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December 28, 2005
Column #1,270
A New Case for Chastity
by Michael J. McManus

"Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity" is a new book by Lauren Winner that's must reading by both singles and married church members.

It is not a book that talks much about virginity. Rather, she says it is a book for singles who "can't remember when they were chaste."

Ms. Winner confesses she lost her virginity at 15 and was sexually active in college though she was an observant Jew who converted to Christianity. She became convinced that Jesus is who "He said He was. God." However, she acknowledges, "I didn't forswear sex...I wasn't entirely sure what 'fornication' meant, or how much leeway I had in interpreting it."

Initially she settled for an easy conclusion: "What God cared about was that people not have sex that might be harmful in some way, sex that was clearly meaningless, loveless, casual."

She entered into a "committed relationship" but told her priest about it, who gently but firmly observed, "Well, Lauren, that's sin." Her confession began her "sometimes-halting movement deeper into chastity," starting with a breakup with her boyfriend and studying Scripture.

However, she was annoyed by church lectures on singleness and chastity that seemed "out of touch with reality... naive...theologically vacuous and above all, dishonest because they make chastity sound easy. They make it sound instantly rewarding. They make it sound sweet and obvious."

What's honest is this: chastity is God's very best for us. God created sex for marriage and that is where it belongs. Still, many Christians who "know about" chastity have a hard time "being chaste." 

By contrast, the call led by Southern Baptists for "True Love Waits" is "not that compelling when you're 29 and have been waiting, and wonder what, really you are waiting for."

However, 65 percent of high school graduates have had sex, and many "virgins," oral sex. The number of cohabiting couples has soared 10-fold since 1970, from 540,000 to 5.1 million.

TV alleges that sex is meaningless. On "Friends," Monica asks her new lover, "So, we can still be friends and have sex?" "Sure," he replies, "it'll just be something we do together like racquetball." Sex appears to be an indoor sport.

Even Christians believe that "no one has permission to utter a word about a little thing like premarital sex," Ms. Winner writes.

Put simply, this is a lie. And it is a fairly new lie. For most of human history, people of many different cultures have agreed" that sex belongs in marriage. In fact, believers have a responsibility to help individuals maintain ethical standards. As Paul instructs the Galatians, "Brothers, if someone is caught in sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently."

Admittedly, this is hard to do regarding sex. However, Winner writes, "We Christians cannot accept the culture's story about sex: that sex is only for fun, that sex has no consequences, that what I do with my body is none of your business." She has several suggestions:

1. When asked "where to draw the line?" Winner recalls that when she began dating her future husband at the University of Virginia, a campus pastor gave good advice: "Don't do anything sexual that you wouldn't be comfortable doing on the steps of the Rotunda."

2. The Christian community must do a much better job communicating two truths: "The only real sex is the sex that happens in a marriage; the faux sex that goes on outside marriage is not really sex at all. The physical coming together that happens between two people who are not married is only a distorted imitation of sex."  And those who spend too much time in the simulations "lose the capacity to distinguish between the ersatz and the real." 

I'd add that's why so many couples get lost in the mire of cohabitation. Yet have you ever heard a sermon on living together? Clergy ought to read "Real Sex" and preach from it. Winner suggests beginning with the positive view of sexuality found in Genesis and then puncture the myth that there's any "committed relationship" outside of marriage.

3. "Practicing chastity before you are married trains you well for chastity after you are married." My wife and I trained 4,000 Mentor Couples to offer an Optional Premarital Sexual Covenant based on a study reporting that the sexually active are two-thirds more likely to divorce than virgins. "You can't become a virgin again, but you can become chaste," I say.

Remarkably, 43 of 45 couples we have personally mentored, have agreed to do so. 

We married couples CAN make a credible case for chastity.

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