Is Female Purity Bullshit?

Yerp, says the wonderful Lindy West of Jezebel.

Her critique comes from being righteously pissed over an evangelical culture which has guys saying they want a “pure” girl without defining their terms. She discusses “sex-ed” classes which liken women who have had sex before marriage to chewed up pieces of gum no one wants. Allow me to murder my way through her thesis: “Purity” is a vague, repressive expectation imposed on women by men, a unique method of controlling female sexuality, with the grand result that women feel like crap for failing to live up to the fresh and sealed quality of unopened candy.

She says:

Girls and women, if no one has ever told you this before, or if you just have trouble believing it: you are good, you are whole, you are yours. You do not exist to please men, and your value as a human being is not contingent upon your sexual capital. “Purity” is a lie.

Guess what? She’s right, and damn right. Purity as such is a lie. But this only follows if “purity” is defined as our wanna-be-Christian culture defines it, which is essentially not having sex until you’re married. This cannot be the definition. Not having sex until your married, taken in itself, is simply an absence of sex. As an absence, “purity” cannot be something “good,” for something must be in order for it to be good. To give you a visual example, check this out:

Exactly. I can’t represent the absence of sex because it is — by definition — non-existent. When a Catholic weeps at the feet of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and in earnest whispers the Memorare, begging the intercession of the “Virgin of virgins,” could we honestly say his hyperdulia springs forth from an intuition of the absence of sex in the Virgin Mary, and that what we laud as praiseworthy in the Blessed Mother is a lack?

Say “lack” again!

No, purity-as-absence is a lie, and God bless and keep and flood with abundant grace Lindy West for saying it. I can’t help but think of the classic G.K. Chesterton essay — and forgive me if you’ve read it before – which describes an intuition of the virtues as existing things:

Virtue is not the absence of vices or the avoidance of moral dangers; virtue is a vivid and separate thing, like pain or a particular smell. Mercy does not mean not being cruel, or sparing people revenge or punishment; it means a plain and positive thing like the sun, which one has either seen or not seen. Chastity does not mean abstention from sexual wrong; it means something flaming, like Joan of Arc.

What we’re after is something flaming with the fire of its own being, but what we’re offered is the glorification of an empty space  The true definition is actually, if accidentally, defined by West when she affirms for all women that “you are whole” and “you are yours.”

This is the definition of chastity according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Church which all Protestantism — and thus American culture — protests. This is the definition for which our culture is striving — and missing — when it speaks of “purity.”

Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being. Sexuality, in which man’s belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman.

The virtue of chastity therefore involves the integrity of the person…(CCC 2338)

Through the Church we begin to hear the crackle of the fire drown the echo of the empty room. Chastity is the successful integration of sexuality within the person which expresses our belonging to the body, involving the whole person. It is not just not having sex before marriage. The chaste person is simply the person living his or her sexuality authentically, as the self he or she truly is. To be chaste is to be precisely who you are, to freely choose sexual authenticity as part of your entire, infinitely valuable, person.

Any other definition of chastity is centered around an absence, and as such has no soul. “Chastity is not having sex before marriage.” “Chastity is not showing too much skin.” These things may be fruits of being chaste, but there is no way in hell that they are chastity in itself. Chastity that stops — or starts, for that matter — at “not dressing like a slut” is incomplete, for it has no basis. If it did, there would have to be an objective definition for “dressing like a slut” — a basis by which all dressing could be judged. There isn’t.

If chastity is an absence, then what West says is on the money: “Men can’t actually care whether or not women are “pure,” because there is no way for “purity” to be verified. It’s just not a real thing, and chasing some phantom virtue for your entire life is a great way to ensure that you waste your goddamn life.”

But in reality, chastity is the integration of sexuality into the whole of the person, an honesty about the person. Thus the Catechism — a text everyone should read, even if it’s on the progressive list of Banned Books — says:

The chaste person maintains the integrity of the powers of life and love placed in him. This integrity ensures the unity of the person; it is opposed to any behavior that would impair it. It tolerates neither a double life nor duplicity. (CCC 2238)

Chastity is free of duplicity because in practicing it, who a man is — a being for whom sexuality is a wonderful part, but not a whole — is not distorted by dishonest actions, like posing for a body-wash commercial that reduces the whole man to a lathered set of abs. The true absence, the true lack, is in unchastity, evidenced by the fact that it’s just chastity with an un. Unchastity is dishonesty about who you are. The reason the Church says its “unchaste” to have a multitude of sexual partners or to display yourself as sexually-arousing profile picture is not because she’s “slut-shaming” her children, but because she understands that such behavior is a reduction of the intricate, infinite, terrifying subjectivity of a unique human self into a single, poorly-represented characteristic.

There is only one way to be chaste, for every human has but one self to be. There are an infinite number of ways to be unchaste, for there are an infinite number of ways to avoid being the self one is, or, as Kierkegaard would have it, to live in despair. If I am addicted to pornography, I am not being my true self, for pornography is my master, whereas my true self is free. If I live a life going through an endless supply of sexual partners to cover up the unspeakable pain of being molested, raped, or abused, I am not being my true self, nor is my sexuality integrated into my whole person. Rather, I am acting out of the very absence of my true self, acting out of pain, of brokenness, as a reaction to evil. If I am having sex with another because “she’d leave me otherwise,” I am not being my true self, I am acting on behalf of another, out of a feeling of necessity. Take, for instance, the issue we discussed earlier, the issue of dress.

Unchastity in dress is to dress like you are primarily an erect penis or an aroused vagina, that is, in a manner which highlights your sexual nature at the expense of the entirety of your person. On the other hand, chastity in dress is to dress precisely as yourself. In my case, it is to dress as a son, a brother, a boyfriend, a student, and a unique self who finds himself existing, standing before Eternity and rapidly approaching death.

Here’s what often gets missed. I am also a sexual self. To say I am only sexual — which is the definition of sexual objectification — is a dishonesty, and thus unchastity. But to say I am not sexual at all is similarly a dishonesty.

Now, to be sexual is not to feel sexual. The fact that I am a sexual being is the result of the simple biological fact that I am male, and thus I contain within myself the incredible potentiality for the creation of new life; for the bonding of man to woman. Wherever I am, whatever I am doing, I do so as a male, as one with a male sexuality and male sex organs. Thus the Church’s call for me to integrate my sexuality into my entire person means that it would likewise be a sin against chastity to dress in a manner which denies my sexual nature. It is not chaste for me to wear a burka. It is not chaste for women to dress in a manner that utterly represses her sexual characteristics, as if curves and skin are not a real, physical manifestation of the human person. This is part of the misunderstanding modern feminism is rightly pitted against. It is a trend within certain parts of the Christian community for girls to wear shapeless, ankle-length skirts and similar shirts. If this is an effort to express chastity, it misses what the Church asks of us, to aim for a successful, honest integration of our sexuality into the totality of the human person, for being holy and being our true selves are the exact same thing.

So when West says, “You can tell something is bullshit if all of the justifications for it are bullshit,” I am genuinely curious whether she would call bullshit on a justification for chastity which expresses it as a way in which we are truly ourselves, in which I must, by my own free will, integrate my sexuality into my entire human person. This implies, of course, that there is a person I am meant to be, and when I say “I don’t feel like myself,” “I’m just being myself,” or “be true to your self,” I’m not just flailing words around — there really is a self I am meant to be, an existence in which — if I choose to live it — I am totally fulfilled, an existence I strive for and do not arbitrarily determine, as in “I determine that my true self is an axe murderer, so I’m off to be true to my self.” No.

Chastity, the Church says, “is a long and exacting work. One can never consider it acquired once and for all. It presupposes a renewed effort at all stages of life.” Chastity is something you do every day, as being yourself is something you do — with immense difficulty — every day. It’s reward is authenticity.

More can be said here. Expect three follow-up posts, one addressing the issue of men who say “I only want to marry a virgin,” one arguing that West’s complaint of gender inequality within “purity” culture is resolved in chastity, and another in which I’ll argue that without the experience of consecrated virgins as a social reality, we inevitably form an asexual understanding of virginity, and thus fall on virginity-as-absence or virginity-as-idiotic, when in fact it is a beautiful, erotic reality.

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  • John

    Great post. But if a mother takes out her breasts in public and breastfeeds, she’s still going to draw a lot of attention to herself. Guys won’t look and say “Yes, but she’s feeding her children, therefore I have elicited no sexual response.

    I guess what I’m saying is this: Guys like boobs, instinctually. I think a mother could realize drawing out her breasts for ANY reason will make guys all hot and bothered, and if there’s a way (or a place) she could do that besides just pulling them out for any passerby to see, I think that would be incredibly thoughtful of them.

    • Erika

      Oh John, you have no idea what you just stepped into with that second paragraph.

      Let the mommy wars COMMENCE!!!

      • John

        Hey, I’m open to having my mind changed :)

        Not even arguing against public breastfeeding. I just highly appreciate those “privacy” screens or whatever they are that women use for breastfeeding.

