"'Purity?' they ask. And they smile. They are the ones who go on to marriage with worn-out bodies and disillusioned souls." - St. Josemaria Escriva
In this day and age, when someone hears about Chastity they may think of abstinence, modesty, and celibacy. Those who practice these things are guarding themselves from certain aspects of sexuality. They resist the over-sexualization that is happening in American culture and are sometimes looked down on because of it.
Being Chaste does not necessarily mean shying away from sex. Chastity is sexual behavior of a man or woman that is in accordance with the moral standards of their religion and culture. In many religions, acts that are sexual in nature are prohibited outside of marriage.
"But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints." - Ephesians 5:3
In Christian traditions, Chastity is identical to sexual purity. This means not having any sexual relations before marriage. It also includes loyalty to one's husband or wife during marriage. When God created humans he declared that we were good and that we should be fruitful and multiply. After the fall, humankind's sexual desires were distorted and became impure. The Bible is clear on the dangers of an impure heart:
Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
1 Corinthians 6:18-20
According to the Bible, any voluntary sexual arousal or act outside of a union between husband and wife is sinful.
To an oversexed world this is outrageous. After all, sex feels good and is necessary for the continuation of our species. How can it be bad? People who believe this don't understand why Chastity is important to keeping a true and virtuous soul. Impurity and lust are sicknesses, and when uncontrolled are precursors to other more serious problems such as unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.
Christians struggle with lust just as much as anyone else. Being Chaste is very difficult because it tests our will. As humans, we fail constantly because resisting our urges is like resisting our desire to eat or drink. Christian Chastity means fleeing from temptation and being mindful of the way we speak, think, dress, and the places we go.
"We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves." -Buddha
Buddhism prescribes Chastity through the Noble Eightfold Path. This path is a treatment for life through training, designed to release one from ignorance, impulse, and the desire for sense pleasures. One of the points on this path is that of Right Action.
According to the concept of Right Action, practitioners should train themselves to be morally right in their activities. To achieve this, one must follow the five precepts: do not kill, do not steal, do not lie, do not become intoxicated, and do not be unchaste.
For monks and people who are not married, Chastity is continence. For the married it means restraint in proportion with one's progress along the Path. If change is needed, the person should reflect on their actions with an eye on what prompted the action in the first place. Change should then proceed in the direction of selflessness and charity.
If a person is unchaste, they are still trapped by tanha, the desire for private fulfillment. This kind of desire seeks fulfillment in the ego and senses, which are temporary and hollow. Tanha is the cause of life's dislocation, but if a person follows the Path, which includes being Chaste, they can escape the selfish craving which keeps them from achieving true happiness.
By practicing Chastity, one is moving closer to escaping the self-cage. When we escape the desire for sexual satisfaction, we are no longer shaped by that craving and it's narrow limits of self-interest. When we are free of that craving, our mind becomes more pure, and that purity leads to joy.
"For men and women who guard their chastity, and for men and women who engage much in God's praise, for them has God prepared forgiveness and great reward." - The Qu'ran 33:35
Muslims take special care to abstain from what is forbidden. They do this in part by promoting virtuous behavior, and by distancing themselves from animalistic desires. The Qu'ran is very specific that sexual indecency is sin. Chastity is necessary for preventing human behavior from sinking into despicable desires.
In today's largely secular society, it seems that people have trouble seeing the significance of Islam's norms and values surrounding Chastity and modesty. To Islam, the world is predominantly licentious, and we are in danger if we are not diligent in guarding our Chastity.
Unchaste behavior can have disastrous, even devastating consequences. Islam's teachings about unchaste behavior seek to educate and reform before that behavior leads to disaster.
This does not mean someone will experience a catastrophe that ruins their life as a result of unchaste behavior. Yet this is no excuse to be unchaste. Men and women should practice chastity because Allah commands it, and if they love God they will want to obey His commands. As a person would want to be clean, have nice clothes, and a great smile when they meet their beloved, so should that person enhance their spiritual attraction in order to appropriately approach God. One way to do this is by nurturing Chaste behavior.
Such things are not easy, nor will change happen overnight, but Allah assures his people, "Those who strive in Our path- We will surely guide them in Our ways." (Qu'ran 29:70).
Connecting the Definitions of Chastity
Christianity and Islam closely relate to one another in their teachings on Chastity, while Buddhism differs slightly. All agree that chastity is vital to working towards a virtuous soul, and ultimately salvation.
From these three religions, we learn the following about Chastity: Sexual misconduct is a sin against the body and God. If we try to resist or fight it by ourselves, we will fail. We need to flee from it towards Christ, who is our strength and hope (Christianity). Chastity is necessary for escaping the selfish desires of the flesh, which blind us from truth and cause us to suffer. If we can escape this cycle, our minds become purified, which leads to happiness (Buddhism). Chastity is abstaining from improper sexual action, which is forbidden, along with other animalistic desires. Key to this is focusing our minds on God, and keeping ourselves busy with healthy and constructive acts, so there is less room for unchaste behavior (Islam).
How Can I Practice Chastity?
In order to practice Chastity, one must focus on improving self-control. This is a test of will and is never easy for anyone. In order to change, one must change the way they think about themselves and about other people. This is accomplished in part by changing our behavior; you cannot just flip a switch and be more chaste. It takes time.
Get in touch with your faith. The most important factor behind change is how much you want that change. If you're not in it all the way, it will be much harder to accomplish the goal. This is where faith and spirituality play a critical role. If you believe in God, spend time in prayer and meditate upon the Holy texts. Whatever you believe, lean on that and others who share your belief. Let their strength be yours.
Practice Modesty. True modesty extends to our speech, our actions, our thoughts, and the way we dress. Therefore, dress appropriately, be aware of your thoughts as you think them, watch your body language, and be attentive to what you say. Often times in social situations we try to act "cool" and participate in jokes or conversations that are sexual or inappropriate. Resist the urge to be like everyone else, and stand firm to what you say. Modesty sends a message, and others are more likely to be inspired rather than offended by what you say.
Avoid sexual temptation. This involves staying away from situations where you might be enticed into the behavior you're trying to avoid. If you're dating, refrain from situations like the back of a car, a bed, or being alone together. These settings set us up for failure; a person trying to lose weight shouldn't go to the candy store. Just stay away.
Know how to resist sexual pressure. Sometimes at work, or home, or out in the world, we find ourselves in situations where the atmosphere becomes sexually charged. Don't allow yourself to be caught up, be ready with comebacks to defend yourself. This won't always be necessary, but it's important to keep guard.
By practicing, avoiding, and resisting, you will gradually change your thought process, and by doing so will become more Chaste. Temptation is not a force you can defeat by direct combat, just like you cannot slay a tornado by charging right towards it. Since temptation can only exist in the mind and hearts of people, we can defeat it by starving it. In its absence Chastity will grow.