What is emotional chastity?

Maybe you’ve heard the term thrown around at your Newman Center. Maybe you read about it in your bible study. Maybe someone used it as their reason for breaking up with you. Emotional chastity, emotional purity, emotional integrity, emotional virtue, whatever people are calling it these days, has become quite a buzz topic in young adult Catholic circles. But what exactly is it?

To answer those questions we’re going to need to turn to the writings of a dead man who was celibate. Just what you were thinking for this new topic on human sexuality, right? The truth is that way before my generation was wearing diapers Blessed Pope John Paul the Great was writing about it and his ideas even stemmed from the great saints who went before him.

He started with a little red book called Love and Responsibility. Here Karol Wojtyla, who later became Pope John Paul II, wrote one of his greatest works on sexual morality at the beginning of the sexual revolution in 1960. To the right is a picture of my personal copy. It’s well loved.

This gem of a book is a complex philosophical work that sometimes goes unnoticed because it wasn’t made for popular consumption. Let me take out a few commas, parentheses, 36 word sentences and philosophical terms from the text and I’ll give you the basic gist on the part that applies to the emotional side of a truly pure relationship.

There are two types of attraction, sensual attraction and sentimental attraction. Sensual attraction has to do with the material value of a person, what we find physically attractive about them (she’s hot). Sentimental attraction has to do with the non-material value of a person, what we find emotionally attractive about them (he’s fascinating). Both of these types of attraction can spark in us the instant we meet someone or grow with time and they are both necessary for attraction to turn into love.

But we must be careful because if these attractions are not under control, rather than leading to true, authentic love, they can lead us to using people. While it’s easy to see how sensual attraction can turn into a desire to use someone simply for physical pleasure, it’s harder to see that sentimental attraction can have the same effect by enticing us to use someone for emotional pleasure.

Maybe you’ve seen this before. She’s with him because he gives her a sense of emotional security. He’s with her because she makes him feel important. They’re both afraid to break up because they’re afraid of being alone. While enjoying the time you spend with a person is necessary for a healthy relationship, a relationship based on fear is not a healthy relationship.

Emotional “chastity”, like physical chastity, also requires a discipline of mind. Just as we can sexually fantasize about a person in our mind we can emotionally fantasize about a person as well. The best way to describe this is “mental stalking.” It’s that game we can play where we think and daydream about a person almost incessantly. We picture what it would be like to date them, check out our names together as a couple and even mentally plan our wedding. It seems harmless, but when we do this we turn a person into an object by using them for the emotional high we get from the imaginary relationship we have with them. Mentally using a person, whether physically or emotionally, is always in direct contrast with loving a person.

In the end these two types of attraction are so interconnected it’s difficult to separate them. So, if we want to be people of sexual integrity, we must start with being people of emotional integrity because where our hearts go our bodies want to follow.

Emotional attraction needs emotional purity to develop into authentic emotional love and physical attraction needs physical chastity to develop into authentic physical love. If we can get these two types of attraction right we are well on our way to finding true, lasting love, which is what those who struggle with emotionally using someone are in search of in the first place.

Be saints, it’s worth it!

*Need to jump start getting your emotional attractions or fantasies under control? One great way to do that is by cutting out excessive emotional images from your life. Say goodbye to chick flicks, romance novels, and emotionally charged music and TV shows then see what it does for your heart. Also, for more on this topic, check out Dr. Edward Sri’s article entitled, Sense and Sentimentality and for the full picture read his book Men, Women, and the Mystery of Love.

(This blog post was originally published at FOCUS.)

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lisacotterLisa Cotter and her husband Kevin have been a FOCUS family for the past 5 years. Currently she serves as the Family Liaison, a position in which she strives to connect FOCUS’ over 100 wives across the country. She is a proud graduate of Benedictine College where she received degrees in Religious Studies and Youth Ministry and later served as a Resident Director while Kevin served as an on-campus missionary. She is a national speaker as well as a video presenter for YDisciple Leader. In reality, she spends most of her days playing with her young children and trying to avoid laundry. Lisa is not currently on Twitter and her Facebook account has been disabled. You can connect with her by telegraph or Pony Express.

14 Comments

  1. thank you very much! this has become god manifesting himself or sending a message to me today. I have been struggling with whether or not I should continue on this relationship I messily got myself tangled in. I am so grateful now that during my time of thinking about making the right decision I was able to read this. I can no distinguish if it is sensual and sentimental attraction. I think I am going to really take a step back and just leave ourselves to friends first. thank you for this Jason and crystalina! I needed this!

    By elle alegre | 3 years ago Reply
  2. Lisa, you are the first person I ever heard this from, my sophomore year of college at the National FOCUS Conference in Florida (actually, it was a guys-only talk that year, so I listened to the audio afterwards). This concept caught me and saved my heart immediately, as I was in the middle of a horrible crush on someone (picture-perfect mental stalking) who did not return the feelings. After learning about this, I gave up the crush and decided to never again mentally stalk a young man or change my behavior to try and seem appealing to him. Long story short, once I started applying emotional chastity to my life, all of my relationships improved significantly. Less than three weeks ago, I married a young man who also used to struggle to some degree with emotional chastity (he was sitting at your talk when he learned about it).