        • Erika

          No, your original comment was innocent enough. You’ve obviously never engaged in a debate over breastfeeding in public, but nursing mothers generally don’t appreciate being criticized for feeding their babies.

          That breasts are sexualized in American culture doesn’t change the fact that their biological function is to feed babies.

          As for the “udder covers”, as they’re known, some babies won’t nurse with them, and they are as hot as Hell when it’s even remotely warm outside.

        • Mark Duch

          Go the Vatican and check out the frescoes. Your mind will be changed.

    • Matt Buchwald

      She’s being a mother though. I assume she isn’t whipping them out, then drawing the baby to them. She’s doing that all as one fluid, non-flaunting motion, possibly without really being all that revealing. The fact that a man might see some portion of them is irrelevant to the nature of the activity.

      A man’s general physiological reaction to seeing a part of a breast is just an expression of his inner sexuality.Were he to then stop and ogle and stare, that would be unchaste and not authentic to who he should be.

    • Mark Duch

      I am a 31 year old heterosexual male, and I wholeheartedly disagree with your advice for what mothers should realize. While it may not ALWAYS be appropriate for a woman fail to cover herself while breastfeeding in public, it does not make me “all hot and bothered.” If seeing breastfeeding is making a guy hot and bothered, then it seems to me that either he has never seen his own wife breastfeed and appreciated it for what it is, or he is very young, and probably gets turned on by a slight breeze, which is emphatically NOT the breastfeeding mom’s fault. Breasts are not ALWAYS sexual to a man–at least they should not be, if he is being chaste as defined by the Catechism. And that goes directly to the point of Marc’s article. Chastity is not something a woman owes (or even could owe) to another person, much less to a male qua male. It is something one owes to one’s self.

      • a mom

        As a woman and a mother, I’m really grateful to see/read guys defending public breastfeeding as a chaste action :-) But I do have a recommendation, and that is to not balk at the idea of breasts always being “sexual.” They are. Accepting that is one step closer to rightly integrating one’s sexuality.

        I’m going to make my case short and sweet:

        “Sexuality” is the quality of being either male or female.

        Women have breasts that are able to nourish a child. Men don’t. Breastfeeding is, therefore, an inherently “sexual” capability. In other words, it differentiates one sex from another.

        The essential difference between the sexes points to our complementarity, and our complementarity points to the fact that we are called to sexual unity. This is the logic built into our sexual — male and female — bodies.

        So yes, it’s perfectly “natural” that that which differentiates us helps to attract one sex to the other. It’s perfectly “natural” that there would be an element of awe, an element of attractive beauty attached to what is “other” or outside of our own experience of life. “I’m made for you. You’re made for me. We see this in our bodies. We belong together.”

        But that logic of complementarity, in the mystery of its imago dei, does not simply feed one into the other, as if it were a matter of filling a mutual void. No, the logic of complementarity that we read in our bodies necessarily pours outward in new fruitfulness, increasing wonder upon wonder.

        Thus, when men (or women) make the argument that mothers ought to cover up when breastfeeding “because their breasts are sexual,” my heart aches for the vision they lack.

        By reducing “sexual” to “that-which-arouses-me,” they have reduced complementarity to an exchange of self-serving use, and have severed its fruitfulness. In saying the “erotic” value of the breasts trumps the nurturing, self-donative value, they have shown their ignorance of the meaning of “sexual” in the first place, and in doing so have shown their poverty. And those who insist upon this poverty, as if it is “just how God designed men,” are missing out — not just on the full beauty of the sexuality of women, but in the dignity of the sexuality of men.

        That child breastfeeding is the crown of our sexual complementarity — a gift that completes the sexual logic of our bodies and showcases it in all its glory. That child is a reminder to a man that a woman is his equal in dignity, not his object of pleasure or his toy. That child reminds man that together he and she have poured their lives out to one another for neither simply his sake nor hers, but for that of another.

        A man who is truly attracted to the full sexuality of a woman should see in the act of breastfeeding the epitome of her sexuality — and his response should be awe, gratitude, and respect. It should be the same awe and gratitude with which a father watches his wife gently tend to any of their child’s other needs with the special grace bestowed upon her.

        It should never be a jealous, “I wish I were in the child’s place,” nor an uneasy battle with an interior desire to “have” or “own” her, nor disapproval or disgust. The latter, sadly, are too often the reality for those who make the argument that women ought hide themselves away while breastfeeding. They are the mark of a man who wants to keep woman for himself.

        Yes. Breastfeeding is sexual. It is something only she can do. And we should thank her for it, as it is a reminder that we all exist for the good of the other.

        • Marc Barnes

          You win the Internet.

          • bearing

            Marc, this comment is so good you should pull it out and feature it as a standalone post. The rest of us breastfeeding moms would like to link to it.

        • Sheila

          Wow. That is the most beautiful defense of breastfeeding I’ve ever heard. Exactly what I’ve been trying to explain to people for years.

          The usual complaint from men seeing breastfeeding is that it’s a turn-OFF. Why? Because it reminds them that those breasts — and therefore that woman — aren’t solely for their own enjoyment. Which explains why my husband isn’t bothered … he’s never seen me that way in the first place.

        • Archaeology cat

          Yes! Thank you! You said it very eloquently, and this breastfeeding mum appreciates that.

        • Melanie Bettinelli

          Wow! This is the single best thing about breastfeeding ever. I want to copy it and print it on a card so I can hand it out when I’m getting stares for nursing in public.

        • Josh

          I agree wholeheartedly with the things you say. Breastfeeding is indeed beautiful. However, I think a problem arises in how we go about taking in this beauty. Certainly if I see a beautiful painting I will stop and look at it; if I see a beautiful song I will stop and listen. However, if I see a woman breastfeeding, is it appropriate to stop and stare? I don’t think it is at all practicable to say that we should take in the aesthetic of the breastfeeding, but not look at the breasts. That would just make the beauty awkward, which beauty should not be. I think the obvious answer is that we shouldn’t be watching random women breastfeed, but I’m not really sure what exactly to make of this. And the question is not so much about whether it is acceptable to watch women breastfeed, but how to go about taking in a sensitive aesthetic.

          So then I walked in a circle. And then started writing. And then got distracted. And then thought more. And then I came back a few hours later.

          So anyway, by “aesthetic”, I mean that part of something beautiful which is not beauty but tends to give a psychological pleasure or elation of some sort to the one who beholds the beautiful. For example, the aesthetic of a Bach piece is the notes and how they come together to sound good; the beauty lies in the intricacy of counterpoint and how a mere mortal was able to actualize it into an aesthetic medium. The aesthetic of sex is the orgasm and related physical elation; the beauty lies in the union of man and woman in the image of the trinity.

          In both the above cases, the beauty lies in an intellectual understanding. The one who does not understand music very well (like me) will be much less able to appreciate the Bach piece than one who understands music well; the one who studied theology of the body will see the beauty of sex more than a 15-year old in his basement desperate for satisfaction. This is where the Beautiful and the True converge.

          So obviously, the beauty in breast-feeding necessarily involves the intelligibility of the act. It requires an understanding of the wonder of femininity and of complementary sexuality. So is there really much of an aesthetic to breast-feeding? Is it distasteful to those who fail to understand the beauty of it because the aesthetic by itself is just not impressive, or not important, or even ugly? But to deny an aesthetic to beauty seems to remove accident from substance, and it seems that in general, anywhere along this mortal coil, there is no substance without accident.

          Then again, Euler’s identity has absolutely no aesthetic, but is only beautiful in that it exhibits the deep-set harmony and consonance of nature. So does the Bach piece, and so does sex. The latter two, in addition, have an associated aesthetic. This doesn’t diminish the beauty of Euler’s identity, but I think rather enhances it because it’s existence is clarified by the lack of a distracting aesthetic.

          So then the conclusion seems to be that breast-feeding is a beauty without an aesthetic, and so there is no need to look at it like a beautiful painting. Or, perhaps that sort of aesthetic, being sexual, should be reserved for the husband. However, based on the (as far as I can tell) bullet-proof definition of sexuality above, any sort of feminine beauty is sexual, and I don’t think the prettiness of a beautiful woman is reserved for her husband, and that’s why we have so much art depicting feminine beauty. Again, it seems that there is no aesthetic to breast-feeding.

          But then what of painting’s of the Blessed Virgin breast-feeding? In light of the above, how would I interpret this art? Frankly, when I see it I feel sort of weird or awkward because I don’t know how to deal with the aesthetic. Of course I can see the humility of Jesus and the beauty of the finite meeting the infinite, but this is not the aesthetic, it is the beauty. Is the picture just to recall the beauty, and not supposed to have any aesthetic? This I would liken to a piece of music that sounds terrible or boring but somehow calls to mind things that are beautiful. Wait…that kind of sounds like the CCM that the author of this blog seems to love so much

          Does anyone smarter than me want to weigh in?

        • Martha Oram

          Who are you?? Do you have a blog? Please tell you do something where you get your thoughts out there – please be a teacher, or a DRE, or a speaker…well you’re a mom, so you’re already all those things, but just wanted to say you have an incredible gift!! Thank you for sharing!

