Is chastity the same thing as virginity?

Some people think that chastity and virginity are synonymous, but they are not. Not all chaste people are virgins, and not all virgins are chaste. For example, before their conversions, Saint Augustine fathered a child out of marriage, Saint Margaret of Cortona lived with her boyfriend, and Saint Pelagia was a prostitute. While they may not have been virgins, they became chaste—and became saints.

On the other hand, some people are technically virgins, but they compromise their purity in countless ways. Many virgins assume, ‘‘As long as I retain my virginity, I’m being good. Therefore, everything short of intercourse is OK.’’ They may give parts of themselves to people they know they will never marry and assume that they are still pure because they are not having intercourse. Slowly they begin to believe that sexual intimacy is not a big deal. By the time they meet the person they truly deserve, they need a lot of healing for all they have given away.

But chastity is not something that can be lost forever because something shameful happened in your past. Virginity concerns our sexual history, but chastity is not concerned with the past. Chastity is a virtue that exists only in the present. People often think that because they have lost their virginity, purity will always be out of their reach. It is not. Just as a person who has led a pure life can fall into immorality, a person who has sinned can return to purity. To be pure it is necessary that your heart be directed to God. In his eyes, the repentant prostitute is purer than the lustful virgin. We need to remember that our worth lies in how God sees us, not in how others see us or even in how we sometimes see ourselves.

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