Chastity is a Waltz

A few months ago I was speaking to a friend of mine regarding how we teach chastity to our young people.  The frustration she shared with me was that the entire burden of chastity seemed to fall on the women.  They were expected to be the guardians of virtue and purity while men escaped much of the focus.  If a woman is thought to have loose sexual values, she is excoriated and ostracized by a good number of men and women.  If a man is thought to have loose sexual values, there is a lot of eye-rolling and tsk-tsking, but there is an underlying sense of, “Well, that’s just how guys are.  Boys will be boys.”

I remember an episode of Seinfeld where Jerry asked Elaine if she preferred to be on a certain side when engaging in romantic activity.  She said, “Women don’t have sides.  We just play defense.”  The expectation being that the man is expected to be the initiator of sexual activity and it is the job of the woman to slow that activity down.  A female student once summed up the thinking this way (she said she got this from Facebook), “A lock that can be opened by any key is a bad lock.  But a key that can open any lock is a master key.”

I believe that my friend had a point regarding how we teach chastity to men.  The impression I have (which may be much different than your experience), is that we emphasize sexual responsibility with our young ladies with great gravity.  This is not unreasonable seeing as how women bear so much of the tangible consequences of sex, especially pregnancy.  But with men my impression is that we talk about it, but not with nearly the same sense of gravity.

I know that I am over-generalizing.  There are some fantastic speakers out there now who are speaking about the destructive power things like pornography have on the male soul.  But as a culture, we have not taken a firm stance.

I am not advocating we let women off the hook.  They are called to be heroically chaste in our society.  But so are men.  Chastity is not an either/or virtue when it comes to the sexes.  It is both.  It only works when they work together.  That is why chastity is like a waltz.

I am far from an expert, but I took waltz lessons right before a wedding.  What struck me about it was that it required a very clear understanding of the rules and the steps, good communication between the partners, and above all keeping in time together.  The dance would not have worked if only one of us followed the rules.  We needed to work together.

I think that this is a very good model for chastity.

It is commonly believed that men have a stronger sexual urge than women.  Having never been a woman, I cannot make comparisons, but that impression seems to be the case.  As comedian Larry Miller once said about the difference between a man’s sex drive and a woman’s sex drive, “It’s like the difference between shooting a bullet and throwing it!”

I think the first step in making this “dance” effective is good communication.  Women need to understand how men think and women need to understand how women think.  This is, of course, the plot behind most TV sitcoms.  Nevertheless, it is important for the sexes to look at sex from the opposite sex.

When I teach the Old Testament to my students, I have all the ladies write down 2 Samuel 13:15 when we come to that particular section.  In this story, Amnon lusted after Tamar and then raped her.  After he was finished it says: “Then Amnon hated her with intense hatred. In fact, he hated her more than he had loved her.”  What this means is that once lust is satisfied, it turns into disgust (this insight is not my own, but from a wonderful speaker whose name I am sorry to say I cannot remember).  In my freshmen class of guys and girls, I had a strong feeling that the girls did not understand that a number of boys thought this way.  So I spoke winkingly at the boys and said, “C’mon guys, you know that there are two kinds of girls: girls you date and fool around with and girls that you marry.  And you don’t want to marry the first kind of girl, do you?”  I got a number of head nods and murmurs of agreement from some (thankfully not all) of the boys.  At this, I saw a number of the girls’ eyes go wide with disgusted understanding.

I am not reducing this to saying men are pigs, but I think it is important that we communicate to each other what the other is looking for.  Do we communicate to our boys, for example, that when a woman dresses provocatively, she is, at heart, communicating a deep desire for a love she is unable to easily find?  Do we teach our boys that this daughter of God is by her behavior hungering not for physical passion but spiritual compassion?

Where is our modeling for this?  Outside of the popular culture, which can be a moral cesspool, who do we hold up as models?  We hold up the Virgin Mary as a model of purity to our girls and rightly so.  Do we place that same emphasis on purity to our men in imitation of St. Joseph?  Or St. Augustine?  This modeling is very important.  I had a fellow teacher tell me once about a senior who just turned 18.  To celebrate, his father took him to a strip club.  Here we have a young man who will model his sexual morality on objectifying women.  Do our young men look around at the heroes in their lives and see respect and honor of women or rampant, unbridled lust?

And like a waltz, the rules of chastity must be made very clear.  It is true that Christian morality is more than “the rules.”  But it is also not less than that.  The rules are there and they must be made clear.  I remember I once told my students that it was a sin to go to a strip club.  One male student was incensed by this, completely incredulous.  You should see how many of them looked shocked when I tell them sex outside of marriage is a mortal sin!

It is amazing to me how little the rules are known.  Like much in Catholicism, people think they know them without actually knowing them.  I have found that students may not like hearing what they can and cannot do (who does?), they prefer clear and direct answers as opposed to vague moral boundaries.  It may not be pleasant, but we need to be firm and clear on the moral line.  If we do not, the dance of chastity cannot take place.  If you told the people of the waltz that they should simply moved to the music how they felt, they could dance.  But they couldn’t waltz.

Finally, men and women must “keep in time together.”  This means that chastity cannot be accomplished truly achieved alone.  Men have culturally relied on women to prop them up in virtue and have a general civilizing effect on them.  But in this day and age, our media (both popular and social), pressures women to objectify themselves for attention.  There is an even greater need for men to take up the challenge and be an example of honor and respect.  We need to help each other be virtuous.

This will take a lot of grace and prayer and struggle.  But I remember when I waltzed, at some point I forgot about keeping time and counting and we just danced.  If we can live the way Christ wants us to live, then we can experience the joy of this “dance” we call chastity.

Copyright 2015, W.L.Grayson

W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

I am a devoutly Catholic theology teacher who loves a popular culture that often, quite frankly, hates me. I grew up absorbing every movie, TV show, comic book, science fiction novel, etc. I could find. As of today I’ve watched over 2100 movies and tv shows. They take up a huge part of my life. I don’t know that this is a good thing, but it has given me a common vocabulary to draw from in order to illustrate whatever theological point I make in class. I’ve used American Pie the song to explain the Book of Revelation (I’ll post on this some time later) and American Pie the movie to help explain Eucharist (don’t ask). The point is that the popular culture is popular for a reason. It is woven into the fabric of our lives and imaginations, for good or ill. In this blog I will attempt to bring together the things of heaven with the things of earth. Of course this goal may be too lofty for someone like me.

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