        • CFischer

          Suppose the woman covers herself while breastfeeding not because it is “sexual” to reveal herself that way but because breastfeeding is a behavior better left between the mother and her child. Everything else that “a mom” said in her post remains on target. The mother who breastfeeds covered still reveals “the epitome of her sexuality” and the man’s proper response can still be “awe, gratitude, and respect”. But I maintain that we need to keep in mind that there is a public and a private realm to life. I applaud the women who cover up not because seeing breasts is “sexual” or worse “dirty” but because what is happening between the mother and her child is an intimate moment best reserved for the two involved.

        • Nella

          Amen and Hallelujah!!! THANK YOU!

        • Brendan Conway

          The problem with your argument is that breastfeeding is NOT something only women can do.

          Therefore, breasts are merely a secondary sex characteristic, one which often indicates, but does not define, ones sex. Failing to view them as sexual, in such a context, does not infer the meaning you then give it.

    • Dunadan

      “Guys won’t look and say “Yes, but she’s feeding her children, therefore I have elicited no sexual response.””

      Actually, that is pretty much this guy’s mind does.

    • Béatrice Fedor

      I am a mom and I breastfeed in public. I have never liked the picture of the two military moms breastfeeding. There are ways to do it discreetly without people even knowing. You don’t have to show your boobs to breastfeed.

    • Micah Newman

      Context is everything. I’m as heterosexual as the next guy, and breastfeeding does not arouse me in the slightest. It’s worth emphasizing that so women know.

    • beth turner

      I hope you’ll accept that many breastfeeding mothers would LOVE to be able to nurse their babies in a dark, quiet room, where everyone can relax and maybe even the baby will drift off to asleep…but sometimes it just so happens that you spent the morning changing diapers, getting shoes and coats on, getting everyone strapped into the car and now out of it again, the last hour you’ve been in the store trying to keep your toddlers from tearing everything off the shelves and now you’re waiting in line to check out at the grocery store, using WIC checks which take FOREVER for the cashier to ring up, and you realize it’s been 3 hours since the baby was fed and he is wailing because he’s tired and hungry…life as a mom is especially hard when you have to leave the house with your little ones, and sometimes finding a secluded spot to feed your child (that is, for the many 6 months + old babies who insist on throwing off the nursing cover), is near to impossible! (From a mother of a 3-year-old, 2-year-old, and 10-month-old)

      • Anna Dawson

        Amen sista. I’ve got three about the same distance, oldest now five. You’re lucky if you remembered to put a shirt on at all, let alone being worried about whipping one out in front of strangers. We’re mammals; other humans know we’re mammals. It happens.

    • Anna Dawson

      I see what you’re saying, but don’t really agree. First, it puts the onus on the woman to stop having body parts that get men aroused, even when her body parts are being used as they were designed and it’s none of his business, and assumes that men have absolutely no self-control. Second, *who* gets all hot and bothered over sore, chapped nipples? Leakage? Engorgement I could see getting guys turned on, but the insane painful tenderness that turns a woman into a psycho lactation beast would probably cancel that out. I agree with Mark Duch below–if it does, then the male is probably at that stage of adolescence when the peaches in the grocery store look hot.

      • Rooke

        Just to chime in,

        “Onus on the woman”

        The problem I think we have here is that this article is saying “female chastity is good and not a patriarchal tool of suppression”. If it were the case that this is where chastity ended the “onus” would indeed be on the women and this would be unfair. But men are called to chastity as well. The burden of responsibility for modesty falls on both of the sexes, and chastity is gift both sexes can enjoy.

        God Bless,


        • Anna Dawson

          Yes, both men and women are called to chastity; it’s the attitude that “Men will be turned on by her breastfeeding so she should know better” that puts the weight on her for doing what she naturally, properly *should* be doing rather than the man (who apparently has little control over himself) to pull his eyes away if he can’t keep custody of them. :)

    • elizabethesther

      Right, because when one of my babies was hungry and crying, I shouldn’t be worried about FEEDING MY CHILD but worried that some dude like you, John, might walk by and get all “hot and bothered.” Because taking out my breasts to FEED MY CHILD is, apparently, the same thing as “pulling them out for any passerby to see.” Yeah. OK.

    • one of the guys

      My 2 cents on the subject of breasts
      and breast feeding:

      I am a red-blooded man who doesn’t get
      all hot and bothered over the sight of a woman’s breast. Hey guys,
      it’s just a breast! Think about it! Normal healthy
      men in other countries aren’t bothered in the least at the sight of a
      woman’s breasts, especially when she is nursing her child. I think
      that men in this country would be able to handle women’s breasts with
      the same level of maturity as other men if they actually saw women’s
      breasts on a regular basis. Of course that doesn’t happen here in
      real life, so men have to make do with the twisted nonsense portrayed
      in porn. I think men really only imagine that they would get
      excited if they saw a real live breast since they don’t have
      much in the way of everyday life experience. It’s a shocker, guys,
      but the reality doesn’t quite live up to the fantasy.

      I am also the proud father of 5
      beautiful breastfed children. My wife breastfed our children
      whenever and wherever they were hungry, including at Mass, church
      activities, restaurants, supermarkets, parks, beaches, swimming
      pools, etc. She nursed in a very matter of fact way doing nothing,
      like covering her breast with a blanket, that would draw attention to
      the fact that she was nursing. People could talk with her without
      ever realizing that she was nursing, and if they did, they (men and
      women) never made a big deal about it. It was not some horribly
      embarrassing event, nor was it some over spiritualized time of
      communion with our children. The kid’s hungry so let’s feed him. No
      big deal.

      So what’s going on with new mothers
      buying products that go by the name of Udder Covers, Moo Moo Mama
      Covers and Hooter Hiders just to name a few of the many products on
      the market today? (Really? Are moms really buying
      into the lie that their breasts are hooters?) Do women buy
      these things because they figure that if they are sold at Target they
      must be required for proper breastfeeding? Is this just a way for
      manufacturers to make money off of women’s insecurities or some false
      notion of modesty? I’d love to know what women are thinking when
      they buy these things.

      But the message I get when I’m around
      women who use Hooter Hiders is that their breasts really are solely
      sex objects and that there is something intrinsically disordered
      about using their bodies the way that God designed them for the care
      and nurturing of their children. I cannot help but feel sorry for
      moms who struggle trying to stay covered while nursing. It just
      seems so awkward to me as they seem so self-conscious. Heck, they
      can’t even see their beautiful babies. It seems so terribly twisted.
      I also get the idea that these mothers don’t trust men or other
      women to view their partially exposed breasts as just a normal
      part of God’s plan for life. Did God make a mistake in how He
      designed our bodies? Or is it that maybe we just don’t know how to
      view our bodies as God intended?

      I’ve heard that the brain is a man’s
      largest sex organ. That makes sense because that would explain why
      mother’s around the world are able to publicly breastfeed with their
      breasts partially or fully exposed around men who aren’t aroused by
      the sight, while here in this country men get turned off. The men
      get turned off because they don’t want to see children
      attached to women’s breasts. Porn has conditioned their brains to
      eroticize every inch of a woman’s body. The sight of a nursing
      mother is like hitting a brick wall. There is absolutely nothing
      erotic about a nursing mother. But there is something
      wonderfully beautiful about seeing a mom nursing.

      What really is the big deal about
      women’s breasts? True, God created women to be very beautiful, but
      beauty doesn’t automatically translate into the erotic. Isn’t a
      breast simply just a breast? Why do men and women attach so much
      meaning to a simple breast? The women who cover up send a message
      that their breast is erotic, pornographic or just plain bad.

      A mom who can nurse openly without
      covering up speaks volumes to me. She tells me with her body that
      she is ok with the fact that God created her a woman. She is
      confident that nursing is the right thing to do and that God knew
      what He was doing when He gave her breasts to feed her children. She
      does not see her breasts as bad. Instead of assuming that every man
      is a pervert, she trusts those around her to be grown-up and mature
      enough to deal with the fact that hungry babies need to be fed.

      When I’m around moms who don’t cover
      up, I feel like they trust me to be a real man who can respect them
      and uphold their dignity as women. Thank you nursing mothers, from
      the bottom of my heart, for trusting me to see your breasts as a part
      of God’s amazing design for feeding children, and not some cheap
      tawdry thrill. Your trust is a gift and means a great deal to me.
      God bless you all.

      To my brothers who are having a hard time
      transitioning from porn to beauty, may I suggest that we just get a
      grip and realize that women are persons and not just collections of
      body parts. If we lose it at the sight of a nursing mom, then we
      have some serious mental reprogramming to do. Women shouldn’t have
      to go through all sorts of gymnastics every time their kid needs to
      be fed. Let’s all be the men that women need us to be. Having a
      perverted view of women really is beneath our dignity as men.

