The Thrill of the Chaste: Finding Fulfillment While Keeping Your Clothes On
W Publishing, 224 pages, $13.99
Popular blogger and columnist Dawn Eden has written a refreshing call to chastity. A single woman in her 30s, Eden has logged many years in New York and has had plenty of experience "using sex in the hope of landing a commitment." This habit left her cynical and dissatisfied, and pushed her to explore chastity, a discipline that involves "seeing your sexual nature as part of a three-way relationship between you, your husbandor, if you're not married, your future husbandand God." If you have sex without one corner of that triangle in place, she writes, "[T]he act becomes disconnected from its purpose."
Eden's intended audience is fellow single women, and she is frank in writing about her struggles with chastity:
When I look back on those two years [of practicing chastity] I can remember only two stages:
1. The "I'm fine, really; I've got so much going on in my life, and God is goodhe's taken away my longing, which is something I couldn't do for myself" stage; and
2. The "climbing the walls" stage.
On a more serious note, one of Eden's most important decisions in this book is to draw on Pope John Paul II's theology of the body, stressing the unfashionable notion that the body has a spiritual purpose. Eden underscores that chastity is a lifelong disciplinenot just a tough thing that single Christians have to deal with, but also a call to embodied holiness in controlling one's sexual appetite that every Christian must submit to. (Do the details of that submission differ depending on whether one is married or single? Sure. But a Christian vocabulary for sexuality might lead us to the radical claim that a married person practicing love, discipline, and fidelity has more in common with a single person who is abstinent than with an unmarried person who is fornicating.)
Eden unabashedly declares that she hopes to get marriedand that hope is no doubt worthy and healthy and godly. Yet Eden's thoughts about marriage are a little troubling. She follows her helpful caution against obsessive fixation on finding a husband with the decidedly unhelpful cliché that men like to be the pursuers. She devotes a chapter to tips for meeting one's future mate (joining a book club or a political group can be good!). Notice how her description of chastity, quoted above, presupposes a "future husband"?
Indeed, Eden veers close to suggesting that marriage is a reward for practicing premarital chastity or that marriage is somehow the telos of chastity: "Chastity relies on faith that God, as you pursue a closer walk with him, will lead you to a loving husband." Well, maybealthough as Jesus and Paul made clear, everyone is called to sexual self-control, but not everyone is called to marriage.
Maybe chastity bids us to not make any assumptions at all about whether we will marry. Maybe chastity requires us to enter into the reality that all Christian callings involve renunciation. Maybe chastity is most helpfully conceived as a call to turn our attention away from other people and more wholly toward God.
Lauren F. Winner wrote Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity (Brazos, 2005).
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