Why you don’t need to be a virgin to practice chastity

In a comment beneath a chastity post I once wrote, a reader left a disconcerting note: “I’m not a virgin, so I guess I can’t practice chastity.” The comment hurt my heart.

The person who wrote it had dismissed chastity as irrelevant as a result of sexual experience—a sign of a misconception of chastity that says it isn’t designed for all of us. But chastity is a moral virtue, which is acquired, in part, by “human effort.” You don’t have to be a virgin to practice it. Here’s why:

Because chastity doesn’t hold the past against you. 

Chastity is the successful integration of sexuality within the person. It’s a decision a person makes to live like sex is a sacred physical sign of the vows a husband and wife made at the altar, an expression of the unity achieved by the sacrament of matrimony. Virginity is not a pre-requisite for it. In fact, chastity has virtually no pre-requisites outside the decision to practice it—and that’s a decision any person can make today.

Because chastity isn’t solely for single people.

While chastity is for single people, it’s also for married people—sexually active ones. Abstinence is supposed to end for a person who gets married, but chastity is never supposed to end. Outside marriage, chastity implies sexual abstinence. In marriage, chastity implies that we neither use nor abuse each other; that we uphold the definition of sex (a sacred physical sign); that we preserve sex’s purposes—babies and bonding—by working with, not against our bodies (in part by rejecting contraception).

Because chastity is for lovers.

According to St. John Paul II, “only the chaste man and the chaste woman are capable of true love.” The virtue of chastity equips us to love with authenticity. It requires, and fosters, and reinforces our abilities to moderate our behavior, to govern our appetites, and to transcend the urge to use each other—traits that make love possible. We are called as Christians to love one another, as Christ loves us. He loves us regardless of our sexual histories, and we’re invited to be chaste, starting now, despite them.

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Arleen Spenceley is author of the book Chastity is For Lovers: Single, Happy, and (Still) a Virgin. She works as a staff writer for the Tampa Bay Times, and has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in counseling, both from the University of South Florida. She blogs at arleenspenceley.com. You can connect with her on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

25 Comments

  1. Do you think it’s possible for an unchaste relationship between an unmarried couple to become chaste?

    By Liz | 1 year ago Reply
    • Absolutely!

      By Arleen Spenceley | 1 year ago Reply
    • Hi Arleen! I stumbled upon your blog post today and absolutely loved it! This is not something that is said enough; you can live a chaste life even if you are not a virgin. My boyfriend and I have been together for over two years and we used to have sex regularly. About a year into the relationship, I started growing in my faith and began to develop a much more personal relationship with God. It was extremely difficult, but I sat down with my boyfriend and told him I wanted to stop having sex and hold off until marriage. It was most certainly a struggle at first and since then we have fallen once, but it has only made my relationship stronger! Although it is different, we have found so many more unique ways to let each other know how much we love one another. It is definitely possible to develop an unchaste relationship into a chaste one and it is beautiful! More people need to be aware of that, and how fruitful of an experience it can be to make such a difficult change. Anything is possible when you completely depend on God!

      By Samantha | 1 year ago Reply
      • I can speak from my own experiences and boy oh boy what an experience. Please permit me this opportunity to say that its not always easy but with the Grace of God and wanting to follow the commandments of God i have been abstaining from sex almost 2&1/2 years now. At the time of making this decision I was in a relationship and after I spoke to my then bf he reluctantly agreed. Which was a big plus for me. We was engaged about 6 months later. It was very hard on both of us especially him i am in my early 30s he is in late 20s. We never broke it in the time we was together. He said i switch up on him and just took away sex. Eventually our engagment and relationship ended. I am single abstaining and he is in his 2nd relationship after me in less than 1 year. I am walking in obedience to God word which is not always easy but God word says no good thing will He withold from us so i am awaiting my good thing

        By Empress | 1 year ago Reply
  2. Thanks Arleen. I really needed this today. As a divorced (and annulled) Catholic male who fell into a spiral of sin with women after his marriage tanked, I just want everyone out there to know that what Arleen says is true and that there is hope for you. Chastity is something that needs to be worked on daily. So you screwed up, so did I; but I keep on pushing forward each and everyday. In the book “Mother Angelica’s Answers Not Promises,” Mother Angelica tells the story of a person who falls into a mud hole. We can do 3 things when we fall into a mud hole. We can sit in the mud hole and be depressed, we can play in the mud, or we can get up and keep moving. I have chosen to get up and keep moving and you can too. Thanks again Arleen for posting this.