  • Alexander S Anderson

    Bravo. I am looking forward to the follow up posts, because I think this idea needs to be fleshed out a bit more. I think your point is most lucid when talking about attraction, for it is rather ludicrous to say you are attracted to the fact that someone hasn’t had sex before. But, I know for a fact that men and women can be attracted to chastity, because *that* is an actually existent thing. The “purity” thing becomes nothing but a test, a requirement, not a true thing to love.

    • Mark Duch

      I think Marc is saying that there is an evangelical subculture that tries to teach young men to be attracted to the fact that someone hasn’t had sex before. I had roommate(s) and other friends in college who grew up in this subculture, so I can vouch that what Marc is saying is correct. In some cases, it can lead to a crisis where the young man can not find any “unspoiled” women to date, and ends up a bachelor for much longer than he otherwise would, due to a completely false notion of chastity and the worth of women. I am truly plussed by Marc’s willingness to find unlikely allies on this issue, so that it can be confronted and done away with.

      • Brooke

        Mark, I unregretfully belong to this evangelical subculture, but I understand your point. When you word our teachings like that, I have to agree. But let me offer this perspective –

        Am I attracted to a man who has not had sex before? Yes, of course. No one had to teach me that, it’s a natural attraction. I am excited to share something with my husband that no one else has shared with him. I am not wrong for being very attracted to that, and for looking for that in a man.
        Even more, it’s not simply about sex, either. From my evangelical purity background, what this actually comes down to is that I’m attracted to the fact that a man would honor his commitment to God (to wait to have sex until marriage). This commitment we speak of just happens to be about sex. But it is also one of the more significant examples of commitments that I am definitely attracted to.

        Don’t get me wrong, your comment definitely had some weight, I just couldn’t not defend the teaching that I embrace.

    • Lisa DellaVecchia

      This isn’t a direct response to Alexander, but I didn’t know where else to put it:

      I think it’s pretty obvious that there is a host of dirty ways to be “pure” according to the strict definition of “has not had sex before.” Very presumed oppressive/legalistic societies such as the Orthodox Jews and other sects have found all kinds of ways to be dirty without breaking the letter of the law. So I find it really naive for anyone to think that just because a girl hasn’t had sexual intercourse, that means she is “pure.” Maybe so a long time ago, but in this day and age? I really find it hard to believe anyone can take this seriously.

  • Anthony Ray Hernandez

    Honestly, western Christianity has had a huge issue with so-called “negative virtue” for a long time. We really do need to move back to a more therapeutic mode of spirituality. Virtue, virtus, strength.

  • Margaret Fortney

    Hi Marc, I’m a Protestant who really enjoys your blog. One thing in this one bothered me though: “This is the definition of chastity according to the Catechism of the
    Catholic Church, the Church which all Protestantism — and thus American
    culture — protests.” Protestantism today is not preoccupied with protesting Catholicism but with protesting secularism and winning souls for Christ. And it’s hardly on the side of American culture. I think that line was unnecessarily confrontational w/ Protestantism, especially because many Protestants would agree with the definition of chastity that follows..

    • Daniel Maldonado

      They would only agree after having seen what the definition was, a definition that came from the Catholic church.

      Unfortunately, most Protestants DO protest sexuality as it is defined by the Catholic Church, which speaks the truth of Christ.

      Most Protestantism presents chastity in the way that Marc showed, namely that it is the absence of something rather than a something in and of itself that is positive and active.

      What’s more is that most Protestants practice chastity in the view of future marital relations, but they don’t usually take a vow of chastity because they see it as a virtue; rather, they see it as a thing to practice because it is “bad” to have sex before you’re married.

      • Christian Lennon Dove

        I believe that all Christians, regardless of denomination, are inclined towards the mentality that he is describing and rightly attacking. It just so happens that the evangelical community has been notoriously more pushing of that mentality in recent years. I think to make these wide generalizations on the basis of denomination alone is both unnecessary and unfair.

      • Andrew Klein

        As a pastoral concern I believe Margaret has a great point. Marc used the phrase in truthfulness to the Protestant origins, but that doesn’t directly translate to modern Protestants. Some don’t even consider themselves protestants at all for that same reason confessional Lutherans, Episcopalian, etc. Similarly most of my protestant friends haven’t studied the Catholic Church enough to protest it in the first place. They simply were baptized and re-born in Christ through our separated brethren and work for Christ without considering the doctrines that led to that occurrence. It is no more prudent to blame modern protestants for divisions of Christ’s Church than it is prudent to blame modern Jews for the death of Christ. We are responsible for the actions we commit before God and sometimes to the effects of actions from are ancestors but are by no means personally responsible for the actions of our ancestors.

        • Ronk

          “Protestant” doesn’t mean “protesting against something”, It comes from the other, older sense of “protest” meaning to affirm or declare something, in this case to declare one’s belief in a certain set of doctrines. And yes those doctrines are principally about “where we think the Catholic Church has got it wrong”.

        • Daniel Maldonado


          Thank you for your substantive reply. I agree with you that we cannot extend blame where blame is not warranted. It’s hard to say if Protestantism is really anything other than a label meant to identify those whose tradition have their genesis in the reformation.

          Even if one says they’re not Protestant and reject the label, they only reject what they believe the label means and not what we mean by it.

          As such, I used the word “most” because no two protestants are alike and one cannot definitively say what “protestant ism” comprises of doctrinally, but we have at least anecdotal evidence that most Protestantism hold a view of sexuality that isn’t Catholic and as such isn’t truly Christian. That was the gist of what I was saying.

    • Christian Lennon Dove

      I agree, as another protestant who also appreciates your thoughts. I think I understand what you were saying, but language like that is likely to unnecessarily alienate other protestants.

      • Vision_From_Afar

        Don’t feel alone. Even Marc isn’t immune to Superior-by-Catholic mentality. Happens to the best of them.

        • Dave G.


          I haven’t heard that stereotype for years, not since I came into the Church. And yet, I must admit there is some truth to it. Sad to say.

    • Nordog6561

      “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” ;-)

    • tedseeber

      Isn’t “winning souls for Christ” a bit of a misnomer when the essence of Protestant Theology is to ignore Christ in favor of the Bible?

      • Andrew Klein

        The essence of Protestant Theology is the rejection of authority outside the Bible but not in any way to ignore Christ in favor of it! It can be said that because Christ identifies with the Church (Paul’s conversion where Christ says “Why do you persecute Me?”) Protestants inadvertently reject Christ in His fullness, but to say that they consciously reject Christ in favor of the Bible?! I have heard that from the mouth of a whopping 0% of Protestants!

  • Lisa DellaVecchia

    I am not sure but I think one thing that should be mentioned is that we can’t control other people’s reactions to what we intend to be perfectly innocent and chaste. We might be wearing a perfectly chaste looking sundress that is modest and decent along with some nice sandals, and some guy might have an extraordinary attraction to my ankles. So if I meant it to be chaste and some guy is turned on by my ankles, is it still chaste? And is chaste the same as modest? What about the concept of a stumbling block? In the picture of the woman nursing her twin babies, my impression is that it might be chaste according to your definition of chaste, but it might not be modest. If someone’s idea of modesty is causing someone else to stumble, isn’t the principle that we do not use our freedom in Christ to cause someone to stumble?

    • Vision_From_Afar

      Your entire argument feeds into the exact problem West is trying to address.
      You put on that chaste outfit of a modest sundress and sandals. You are not out looking for a “hookup”.
      I promise you, all men are not oversexed pigs who are going to start salivating the moment skin anywhere the chin is exposed to the air. The concept of a stumbling block is a ridiculous premise to encourage women to view any male stranger as a rapist-in-training that she’d better not tempt, “or else”.
      If you feel chaste and modest and perfectly ‘integrated’ (as Marc would put it), why in the world should you worry about someone else’s perception?

      • Lisa DellaVecchia

        I think the whole point I was trying to make is that “chastity” and “modesty” are not only highly subjective things, but prone to internal error. I might feel I’m being my whole self, my authentic self, my understanding of what God intends me to be and might be totally and yet sincerely wrong.

        I never said nor implied that men are oversexed pigs. I think your response to my question is overly aggressive. My point was that these are very gray areas that can only be approximated, and it all ends up boiling down to let’s all do the best we can with the knowledge that we have of what we think God wants us to act like and present ourselves as, but we may miss the mark.

        I feel like the concept of chastity can’t be so neatly nailed down. While one may intellectually agree that true chastity is not the absence of having had sex but rather the authentic expression of the self as God intends, one could be seriously mistaken as to what one’s authentic self really is and how it affects others.

        • Vision_From_Afar

          I’ll concede that “modesty” is a subjective thing, but I’m pretty certain that one of Marc’s arguments above was that “chastity” is pretty well spelled out by the Church, and not all that subjective…
          Forgive me, but in my numerous encounters with the “cause to stumble” phraseology, “oversexed” was often the implied and usually implicit subtext. Since that was not your intent, I apologize.

          Re: Miniskirts at mass. I suppose that’s between them and the priest/God. If it’s truly an issue, surely someone will speak to them, even if indirectly through gossip. It is a church after all.

