she denies him or doesn’t move fast enough, he is gone to find another woman.
Whenever he has to work with a woman maybe as co-workers or volunteers, sin is on his mind. He is unable to have any kind of meaningful relationship with her because he can only see relationships with women as the potential for sex. He doesn’t know how to just be friends. When a woman thanks or hugs him, he is thinking she is attracted to him. When he tries to take the next step and she declines, he gets angry and spreads lies about her to others. When this man meets a woman he’s instantly thinking about how to manipulate her when he should focus on just being friends. Romance will happen later on its own. There is no rushing it, but he is impatient. He sees no value in waiting.
All these negative effects and many more are a result of a society that celebrates sex, but a society that celebrated chastity would avoid most of these problems. There would still be some bad apples, but if people were constantly encouraged to value the whole person rather than just their looks, we would be in a much better place. Husbands would truly respect their wives. Men could think of women more like themselves, wanting to do what’s best for the individual rather than their selfish desires. I don’t know how to fix the problem in the overall society, but on an individual level, there is something Catholics can do to improve their relationships.
The only way to stop sex from clouding the mind is to avoid it. This is especially important for single people, but even married people can benefit from this. The most important thing is to limit exposure to the sinful culture. Avoid movies and TV shows with nudity or sex scenes. Reduce how much time you spend with entertainment and the media. The time you do spend, stick to films rated PG or lower, animated films, and documentaries. On TV, nature shows, science shows, and documentaries are usually good. Instead of popular music, listen to classical or Christian music. Another huge thing is not associating with people caught up in the sinful culture. They might be very nice as friends, but bad influences have to go. Make friends with fellow Catholics, who know the truth and strive to live by it.
The second most important thing for single people is celibacy. Our society has embraced the horrible sins of fornication, pornography, and masturbation (CCC 2352-2354). Whether you have developed a habit of these sins or not, the only way to see the opposite sex in a Godly way is to remove sex from the equation. You do this by dying to self (Mt 16:25, Mk 8:35), including practicing complete abstinence (or continence, 2349).
Many people don’t think abstinence is even possible. While it may be difficult at first, it is definitely possible. Sex is not a need. Studies suggest it takes about 90 days for the brain to adjust to abstinence. You’ll always have to deal with temptations, but they will be really easy to resist. Then when you get into a romantic relationship while remaining chaste, you will be able to see the whole person, allowing you to fall in love with the whole person, not just how he or she looks. You might even find you’re not called to marriage at all. Lust could have clouded your mind from a call to the priesthood or consecrated life.
Married people can also benefit from abstinence. If you went from the sins of fornication, pornography, or masturbation straight into marriage, you could still have a cloud over your eyes, making it hard to love everything about your spouse. You can remove that cloud through abstinence just like single people. You will need to make an agreement with your spouse, but if he or she accepts, a good time to start this is Lent. It’s only 47 days counting Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday, but I recommend continuing for 90 days. In that time you will be forced to learn how to be intimate with your spouse without the marital act. When you finish, you will appreciate everything about your spouse, not just his or her body. Your marriage will be strengthened, and you might even find you don’t get in as many fights. You will just enjoy each other’s company more.
Everything we do is good or evil, so we are either a slave to sin (selfish) or a slave to God (selfless). We have to acknowledge that our physical body is not our own. It was lent to us by God to do good work; it will eventually be taken away at our death. Our sexuality is not our own but an instrument for God’s good work. Like all blessings, sexuality should be used as an offering to God, whether it be in the sacrifice of continence (abstinence) for single people or the complete giving of self in conjugal life for married people (CCC 2349).
May God bless you with his abundant grace,