I was curled up on my couch with my laptop instant messaging with a guy I liked. The conversation was going well until he asked:
Did you hook up a lot in college?
No, I wrote. Never.
I stared at my laptop’s screen and waited with bated breath for his response.
Finally, he trailed off: So you’re a . . .
A virgin? Yes—a fact that surprises the average adult who doesn’t practice chastity, because we date in a culture in which 97 percent of men and 98 percent of women ages 25 to 44 have had sex. What followed is what often follows when sex comes up in my conversations:
If “everybody does it,” why shouldn’t we?
I’ll tell you:
Resistance to abstinence from sex while we date is often underlain by the belief that we ought to have sex before marriage because we wouldn’t buy a car before a test drive. And we do test drive a car, because a car is an object; it’s a means to an end. We need to know before we commit to it that it will serve its purpose, and that it will be worth our investment.
But people aren’t cars.
We are neither objects nor means to ends. We are of infinite value because we exist, and nothing can ever change that. If someone is pressuring you to start off with a “test drive” and prove your value before making commitment it shows that he or she is only focused on sex. But in marriage, we are called as Catholics to mirror God’s “absolute and unfailing love” (CCC 1604). When love is absolute, the beloved doesn’t need to prove how much he or she is worth.
I have heard many people say that they want to know before the wedding that they are sexually compatible with their mate, because discovering that they aren’t could really “ruin” a wedding night. But their quest—contrary to popular belief—isn’t actually for compatibility. If it were, compatibility would have to be static. Any “how to have better sex” advice would be moot. But compatibility isn’t static. Compatibility can be achieved. What the quest is really for, then, is sexual compatibility that’s effortless—compatibility that won’t require practice, patience, or communication. But sex that requires practice, patience, and communication isn’t bad; it is both fueled by and fortifies unity and teamwork, which are healthy in all facets of a marriage.
Other proponents of premarital sex encourage it because in their opinions, it’s important to discover what you like in sex before you commit to sex with one person until death, and to confirm that that’s what you’ll get out of sex with him or her. But pleasure is a byproduct of sex, not a purpose. As Catholics, we believe the purpose of sex is twofold: unity and procreation. We aren’t supposed to unite just because sex is pleasurable; we’re supposed to co-create a pleasurable sexual relationship with a spouse after we have been united with him or her in marriage.
Still others argue that premarital sex is important because “it’s what people do who love each other.” But chastity is for lovers. In fact, said St. John Paul II, “only the chaste man and the chaste woman are capable of true love.” Chastity, which isn’t abstinence but requires it outside marriage, is the virtue that integrates sexuality with the rest of our lives. So when we practice chastity, we neither disregard sex as unimportant in relationships nor revere it as most important. We decide to govern our appetites instead of being governed by them—a practice that frees us to pick marriage partners for reasons more substantial than “good sex,” which, in turn, frees us to fulfill the call to absolute love.
And that is absolutely worth a wait.