          Back to your specific point: The problem is that the greater, growing secular society that we exist in, it’s becoming more accepted as a “modest” thing, or perhaps “de-sexualized”. It doesn’t hold true for you and those you know, but part of being in a society is learning to accept that one group cannot dictate all the rules.

          • Lisa DellaVecchia

            Apology accepted! It’s hard to convey intent through words in comment strings. Often all that comes across is a combative tone. Sorry about my reaction! :)

            You wrote: “I’m pretty certain that one of Marc’s arguments above was that ‘chastity’ is pretty well spelled out by the Church, and not all that
            subjective.” If that is the case, then I think he missed the mark in indicating that the image of the Western woman (not the sub-Saharan African woman) depicted chastity as I understand it. :)

            I agree that society has been a slippery slope in the direction of unchastity. If we believe in absolute truth (I know I do), then it stands to reason that there must be some absolute litmus test for what is chaste and what is not chaste, some way to put it to the test.

            If everyone around you is wearing tube tops and miniskirts and if that is all you can find in any clothing store (of course, I’m exaggerating), then it stands to reason that over a sufficient period of time well meaning Christians will start to believe that they will be able to wear these styles while still being chaste.

            It all boils down to whether chastity in dress is more of a fixed entity or more of a constantly evolving thing based on what the majority deems is chaste.

            I think for me the bottom line is this: If you feel that something is too low cut (or high cut, as the case may be) and you wear it anyway, especially if you are wearing it with the desire to make other men lust you, then you are being unchaste in your dress. If you would feel embarrassed to bear some part of your body to one group of people, then you should feel embarrassed to bear that same part of your body to another group of people (a physician or a nurse not included).

            Maybe this has something to do with venial and mortal sin (how do I know–I’m a relatively new Catholic!). If you are doing something unchaste with full knowledge and consent that it is unchaste (for instance if you go to a work affair in 4 inch spike heels, miniskirt, and fishnet stockings for the express purpose of seducing married men), that falls into the mortal sin category. However, if your skirt is 1 inch “too high” and you didn’t realize that someone was getting turned on by you, but then you found out after the fact, maybe that is more of a venial sin.

            We are as Catholics instructed not to be or present a “near occasion of sin” to others. An example of such would be putting an open bottle of beer in front of the face of an alcoholic.

          • Vision_From_Afar

            Apology accepted!
            Holy cannoli, a reasonable person on the internet! :)

            I think for me the bottom line is this: If you feel that something is too low cut (or high cut, as the case may be) and you wear it anyway, especially if you are wearing it with the desire to make other men lust you, then you are being unchaste in your dress.
            This would be the “common sense” I mentioned. Another agreement! :)

            An example of such would be putting an open bottle of beer in front of the face of an alcoholic.
            Aaaaaand we’re back to disagreeing, lol.
            I completely understand your analogy here, the problem is I’m not sure you see the insult inherent in it. True, for some men, that shorter skirt might be akin to “putting an open bottle of beer in front [...] of an alcoholic”, but to dictate the overall length of skirt for all women in relation to all men by this example is the assume that all men are like that alcoholic, or at least enough of the population is that it’s a serious problem. As someone added to that group (male), do you see why I might find offense that I’m automatically presumed an “alcoholic”? I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree that this may/may not be the case.
            Cheers and blessings upon you. :)

          • Lisa DellaVecchia

            Hi again, I tryyy to be reasonable! I don’t always accomplish it. Again, I was making a reference to something that Catholics would get almost immediately. I get the sense you aren’t Catholic, so…

            The “near occasion of sin” concept is that you don’t put yourself in an occasion whereby you are likely to fall into sin. Likewise it would be immoral to do a morally neutral act if in doing so you know that someone else would fall into the occasion of sin.

            So my point about say wearing a miniskirt and a tube top is this. If I wear a miniskirt and a tube top I might not be committing a sin but I might be causing someone else to fall into sin. That might not even be a good example, but my whole point is that in Christianity we aren’t only our own keeper but we are our brother’s keeper. We aren’t supposed to avail ourselves of certain freedoms if we know that it could be causing others scandal, lust, or what have you.

            Paul’s principle on this is: “All things are lawful, but not all things are expedient.”

            God bless,


      • Brooke

        The concept of a stumbling block is also a Biblical idea, thus we must give it some weight. We must discern what it means to be truly chaste and truly ourselves if we are to use chastity as a (potentially justifiable) excuse.
        Also, someone else’s perception could very well be a much needed indication to ourselves that perhaps we misunderstood and we are not actually being chaste and perfectly integrated.

        • Lisa DellaVecchia

          Exactly my whole point. More below:

        • Vision_From_Afar

          Someone else’s actual perception is entirely valid. The problem is, the stumbling block metaphor is often used in an entirely hypothetical context. It’s not like a fashion show was held and styles and cuts of dress were rated on “stumbling factor” by actual, breathing human men.
          No, it’s often used by authority figures to argue about what “might” happen. A healthy dose of common sense is all someone really needs (see my argument about the sundress and it’s validity in the original reply). Micro-analyzing every article of clothing is ridiculous and borderline repressive.

          • Brooke

            Of course it’s hypothetical. I don’t need to try things out and find out afterwards whether it caused someone to stumble. We discern so that we can gain wisdom, and thus avoid sin in the first place. But even if it’s hypothetical doesn’t mean we didn’t gain wisdom from hearing others’ past experiences.

      • enness

        Vision, the idea of not wearing suggestive garb (yes, this will vary, and that’s fine. Can it be taken to an unreasonable degree? Of course) is simply not to encourage the mind to go where it shouldn’t. Rape is a different matter. Please get that straight right now.

        We are all, like it or not, to some extent our “brother’s keeper.” In all the fuss about our rights, sometimes it seems to me that we have forgotten courtesy and civility. If a person says something to me in a spirit of charity, I reconsider what I have on. I would expect the same of any man. But it should be evident enough who might have the more landmine-studded field if you walk into any department store and compare the women’s and men’s sections. Sorry, I call it as I see it. Is it fair? Of course not. I would hardly expect spiritual warfare to be fair.

        • Vision_From_Afar

          Rape is a different matter. Please get that straight right now.

          Rape is the logical end-game for the stumbling block metaphor. He thinks bad thoughts, he falls from grace, he obsesses over the least bit of sexuality…etc.

          We are all, like it or not, to some extent our “brother’s keeper.” In all the fuss about our rights, sometimes it seems to me that we have forgotten courtesy and civility.
          And what happened to the idea of the “protective brother”? What happened to the idea that men could behave and control themselves and the tiniest thought didn’t have to be psychoanalyzed for purity?

          But it should be evident enough who might have the more landmine-studded field if you walk into any department store and compare the women’s and men’s sections.
          If you think the women’s section is the only sexualized ones, you’re not paying attention.

  • Ce Gzz

    Just the other day I read that post about a girl who “saved herself for marriage” and even got one of those baptist purity rings, and how her marriage failed after 6 months. There is also a response to that and goes in the same direction… purity/chastity is not refusing something, but embracing it all. Thanks Mark.

  • Obliged_Cornball

    “I am genuinely curious whether she would call bullshit on a justification for chastity which expresses it as a way in which we are truly ourselves, in which I must, by my own free will, integrate my sexuality into my entire human person.”

    I doubt she would call bullshit on your motives, but she might question their execution. I imagine the argument would go something like this (West, forgive me if I am wrong):
    “How is having multiple sexual partners and/or extramarital sex failure to integrate sexuality into the “entire human person?” There are certainly circumstances where such actions would represent a failure of integration, such as if a person was doing these things for the wrong reasons. Your example of the person who has lots of sex to compensate for abuse would qualify as a good example. But I’m not sure how they are *inherently* failures of integration and authenticity (as I presume you think they are). What of the person who has fallen in love with many people during his/her lifetime – is that person being inauthentic for expressing love in the form of sex with each person he/she genuinely loves?”
    This is where I imagine you and West would diverge – you both value authenticity and the healthy integration of sex into one’s life, but you disagree on how this ought to be done. I hope you will elaborate on this more in your forthcoming posts.

    • Sarah Bigwood

      They would disagree because West’s main point is that there aren’t external measures by which to assess integration. I get to decide and claim my own sexuality. Period. Not my husband, not my previous sexual partners, not this author and NOT the church.

      • enness

        The body has its language, which may very well speak louder than words. Just keep that in mind.

    • enness

      I’ll try to address this at least partly. As I see it, there are two parts to the marriage ceremony: public, and private (I’m sure we can all figure out which is which, nudge nudge wink wink and all that). Extramarital sex is dishonest because it’s basically pretending to behave like a married couple, in a very intimate way, with someone you aren’t married to, taking risks with another person’s future and well-being that are really only appropriate to the radical trust of marriage. It says “I am completely yours, holding nothing back,” which in many circumstances can be a lie.

      We may be able to boil down, logically, the essential family unit to two and not any number. Nevermind that having many partners is very unhealthful.

