According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, “Chastity is the virtue which excludes or moderates the indulgence of the sexual appetite. It is a form of the virtue of temperance, which controls according to right reason the desire for and use of those things which afford the greatest sensual pleasures.” Chastity is the “regulator” of our lives that keeps our desires from being either too “puritan” (thinking the body or sex is evil) or too “playboy” (we should always indulge any desire we have).

Unfortunately, many people confuse the word chastity with the word abstinence. Abstinence (in a sexual context) refers to the decision to refrain from any sexual behavior and is practiced by single and married people. For example, a married couple may abstain from sexual union because of an illness between one or both partners, or because they have a grave reason that justifies not conceiving a child. However, practicing chastity involves more than just abstinence, or saying “no” to sex. It is a whole lifestyle focused on discipline and moderation in the sexual and sensual spheres of life.

To learn more about the Church’s teaching on Chastity, visit the John Paul II Resource Center on Theology of the Body.

Q: As sexual creatures we should be free to express ourselves in any healthy way. Sex before marriage or with non-traditional partners, is a natural, healthy way to live and the Church needs to understand that.

A: The culture we live in views human sexuality as something we fully control (either through contraception or artificial reproduction) and can therefore make moral rules about. However, if Christ as a historical figure demonstrated his divine claim to authority by rising from the dead, then he has authority to give to the Church, who can then place moral restrictions on how we behave sexually. Furthermore, thoughtful reflection on our sexuality reveals that our bodies were made for a great and noble purpose, and not just for the attainment of pleasure. Most secular critics of the Church admit that actions like adult incest and bestiality are wrong even though these actions do not “hurt anyone” (this being the only moral standard secular critics can hold in the absence of Church teaching). However, the Catholic understanding of sexuality accounts for not only our intuitions against acts like consensual adult incest, but provides a firm moral foundation against widespread social ills like divorce, out-of-wedlock birth, abortion, and the rise of sexually transmitted diseases. In short, God created our sexuality so that we would have an amazing gift to offer him in the form of our bodies. Our bodies are not conformed to this present age, but are conformed wholly, and in purity, to the one true God.

From Scripture and the Catechism

I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.”
—Romans 12:1

“Chastity includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom. The alternative is clear: either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy. “Man’s dignity therefore requires him to act out of conscious and free choice, as moved and drawn in a personal way from within, and not by blind impulses in himself or by mere external constraint. Man gains such dignity when, ridding himself of all slavery to the passions, he presses forward to his goal by freely choosing what is good and, by his diligence and skill, effectively secures for himself the means suited to this end.” —CCC 2339