How Far Can We Go by Brett Salkeld and Leah Perrault

how_far_can_we_go_book_coverI tend to be rules-based thinker.  I am an accountant by training, the kind of person who can read an IRS form and say, “Oh, this makes perfect sense!”  So when I think about chastity, simple, practical rules appeal to me.  Don’t hold hands unless ___­­____. No kiss until _________. Follow the method and it’ll all work out.

Which would be a great system, if only chastity were an accounting method.

How Far Can We Go? A Catholic Guide to Sex and Dating by Leah Perrault and Brett Salkeld is the answer to a thorny question: How do I teach my children to discern the right way to live chastely?  I need my kids to develop a mature faith, not just follow a set of simplistic dictates about whether it’s okay to to hold hands 2.3 years into the courtship.  But that doesn’t mean we devolve into saying, “Whatever you decide is fine.”  Some choices about displays of affection most definitely are not fine.

To ground those decisions, the book includes a primer on the basics of chastity: What is it, and why does the Church teach it?  Typical questions, such as, “Can I use birth control pills to treat a medical condition?” are answered with a mind for both theological accuracy and common sense.  A whole chapter is devoted to, “What do I do if I’ve already gone too far?”  The answer: It’s never too late to start living chastely, and the Church offers us the sacrament of reconciliation to get us started on our renewed life of grace.

For all these basics, I found the friendly, readable, and compact format to be very handy.  It’s Theology of the Body, sex-topics version, in a palatable package you can realistically give to a busy parent, parents can give to teens, and harried catechists can use to catch up on the essentials without having to wade through piles of academic literature.

But what’s most radically different about the book is the answer to the “How Far Can We Go?” question.  The reader learns how to draw hard lines at essential points: Anything that’s going to lead us into sin is a no-go, and that may mean backing off of what we thought was an acceptable practice.  But the reader also learns how to choose an appropriate display of affection that accurately reflects the reality of the couple’s relationship.  Couples learn to talk through differences in expectations – perhaps one comes from a very outwardly-affectionate family, and the other tends to be very reserved – and how to use good communication to clarify the meaning of our actions.

What age for this book?

Mature teens and up.  This is a resource catechists can recommend to parents of teens, for both the parent and teen to read and discuss together.  Young adult groups (18 and up) would find it a good book study choice.  The style is readable, and the content suitable for someone with no background in Church teaching on sexuality, but the authors never speak down the reader.  The assumption is that you’re an intelligent person who wants to do the right thing, and you’re interested in learning some approaches for making the right thing happen.

–> For a second opinion on How Far Can We Go?, here is the book review at Darwin Catholic that originally called my attention to this work.


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