  • Megan Moore

    This was a really great blog post, however, I am upset with your choice of language in (what is approximately) paragraph eight. “Chastity that stops — or starts, for that matter — at ‘not dressing like a slut’ is retarded, for it has no basis.” were the exact words you used. I am referring to your usage of the r-word. I understand that it has become somewhat acceptable or commonplace in the vocabulary of young people in America, but it is the farthest thing from acceptable. In the minds of many it is the same thing as a racial slur or sexually degrading term. As you continue to share your wonderful thoughts on the most beautiful thing in existence — the Catholic Church, that is — please write with more care.

    P.S. I truly do enjoy your blog.

    • AnsonEddy

      Isn’t Marc using the word perfectly according to its intended meaning? He is talking about a concept or viewpoint that doesn’t develop into the fullest potential. We can retard someone’s movement but stopping them. We can retard a plant’s growth by starving it of nutrients. And we can retard an idea by settling for less than fully satisfactory viewpoint.

      • tedseeber

        The trouble is it is extremely offensive to some of us who have PTSD from decades of bullying and abuse.

    • Sammi

      So is it wrong and degrading to use the verb “retard” to mean “to slow or withhold growth”? By assuming “retarded” is associated with mentally handicapped people, aren’t you discriminating against them and saying they are “retarded”?

      Now, if Marc said, “Such people are retards,” I would understand you being offended. But he merely used a word that means “slowed” or “not fully realized” in the English language.

      • Megan Moore

        When you can replace “retarded” for “stupid,” “idiotic,” “moronic,” or “unintelligent” then it is not properly used. I don’t believe he meant it as “to slow or withhold growth” like a plant being starved of nutrients or in a musical work.

        • hotboogers

          I believe he did mean it as slowed/stopped development.
          I think to read it as you have done, well, I can see how you could read it that way, but that reading doesn’t really fit the sense of the passage in question.

          • Kyle Strand

            Yes it does. If the original word had been “stupid,” would you really have stopped and thought “wait, that sentence made no sense”?

          • hotboogers

            I think the protesters on this issue are overly invested in slang language. The perjorative use of the word “retarded” is just that — slang. The author in this piece was not using slang much, if at all, throughout the piece. So to read/mentally hear the word as its slang usage would be out of alignment, not only with standard English usage, but also with the author’s overall usage.

            I notice today that the author has edited the piece, replacing “retarded” with “incomplete,” rather than with “stupid” or some equivalent. I rest my case.

          • Kyle Strand

            “Retarded” in the sense of mentally handicapped isn’t “slang”; it used to be standard usage until it became politically incorrect. Now, that’s both the “real” meaning of the word and a rather offensive usage. Better words are available, so why not use them?

        • Ethan

          Just like retarded, stupid, idiot, and moronic were all used as terms for people with mental disabilities, and, while it would be better to avoid such a usage altogether, to choose any one is just as bad as the others.

    • Phil Steinacker

      I continue to have real problems with objections to legitimate words with legitimate meanings simply because some find them offensive. We have become a nation of the easily offended who impose upon others a distorted sense of obligation to eliminate hated words because someone’s feelings have been hurt when others used them disparagingly.

      I don’t intend this uncharitably, but this is unrestrained whining which has become far too commonplace in our nation of victims. We’ve opened a Pandora’s box of complaints which never cease. The slang term “retard” is a pejorative and has no legitimacy, but the author didn’t use that term – he used a legitimate word, albeit in a sense only several persons here identified properly.

      We cannot accept responsibiity for way others use words. If we extend this new puritanical attitude to its logical concusion, then eventually the English language will be missing quite a few words – all because some people demand that they not be expected to come to terms with words they associate with past pain.

      I remember the ignorance of staff members of a black Washington DC politician getting bent out of shape some years back when someone with a more greatly expanded vocabulary than them used the term “niggardly” (before you respond, look it up). It made the news and the complainers quite appropriately looked pretty foolish. We need more of such outcomes to shut down these abuses.

      Many words have multiple meanings – not just one or two. You are demanding others to change the language because of your discomfort. I genuinely sympathize with anyone who has suffered (I also have suffered – we all have, in varying degrees) because of the taunts of others – especially other kids, who can be especially cruel, but we should not change the English language by eliminating words which some but not most associate with pain.

      Times change as do meanings of words and their usage. I often use the term “idiotic” to describe positions (but not people) taken by folks who are intelligent, educated, or at least old enough to know better but remain blind to reality for one reason or another. This usage seems to have become a contemporary one, as opposed to its historic usage referring to someone of very low intelligence, or even “retarded” – a term once used for diagnosis but now retired in response to the nannies who supervise the culture for the same reasons cited by those complaining here.

      By the way, to clarify, I am not an idiot but I am someone whose intelligence, education, or age still does not protect me from making idiotic statements – as some of you would be most anxious to attest, thus proving my point.
      I can handle it, even though I have horrible memories of being called an idiot when I was a child.

    • Luke Burgess

      You want to say it is bad to use the r-word, while the G-D- word and A-s word are only a few paragraphs down?

      • Kyle Strand

        “Goddamn” is in a direct quote from the article he’s responding to, and “badass” is merely distasteful, not morally or socially harmful in the way that incautiously using the word “retarded” can be.

  • Anne

    Nice post! The only part I don’t completely understand is if you are saying that it is UNchaste to wear long skirts because it doesn’t show our integrated femininity? “It is not chaste for women to dress in a manner that utterly
    represses her sexual characteristics, as if curves and skin are not a
    real, physical manifestation of the human person.”
    I guess I don’t really understand what you mean by this. Can you clarify for me? We are supposed to emulate Our Lady- who is always pictured in full shapeless robes as a sign of purity- but also as a sign of the ideal woman! …And nuns wear long black shapeless habits… isn’t that supposed to be a sign of chastity? I guess I don’t really understand why it WOULDN’T be good for someone to dress that way…

    If you’re saying that JUST wearing long skirts doesn’t make someone chaste, then I get it. But it seems to me that what you wrote was entirely different…help?

    • Rebecca Miriam O’Loughlin

      I disagree that the virgin mother wears shapeless robes in art depictions. Most of the full body depictions I’ve seen makes the outline of Mary’s bodily curves obvious. That said, I do feel it is erroneous to say that being covered, even shapelessly, is necessarily unchaste. There are plenty of reasons why being so dressed might be more chaste than otherwise.
      Also, what’s with the complaint about ankle length skirts? Long maxi skirts are in style now, gorgeous, and attractive. One saint (can’t remember which) said that a young lady should be dressed in such a manner so as not to cause scandal to her elders, nor to stand out greatly from her peers. I think ankle length skirts could easily fit in that criteria.

      • Ronk

        He didn’t say that there is anything wrong per se with long skirts, long flowing robes and head-covering veils. He merely said that “If this is an effort to express chastity” , it is a mistaken effort.

    • hotboogers

      I think he meant to refer to certain dress styles that are more akin to body bags than lovely garments such as shown in the image of the whup-ass Madonna. Not all long skirts are equal.

  • Kimberly Lenggiere

    “Chastity that stops — or starts, for that matter — at “not dressing like a slut” is retarded, for it has no basis.”

    So I am not offended by rough language, but I have had the privilege to work with many developmentally disabled kids. Not fair to use the word “retarded” in the sense you did. I love your stuff and I don’t mind if you swear sometimes, but it may be a good idea to be mindful that “retarded” should really be reserved for when things are delayed or literally retarded

    • AnsonEddy

      If the context of the sentence includes “starting” and “stopping” wouldn’t charity compel us to presume he is using the word correctly in its original meaning?

      • Megan Moore

        That might make sense if the end of the sentence — ‘for it has no basis” — were omitted. To slow something or stop development is not contingent upon a basis. That is where I believe he went wrong, because words like “moronic” or “stupid” even could have easily taken its place.

    • hotboogers

      I believe he did mean it as slowed/stopped development. I think to read it as you have done, well, I can see how you could read it that way, but that reading doesn’t really fit the sense of the passage in question. What we have here is yet another word that cannot be named, even when it is used in its correct sense, just because it has been misused in the past by the ignorant. Sad all around.

  • Vision_From_Afar

    Honestly, this is probably the best Christian argument for homosexuality I’ve ever seen. No, seriously. Go re-read it and think about it.
    (Edit: I promised myself I wouldn’t come back to the Catholic section, but when this showed up on my FB feed, I had to read it. :sigh:)

    • Rachel

      I thought the same while reading it. ;)

    • Zai

      That is not really true. That’s because the Christian view is also that humans were created to express their sexuality in a particular way. The various ways our sexual desires become or are disordered is beside the point. A fully integrated sexual person is not one that is necessarily participating in sexual pursuit and enjoyment. They are someone who understands that aspect of themselves as being a part of them and give it its proper place. They also take into account the fact that sex is for making children, not simply enjoyment or even the expression of desire between lovers. The whole point is life, and we are fully integrated when we realize this and our actions and thoughts change to fit this.