    By Andy | 1 year ago Reply
    • Amen! Thanks for this feedback, Andy, and for your example.

      By Arleen Spenceley | 1 year ago Reply
  3. I am not a virgin. I had sex with with my first boyfriend because I thought we would someday get married. I allowed my obsession with him override my values and have repented of that. After we broke up, I decided I would wait for marriage to have sex again. It’s been 8 years and I never did get married. Even so I don’t regret my choice and consider myself chaste. Sometimes the loneliness can be difficult. Sometimes I wonder if the rest of my life will be spent alone. Even if it is, it’s worth it to me. I am once again honoring those I love with my whole self, including my body.

    By Anon | 1 year ago Reply
    • Thank you so much for sharing this! It IS worth it.

      By Arleen Spenceley | 1 year ago Reply
  4. Thank you for this. Chastity in all forms is for widowed persons, too. I am a lifelong Catholic who was married for 24 years before my husband died suddenly, and chastity helps me form and maintain proper relationships with men. But it is larger than that — chastely loving all with authenticity has helped my grieving heart to stay open to others and move forward.

    By elenagraziela | 1 year ago Reply
    • So true. Thank you, Elena!

      By Arleen Spenceley | 1 year ago Reply
  5. Thank you, Arleen! I needed this encouragement. God bless you!

    By Rachel | 1 year ago Reply
  6. Is it possible to ever fully heal from past sins?

    By Peter | 1 year ago Reply
    • Yes Peter but only through Jesus .. Jesus can go to our past, present and future.. He can and He will heal us of all hurt, addiction, bad memory, negative thought pattern.. Just need to repent, stay true to Him and trust Him.. He will make a way..

      By Silpa Paul | 1 year ago Reply
  7. It’s hard for me to believe because I started seriously taking steps to convert to Catholicism and as I did, fell in love with the guy who was helping me by taking me to mass and teaching me things like how to pray a Rosary and such. I thought I was blessed by God to have encountered a guy who was so chaste while going through this. He kissed me first then kept telling me how far we were going was “ok,” and I trusted him because he said he was checking with a priest when he was going to confession weekly. He convinced me to go as far as oral sex, and then I found out he was completely and wholly committed (as he puts it) to another girl the whole time, had been watching porn habitually the whole time we were friends and doing what we did, and they made their dating relationship public within about 3 months of me finding out about her. They both are rather prominent in the New Catholic Generation and talk about how chaste they both were and are, he told me I wasn’t holy enough for him, all of our mutual friends (who are Catholic) continue to hang out with only him but never me (they won’t let us near each other) and have told me I shouldn’t be getting upset at them for feeling left out and rejected, and all I have been left with is a severely broken heart and a near complete aversion to the Catholic Church because all it does is remind me of him, despite praying constantly, day after day for over 8 months, that I could not desire the whole and chaste relationship I thought I would find in him, but rather desire what God wills for me. I had already lost my virginity to a former boyfriend and had thought when this Catholic guy made me watch the Evert’s “Romance Without Regret” that he seriously wanted to see me heal sexually. Now I can’t imagine ever seeing healing of any sort and have lost just about all hope and faith.

    By Julie | 1 year ago Reply
    • Julie,

      I’m very sorry you had to go through this and that your heart was broken. Unfortunately, there are many men that use the “mask of Christianity” to suit their own wants. In the end, he wasn’t respecting you or the other girl in his life. There are many “Christian” guys out there who profess Christ in their lives but put themselves above all else. I went through a similar experience. It was very painful and took a lot of time to understand his true nature, but with time and prayer my heart was restored- and so will yours! You are a daughter of the King, so hold out for a man who truly reflects the King’s nature and love. Your healing will come, give this time you have to Jesus.

