Is chastity the same thing as abstinence?

Abstinence means that a person is not sexually active. If I heard that a guy was abstinent, that would not tell me much about him. Maybe he is a man with courage and character and is saving himself for his bride. Maybe he just cannot find a date. Either way, abstinence is defined as what a person is not doing—in other words, no sex.

Chastity is different because it is defined by what a person is doing with his or her sexuality. It means having the strength to use your sexuality according to God’s plan, whether you are single or married. Living this virtue purifies your heart, heals your memories, strengthens your will, and glorifies God with your body. For an unmarried person it means saving marital intimacies for marriage. As one woman said, ‘‘It is sexuality dedicated to hope.”

For the married and the unmarried, it means having reverence for the gift of sex. Chastity is a virtue that defends love from selfishness and frees us from using others as objects. It makes us capable of authentic love. In short, abstinence ends in marriage but chastity holds marriage together.

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