      As homosexual sex does not fulfill the most important aspect of sex, that is life-giving, it cannot be said to be the same as heterosexual sex within its proper context ever. it is not the same sort of thing. (not: I isn’t that I believe unity between lovers to be unimportant, but I just think that the fact that all children are literally two becoming one is the most important thing. half your DNA comes from either parent, it expresses itself in different ways as each child grows, caring for the child brings further unity etc) That said, the many homosexual Catholics who live celibate lives and use themselves in service to the Church, serving as Christ’s hands and feet, are living authentically, and in accordance with the Church’s teaching.

      Now, if it was felt that homosexual and heterosexual sex were equal, that might be a different matter. The whole thing rests–partly–on physically complimentary persons and two members of the same sex cannot compliment each other physically, they can only do so emotionally or otherwise. They can never be complimentary in every sense.

      • zai

        addendum: i meant that we are created to have and use sexual intercourse in a specific way, because virginity and celibacy are also part of the proper approach.

      • musculars

        Absolute nonsense. Homosexual sex is no less life giving or disordered than an infertile couple and yet you would not condemn them to a life of aridity and celibacy. Your assertion that procreation is the esse of sexuality is backwards as progeny is the bene esse flowing from unitive love. and that is the view of Christ Complementarity is just another rather recent way to assign sex roles with women as usual put into a subordinate one. Carried to its logical conclusion one descends into biologism, where the woman’s only function is to be a breeding machine.

        • iamhdr

          “Absolute nonsense. Homosexual sex is no less life giving or disordered than an infertile couple and yet you would not condemn them to a life of aridity and celibacy.”

          This premise is incorrect. Homosexual sex is by it’s very nature closed to life. Heterosexual sex, even heterosexual sex of an infertile couple, is not closed to life by it’s nature. It may be closed to life by something else, age, disease, etc., but the fundamental nature of heterosexual sex is life-giving. This is easily seen by the fact that heterosexual sex is the only method of procreating. Not every heterosexual sexual act will result in progeny but absolutely no homosexual sexual act will. This is the nature of homosexual sex.

          Oh, and heterosexual sex between infertile spouses is not disordered. The nature of the sexual act hasn’t changed because of age or disease. Homosexual acts are in fact disordered by their nature.

          • musculars

            “Heterosexual sex , even heterosexual sex of an infertile couple is not closed to life by its nature”,

            By definition an infertile couple cannot give birth thus by its very nature is closed to life and is not life giving in the sense of procreation. The couple can either procreate or it cannot. If only ordered sex must be open to procreation infertile couples are effectively closed to it, which by your reasoning makes their sexual acts disordered.
            If you still insist that homosexual acts are disordered and an infertile couples’ acts are not, then the only motivating animus is heterosexist bigotry as logic has failed you.

          • Joaco

            Homosexual acts are disordered because they go against the natural law.
            The natural purpose of the existence of the reproductive system (of which the genitalia form part) is reproduction, through copulation.
            The natural purpose of the anus/rectum is control and outlet for excretion, not (insert here whatever you think it’s use is in homosexual acts).

    • Andrew O’Brien

      Actually, what this article does is show that the differences between Catholics and more secular types such as you go much deeper than the purpose(s) and meaning(s) of sex. It has to do with the what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman. If I were to distill my critique of homosexual culture down to one thing it would be that they have sought to answer the question “What does it mean to be Gay?” before they answered the question, “What does it mean to be a man (or woman)?”

      So it would be a good argument for homosexuality if and only if you assume your understanding of the human person to be accurate. If we assume Mark’s understanding, then we see why homosexual activity is not chaste behavior.

    • JoFro

      This is probably the best Christian argument for “the individual with same-sex attraction” I’ve ever seen – if you are arguing for homosexual sex, then this article refutes it perfectly!

      • Vision_From_Afar

        The article only refutes it tangentially, because it never spells out the one big crux of the entire argument. You can only “be true to yourself” if you agree with the Church on what “yourself” is.

        • JoFro

          Well, since the Church believes Truth is a person, who is called Jesus the Christ, and it is the Bride of Christ, then of course, as far as the Church is concerned, it is in Christ and his Church that you can be fully true to what you were meant to be. If you wish to disagree, go ahead. But that is what the Church believes!

  • Molly

    “Chastity that stops — or starts, for that matter — at “not dressing like a slut” is retarded, for it has no basis.”

    Aside from the use of the word retarded (which I personally am NOT offended by because I know the context in which you are using it), I FREAKING LOVE THIS. I am SO sick of hearing this superficial definition of chastity that is literally only skin deep… It turns so many young women like me off from the whole idea and act of being chaste (according to the superficial definition) that it’s pretty much just a big joke to us. Thank you for putting this into terms that are so practical.

  • savvy

    This is a great article on positive and negative chastity.

    “All forms of chastity demand communion and community because chastity is the virtue that is ordered towards the communio personarum. The most common cause of sexual sin is isolation and loneliness. The sexual appetite is an urge to overcome isolation, to give and receive another person. A person who is fulfilled in their daily life through other forms of “knowing and being known” will find that chastity frees them to be generous and loving and to receive love and generosity without the clinging neediness of sex. The problem is that most people in the contemporary world are literally starving for human communion, and sex fills that need at least temporarily.

    Negative chastity, the kind of chastity that limits itself to saying “Thou shalt not,” has consistently failed to persuade the postmodern world because it is madness. The vast majority of people will eat things that are designated “unclean” by their religion or “unhealthy” by their doctors when faced with starvation. In most cases it’s not even voluntary. Unless you have strengthened your will to a superhuman extent it’s not possible to starve yourself to death. Likewise, unless you’ve devoted a huge number of character points to picking up the “Stoic” superpower you will simply not be able to endure the kind of social starvation that negative chastity demands in the contemporary world. The way that we live, our architecture, our social structures, our institutions, are all far too individualistic for it to even be possible.

    From the new institution of “the single life” to the catastrophic experiment of the “nuclear family” we have created a culture of isolation. In order to gain increased autonomy for the individual citizen and the individual family we have severed the ties that hold communities together. Within this insular existence sex is a powerful means of escape. Telling people that they can’t have it is like telling a child who has eaten nothing in days that she shouldn’t eat a lollipop because it’s bad for her teeth. The distant threat of cavities will simply sound hollow and meaningless compared with the present experience of hunger pangs.”


  • Zai

    Thank you, Mark, for writing this. Your blog (and a few others) constantly remind me why I am much happier as a Catholic than a protestant. The Protestant view point, since it is oftentimes negative, makes everything wonky. I honestly forgot how was I going to describe it there…but, let’s just say that I feel as though I am planted on Earth but heading towards Heaven. My body is a beautiful thing and creation, but it is not all of me. The soul that is intertwined with this body is also a beautiful thing, but it isn’t all of me. Things only make sense with both. Does that make sense…I’m tired from teaching the youth…?

  • Andrew

    You really threw us a curveball there, Marc, I was nooooooooooooot expecting those pictures.

  • Spouse of the Lamb

    Can’t wait to hear what you have to say about consecrated virginity… as a consecrated virgin espoused to Jesus Christ by my bishop, I find most people don’t know how to explain the virtue of virginity (as opposed to chastity) in positive terms. Consecrated virginity is such a counter cultural witness that it amazes me that it is the fastest growing vocation in consecrated life in the world. Over 600 CVs in Paris alone!

  • Uh huh …

    “Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person
    and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being.” Please … do elaborate.

  • Uh huh …

    Dude …. I think you’re spending too much time arguing a woman’s POV … being a ladies man instead of a man’s man. Are you being your true male self here? Or are you trying to please a female reader audience. As a fellow male, I think I would let the women address the women’s issues… no? Certainly I see no point (as a male) trying to persuade the Jezebel chick on the virtues and benefits of your male preference for the Catholic definition of purity, and your preference for a pure woman. Trust me, bro … she won’t care, and she won’t change her mind LOL. And just because Jezebel has a potty mouth doesn’t mean you have to lower your self to her (impure) standards. And no, as a brotherly check …. you don’t sound more persuasive or tough because you can use profanity to make your points. Sorry, no offense, just food for thought.

    • Vision_From_Afar


  • Dick Wooten

    I wish I had this line to try on my first girlfriend back in 1973…Nothing that I ever came up with worked. It was always Bible this, Bible that, mama said to wait, I could get in trouble,,,blah, blah, blah. Not a whole lot was said about Kirkegaard while I was striking out with her on her couch. At the time, I was susceptible to the same arguments, so I reluctantly accepted the repression and tamed the beast within. Shaazzam!!..we thought we WERE being chaste!!

  • Samuel Brebner

    This is brilliant Marc. My dream is to be a chastity speaker and this was so on the money! Your a boss, I can’t wait for the follow up articles.

  • Brian Anthony

    curious about your claim that certain styles of what most people might deem “modest dress” are actually unchaste (based on your definition of chastity…so you would prefer short shorts at Mass rather than a longer skirt? I can think of ten young women off the bat at our local Latin Mass community in Pittsburgh who would be unchaste according to your claim there…would chapel veils be unchaste then?