      By Lisa | 1 year ago Reply
    • Julie, my heart breaks for you – for your loss of friends; for this man’s betrayal. That’s what it is – a betrayal. It doesn’t matter how “holy” or how “catholic” they seem to be….that’s not Christ – it’s not Jesus. This must be so hard for you. I will keep you in my prayers – hold on to Christ – seek HIM! Seek HIS healing; <3 I've walked down a similar path, but the man who betrayed me was my dad – it was different, but trying not to associate Christ with him reminds me of your situation. As I have sought Christ and sought healing through counselling, reading, self-improvement, etc etc Jesus has healed me and continues to walk with me – don't give up! I know that in my darkest times he was with me, holding me – its just that I never could feel him in the moment – it was always when I looked back <3

      By meghan | 1 year ago Reply
    • Thank you for sharing this, Julie!

      Regarding the guy you’ve described, it sounds like his actions spoke louder than his words — he talked the talk, but he didn’t walk the walk. I am sorry that happened to you. I pray that you’ll find a set of friends who are supportive of you, and that you’ll continue to seek Jesus despite the guy’s misrepresentation of him.

      By Arleen Spenceley | 1 year ago Reply
  8. Thanks so much for writing all these wonderful blog posts.. They are words of life.. Shall continue to pray for you all.. Alleluia

    By Silpa Paul | 1 year ago Reply
  9. If anyone can please pray for my relationship with my boyfriend. We’ve been together for a year during which we fell in sin. We’ve tried to get out of it while we were still dating but it never seemed to work. Both of us loved the father. So he decided to keep us at distance now. I know I shouldnt be upset but its hurts and i feel a bit hung in between now. I’d love for prayers for him to live in chasity and still be together. After reading the post above i believe it can happen. Please i know the father will listen to your prayers.

    By Rach | 1 year ago Reply
    • Will keep you in my prayers xx

      By Kim | 1 year ago Reply
  10. I needed to read these words more than I realized when I saw the post on Facebook a couple weeks ago. I left the Church when I started college, and I allowed myself to be taken advantage of. I went through high school and the beginning of my freshman year of college wanting to wait until marriage to have sex. However, I eventually lost my virginity, and it’s been really hard forgiving myself for that, especially now that I have returned to the Church and grown so much in my faith. After reading this post, I know that I can still practice chastity and recommit myself to my future husband if marriage is in God’s plan for me. Thank you.

    By Kylie | 1 year ago Reply
    • Amen!

      By Arleen Spenceley | 1 year ago Reply
  11. Thank you so much for this post xx Being a teen, its hard not to be curious about sex, especially when your peers are all in a relationship and you are alone and you felt left out you tend to find for “boyfriends”. Well, that happened to quite a few girls I know. But who am I to tell them what’s right? It breaks my heart to know that my friends – those girls, are falling for those wrong guys. And I hated myself for doing such thing. I was well, uhh you could say, curious about sex, since that’s like the main topic all your friends are talking about. And I actually googled it, like you know, “what’s sex?” “Sex?” and stuffs. Till now, I still feel guilty for doing so.

    By Kim | 1 year ago Reply
  12. Hi Arleen a been some confusion on what virginity is because I’ve made a mistake of compromising by doing other sexual activity and it was unpleasurable in some cases. But i still feel like a virgin because i didn’t have the “traditional” sexual intercourse and I repented of my sin and impure action and to fully wait to everything for my future husband. But i also don’t want to lie to people if I’m really not a virgin. I know what purity is, but what’s exactly losing your virginity between a male and female?

    By Melissa | 1 year ago Reply
  13. Dear Beloved,

    First of all let me ask forgiveness from the Lord for my worst immoral behaviour and act. me and my girl friend had committed fornication. Shameful to say that She and I are going to spiritual church and believers for more than 10 years. We felt so shameful for out act and cried for forgiveness from the Lord because of our bad act,

    As per Exodus 22:16, should we marry? or should we separate to start new life. Is the old testament law still hold true in new testament life. We are ready to do anything as per the word.

    From my heart: I never had a thought of cheating her at any moment. Problem now is that my parents are not accepting. Only option to marry her is to go out of my family and marry.

    I am highly confused… Not able to decide anything. I am wondering whether God will give new start or is it better to marry to start fixing my mistake. If i marry another new girl, am i cheating her because im not virgin. Or will God forgive everything and make it new… OMG im completely lost.

    I have prayed a lot and i am not getting any direction. i searched online for many articles. some are suggesting to marry and some are suggesting to start new. We both are ready to anything to start doing right again.

    Request your prayer and guidance.

    By raj | 1 year ago Reply

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