    By Emily D. | 3 years ago Reply
    • Emily, Congratulations on your recent marriage! What a great story, thank you for sharing it with me! Blessings to you both as you start your new adventure together, Lisa

      By Lisa Cotter | 3 years ago Reply
  3. Thank you! It was a push to pursue harder my emotional chastity! As a woman I can easily fall into day dream about certain person I feel attracted to. Good food for my mind and heart.

    By Cecilia Gonzalez | 3 years ago Reply
  4. Definitely a great way to level up when you already believe in holy purity. Thanks for the wonderful read!

    By Charmaine | 3 years ago Reply
  5. Thank you! I always wondered why boy bands like one direction bothered me sooo much! I knew they were using teen girls somehow! And THAT’s why I got soooo upsessed with Twilight when I saw the movie; I could not stop thinking about it and I knew something was wrong!

    By Karen | 3 years ago Reply
  6. Emotional stalking. What a nice way of saying what I spend so much of my time doing. If I put as much time and effort into my relationship with God as I do with the guys that I have crushes on, I would be canonized as a saint. I practice physical purity but have never had someone talk to me about emotional purity. I always thought fantasizing and day dreaming was harmless. When I see the toll that it takes on my mind and my relationships, I can see the harm that it does. The incessant chatter in my mind, “Does he like me? Why isn’t he asking me out? Who is that girl he is talking to? I wonder what I should wear to bible study tonight to catch his attention and distract him”. SERIOUSLY? All this coming from a girl who claims to want to end up, God-willing, with a Christ-like man. It is easier said than done but I need to get it through my thick skull: God will make things happen when he wants, how he wants, and with whom he wants. This means that I need to get off of his facebook page, stop staring at my cell phone waiting for his call, and stop planning my time around when I may be able to see him. If God wants him in my life, He will keep him there. And if this guy really liked me in the first place, he wouldn’t let me believe any differently. Dear God, please give me the patience, wisdom, and emotional purity to survive my journey with you.

    By Stina | 3 years ago Reply
  7. “Mentally using a person, whether physically or emotionally, is always in direct contrast with loving a person.” This is so true. Thank you for this message. ^_^ Very helpful indeed!

    By Iris | 3 years ago Reply
  8. It’s a shame, really that you don’t seem to be on Twitter. This being said, I recently saw you on EWTN’s “Life On The Rock.” You were talking about this very topic, and this is the best place, (thus far) I could find to send along a question and/or make a comment.

    On “Life On The Rock,” you also used the term “void filler.” This immediately brought to my mind, Genesis.2:23. It seems to me that there is a built in need to be met. I’m interested to know what you have to say about that

    By Michael | 3 years ago Reply
  9. I was wondering if you could define the term emotionally chastity? I also noticed that you talked about it in terms of being emotionally prudent if your not dating anyone or if your only in a romantic relationship because its gets your emotionally ‘high’. What advice would you give to a young couple (early 20’s) who just recently started courting, are devout Catholics and are looking to keep up purity and the forefront of their intimacy?

    By Ryan | 3 years ago Reply
  10. Lisa, is falling into the sin of mental stalking mortally sinful?

    By Molly | 3 years ago Reply
  11. Dear Lisa,

    Thank you so much for writing this article.

    As a guy, I’d like to admit that I’ve realised that I too can get very sentimentally attached. For example, I used to like this girl a lot, and I would end up dreaming about our marriage. I would think of her many times a day and wonder if she thought of me too. I’d keep checking my phone to see if she replied to my texts, which she most often wouldn’t or would reply only towards the end of the day. Knowing that I could have her as my “girlfriend” seemed to satisfy my ego/tick a box on my imaginary checklist of things to accomplish so that I coild be convinced of my self-esteem or self-worth.

    And now that, by the grace of God Almighty I have read and understood what you’re describing, I realised that I was merely using her to satisfy my ego.

    In retrospect, I see that all the while I wasn’t, and actually couldn’t get to know her as a person, because all the while I was only concerned with fulfilling these fantasies in my head. Even to the extent that, I’d buy her a flower only to show her that I (emphasis on me) was a caring person. I later realised that I did it to show how ‘good’ I was, and not for how good she was; because she deserved something beautiful. Which is why, when she didn’t open the door the first time I tried to give her a flower, I stopped trying. So much for the love I pretended to possess for her. If I truly, loved her, in an ’emotionally chaste’ way, I’d have been able to see her for who she really is, and not who I think she is. And I’d known if our relationship was meant to be, and I would buy her roses, everyday.

    By Leo | 3 years ago Reply
  12. It is not true always that “where the heart goes the body wants to follow” —- not for integrated relationships. Example: St. Francis de Sales and St Jane de Chantal. It’s true for “masters of suspicion” or those who don’t or won’t trust God with their whole self (body and soul). We are made to be WHOLE and thus – who the heart loves purely the body loves purely and vice versa.

    By Lisa | 3 years ago Reply

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