  • Jaxon Rickel

    When “Marc” mentions burkas in the 4th to last paragraph, I assume that he implies that it is unchaste for women to wear a burka.
    In the context of a culture which uses a burka, though, isn’t a burka THE sign of one’s sexuality? Does wearing a burka signify that one is a women with characteristics of a woman?
    On a different thought, what defines being a woman and man? Would one be defying their true self if they did things opposite of the cultural norm for their gender? e.g. a man wears a kilt in Scotland- considered very manly e.g. a man wears a kilt that happens to look like a woman’s shirt in the US- not considered manly at all.
    How much does do you thing cultural context should play into this if at all?

  • Florentius

    Saint Cyprian of Carthage, a bishop martyred in AD 258, and one of the most important ante-Nicene fathers of the Church, had a lot to say on this subject. For the sake of discussion, here is an extract from his treatise, On the Dress of Virgins:

    “Continence and modesty consist not alone in purity of the flesh, but also in seemliness, as well as in modesty of dress and adornment; so that, according to the apostle, she who is unmarried may be holy both in body and in spirit. Paul instructs and teaches us, saying, “He that is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord, how he may please God: but he who has contracted marriage cares for the things which are of this world, how he may please his wife.” So both the virgin and the unmarried woman consider those things which are the Lord’s, that they may be holy both in body and spirit. A virgin ought not only to be so, but also to be perceived and believed to be so: no one on seeing a virgin should be in any doubt as to whether she is one. Perfectness should show itself equal in all things; nor should the dress of the body discredit the good of the mind. Why should she walk out adorned? Why with dressed hair, as if she either had or sought for a husband? Rather let her dread to please if she is a virgin; and let her not invite her own risk, if she is keeping herself for better and divine things. They who have not a husband whom they profess that they please, should persevere, sound and pure not only in body, but also in spirit. For it is not right that a virgin should have her hair braided for the appearance of her beauty, or boast of her flesh and of its beauty, when she has no struggle greater than that against her flesh, and no contest more obstinate than that of conquering and subduing the body.”

    Taken from:

  • herewegokids7

    Thank you Marc. I’ve been entangled in some of the fundygelical ‘purity’ nonsense including but not limited to the mistaken idea of modesty as being ‘that which effectively conceals the fact that you have a body’. Looking forward to the followup posts.

  • Kyle Strand

    I love most of this, and I want to believe that it’s an accurate representation of the true meaning of the virtue of chastity as proclaimed by the Catholic Church.

    But I don’t quite understand how it can be reconciled with the Church’s rejection of some particular types of sexuality. In particular:
    1) I assume that you would view the celibacy of a priest is a good example of this kind of chastity, but if so, how is it an “integration” of the priest’s sexuality into his whole as a person, rather than in large part a rejection of his sexuality? I realize that priests are exclusively male, so I’m assuming that the answer must have something to do with the sexual (male) nature of the priesthood. I’ve never truly understood the reason for denying women the priesthood, though, even after reading your post on the issue. (I don’t even really understand the supposed significance of the symbolism you described.) I suppose I can see how celibacy can be part of the “right” way to integrate sexuality into the whole of a person in *some* cases–for instance, it seems likely to me that Paul was innately asexual (in the modern meaning of not desiring sexual relations with people), and that therefore to have married would have been a perversion or abuse of his asexual sexuality. But it is my understanding that the priesthood does not and should not require asexuality.
    2) Even though homosexual desires are considered “intrinsically disordered” by the church, it seems to me that total sexual abstinence for all homosexuals would be a *denial* of their sexuality, not an “integration;” the same is doubly true of encouraging a homosexual to seek a heterosexual marriage, for obvious reasons. So how can a homosexual truly be “chaste” in the sense you describe?

  • elizabethesther

    This is the best explanation of chastity I’ve read in the past few years. Thank you.

  • Luke Burgess

    The worst part, at the end of the 9th paragraph is a word inside a statement both I think are wrong. However this may be just a quote, as I can never tell if the author(s) is trying to explain how they understand or how others understand.

    -the statement: “chasing some phantom virtue for your entire life is a great way to ensure that you waste your ——- life.”

    So first it is not capitalized, so clearly they are not talking about God damming-up anyone’s life in any way, not sure how that would be done. I think maybe this is just a mistyped “your life was good dammed”

    Also toward the end (3rd paragraph from bottom) is: “It is a trend within certain parts of the Christian community for girls to wear shapeless, ankle-length skirts and similar shirts.” Then proceeds to explain how this effort, in of itself, is not a solution, and I agree. However I think many people may read this and get the idea that removing such an effort by leadership would be a good thing, and this gets to the hart of my disagreement with the 9th paragraph statement. To think that men or woman should desire to present themselves, as a great human being, through any physical form outside the sacrament of matrimony is to objectify that physical form. To clarify: How could a woman who has experienced an explosion lost her breasts and now a quadriplegic, ever find love, or even learn to love herself if you say “the people photographed are being utterly chaste, for they are being themselves, as members of their own culture and as women with the incredibly —— task of motherhood.” This would not be an issue for me if husbands were standing next to them, but the sentence suggests we are only looking at the task of motherhood. I believe a virtue cannot be a phantom, and anyone who says as such only does so to justify their own lack of efforts in obtaining such a virtue into the wholeness of themselves.

    • Luke Burgess

      BTW: From what I can tell there are no women that would chose not to have sex until after the sacrament of matrimony (6 months after engagement).

      Case one: I offer the ring to soon.

      Case two: It’s too long a wait and they have sex with someone else.

      Case three: I follow the advice of this article and stop “chasing some phantom virtue for [my] entire life”.

      Newton died a virgin and now I know why, I’ll be happy to show the wholeness of my self to others by doing the same.

    • Kyle Strand

      Yes, it’s a quote. It’s surrounded by quotation marks, and the context explicitly mentions that this is something West says.

  • Teresa

    The reason Gardasil is getting more and more popular for young girls (in Catholic circles), is because of high chance that a future husband will likely have an STD (or as one blogger put it “because of rapists or future husbands”).

    You cannot escape the consequences of others’ actions.

  • Catherine Edmumd

    Thank you, Marc.

  • Nypheria

    Long story short – I stayed a virgin until I married. Why? Because I didn’t want STD’s, pregnancy, or to be emotionally hurt. Not Jesus, not “Purity” – it was for logical reasons. I’m married now, second kid on the way – but that’s my two cents. Purity is simply a word, nothing more. (An almost meaningless word at that now days.)

    Make your own choice in life, me? I think taking the safe route is the best. I didn’t miss anything special by having sex sooner…maybe people should stop glorifying sex and instead treat it like…I don’t know. Something normal a man and women do?

  • shackra sislock

    Marc, How do you deal then with what the

    General Instruction of the Roman Missal says about dressing with “modesty and respect”? for instance, in the case of the African woman shown on this post. Because it sounds for me that it is something recommended by the Church of Mass in the same way that the culture of purity recommends it for chastity.

    Or maybe I’m confusing each other contexts, I don’t know…

  • Allison

    This made me wonder if certain permorming arts betray our identity such as Drag Queens or Kings. To say no about them, however, would raise further questions… What about Shakespeare’s Rosalind who disquises as Ganymede? Japanese Kabuki theatre traditionally has men play all roles (like Western theatre used to) and it is an art to learn how to play the women characters. (Can you tell I’m a theatre major?) Or aside from the performing arts, what about children who are born a sex that they don’t indentify with? Is it not chaste for a boy to wear a dress if he doesn’t consider masculinity as his true identity? The way different genders dress is largly defined by our culture, but how does this factor into chastity?

  • Heddois

    So women want men to reconstruct and to live up to all kinds of expectations, but women themselves have the right to be accepted by men, however those women are? Isn’t that a double standard? If it’s a woman’s right to say no, it has to be a man’s right to pass certain women up, because they’re not what he wants. This war of the sexes is never going to end while such a hypocritical double standard is in play. But clearly promiscuity spoils men before marriage, as much as it spoils women.

  • Adam Rooshe

    Purity in the classic sense yes, but i’d say it isn’t bull shit to ask why we should try and reign in the negative aspects of women’s hypergamous behavior, single motherdom, and the enjoyment of 30-40 year old spinsters taking 3/4 of her now ex-husband’s money.

    Not to mention the behavior of men who are responding to the sexual market place. It’s disgusting and it has removed men’s incentive to get married or even try for a carrier all while saying it’s ok to be a single mother while we all subsidize their living with food stamps and welfare.

    Am I saying that we should let these people starve? No. But there is nothing sustainable or appropriate about letting a bunch of girls ride around on a carosel of penis for years, either get pregnant or hit the 30 year old wall (you know the one where women stop getting the attention of the opposite sex), marry some hapless beta guy who is happy to finally find a chick to marry, she ends up getting “bored” because the relationship is unfulfilling, devorce him, take 3/4 of the poor sap’s money, and repeat getting pump and dumped by cads.

    There’s a reason we had morals, moreés, and other shaming techniques back in the 19th and early 20th century. It helped build our society and give incentives for men and women to build stable (albeit boring) families to ensure a healthy tax base for the future.

    It will get worse before it gets better.