This semester, I’m taking a very… ”non-Catholic” Human Sexuality course. Among discussions of contraception, abortion, and various aspect of casual sex, I’ve often felt discouraged about being among the minority in the beliefs that I hold. Thank God I sit next to a Catholic friend, or else it’d be easy to think I was the only one in the room who valued sex as sacred.
Our discussions have served as an important affirmation of everything I believe. But it’s also made me realize something: a lot of people think abstinence is stupid.
We answer poll questions each class, and I’m constantly shocked by the over 200 students who laugh at the idea of abstinence. In fact, in one poll, when asking about experience with abstinence only programs in high school, there wasn’t even a good option. You either (A) were told you would go to hell if you had sex, (B) had a program “forced” upon you, or (C) prefer not to answer the question. What about another option?! What about “I value abstinence and the beauty of the sexual act as the selfless giving of one spouse to another, with the goal of unity and procreation.”
That option wasn’t there, unfortunately.
The world thinks this whole thing is stupid. And maybe you do, too. But let’s debunk the myths because, y’all, abstinence is awesome. I’ll shout it from the rooftops if I have to.
In the words of St. John Paul II, “freedom consists not in doing as we like, but in having the freedom to do as we ought.”
Think about a baseball field. If someone gives you a free pass to do whatever you want, and you run the bases backwards and hit with the wrong end of the bat, are you truly free in playing baseball? No. You’ve just created a mess. You’re not free to play baseball because you’re not doing it the way it should be done. What you’re doing can hardly be called baseball.
Real freedom can only be achieved when our desires line up with the natural order of things. Real freedom would mean that you want to play baseball out of your own free choice and desire… and you want to play it correctly. Only when you learn the rules of the game and the way to play can you have free reign over a baseball field.
Now let’s take sex. Are you free to go have sex whenever, however, and with whomever you please? Are you free to participate in casual sex without consequences? Well, you definitely have the ability to do so.
But are you free to? No. You’re not free to participate in casual sex because you weren’t designed for it. Casual sex is a mismatch for our natural dispositions, both physically and emotionally.
First, let’s take the physiological side. When you have sex, your brain releases oxytocin, a neurotransmitter that creates a pleasurable feeling associated with your partner. From then on, the sight or presence of your partner elicits a physiological response, a natural sense of happiness or comfort. This response occurs automatically, whether or not you intend to form such a connection, and goes to show that, even at its biological roots, sex is about far more than mere pleasure.
In this way, oxytocin and even more neurotransmitters hardwire our brains for monogamy, for giving of ourselves sexually to one partner throughout life.
So, if you continually have sex with different partners, you’re tricking your body. One minute you are experiencing intimacy and connectivity with one person, and the next, that person is gone. Your body is connected to an individual face, but no sooner has that connection been established before another face takes its place. Your intentions say one thing, but your brain tells you–and your partner–exactly the opposite.
It’s heartbreaking. It’s exhausting. It’s contrary to the commitment our brains have been pre-programmed to enjoy. And, perhaps the saddest part, the more we partake in casual sex, the more numb we become to the beauty of the sexual act. Incomparable pleasure becomes less and less “incomparable.” The face of our beloved becomes just another face. A sexual experience is reduced to less than it was meant to be. It’s just another weekend. It’s just one face of many. The rush of dopamine, the workings of oxytocin, and above all, the beautifully vulnerable intimacy and gift of self for another…it all loses its splendor.
No wonder it’s easy to feel jaded. No wonder it’s easy to become numb.
Your heart is thrown for a loop even more than your brain. Think of the emotional toll of this cycle: experience intimacy through sex, form a connection with someone, never see them again. Repeat.
Sure, it may be pleasurable for a time. But the ache far outweighs the benefits. Sex is an intimate act, but is not a substitute for intimacy itself.
Sex is not simply about fulfilling your desires—when you want and how you want. It’s about vulnerability and giving of self. It’s about unity and procreation, not self-satisfaction and selfish plans.
Casual sex says, “I want your body, not you, and I want it to fulfill my desires.” It leaves us aching for more, or too numb to realize all that we are capable of attaining.
On the other hand, marriage offers the emotional and physiological fulfillment we long for: we form a connection with one person, one who will not abandon us when the going gets tough, one who has pledged to walk through life’s challenges with us. We are part of a beautiful giving of self: spiritually, emotionally, and physically. It’s a love so powerful that two become one, united on a common path. Marriage says, “I want you: all of you, at all times, for all my life. I want to give you love.”
The commitment of marriage reminds us that there is more to love than sex: it requires sacrifice and suffering and loving all of a person, not just their body. Furthermore, it asks that we love not just for our own sake, but for the sake of something greater—to give glory to God through our beautiful gifts of self.
Longing for Romance
We all want to be loved. We all want to be treasured. We all want to be pursued and cherished and cared for. But I promise you that none of these things result from casual sex. It won’t fulfill the longing in your heart, at least not for long. It won’t make you cooler, more self-confident, more experienced, or more mature. It will leave you constantly grasping at a beauty that is just beyond your reach.
Abstinence is not a scary word. I’m not saying you’re going to hell for having sex. Quite the opposite, I’m pointing out that sex as an awesome thing, a gift from God.
When we have sex we get to experience beautiful unity!! We get to participate in creation of new life!! Sex is not bad, guys!
But sex is a gift that must not be abused. To enjoy it freely, we must give ourselves freely. We must commit here and now to live for our future spouse, to keep them in mind when temptation leads us astray.
So don’t fear the “A word.” Embrace it. You’ll be among the minority, but that’s okay. Set an example of radical love, of waiting with intentionality for your future spouse. Set an example of romance, of selflessness, and of sacrifice.
You may feel alone in that walk, but you are experiencing freedom that God alone can provide.
If you need concrete steps to commit to abstinence, grab a pen and paper and write your future spouse a letter today. It may seem corny, but imagine one day giving it to him or her on your wedding day. Tell that person you’re thinking of them, praying for them, and living with them in mind. And then do exactly that.
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