Friday, May 13, 2005

Sweet Chastity

Reader Paas comments about the manner in which children should be taught about abstinence:

[S]omeone should make the distinction between repression and sublimation very clear. Repression, as I understand it, refers to the denial that certain feelings and urges exist, thereby causing such feelings to manifest themselves in other, often unhealthy ways. But sublimation is something else altogether. In this case, it means acknowledging, accepting and embracing the fact that we are humans with sexual desires, but simultaneously recognizing that the potential consequences of irresponsible sex compel us to temper our urges. Instead, we sublimate them. We take that energy and consciously channel it into other parts of our lives, scholastic, creative, interpersonal.
While it's true that repression as Paas describes it is an unacceptable solution, the problem with this approach is that sexual desire cannot be sublimated.

The "scholastic, creative, [and] interpersonal" activities which Paas cites as sublimations of desire are not really sublimations—just shifts in priorities. A woman who channels her sexual desire into practicing for a marathon doesn't become better at going the extra mile in a relationship. She only manages to take her mind off of it. Likewise, a man who would like to be having sex but instead focuses on scholastic achievement doesn't graduate with a doctorate in chastity. He's still the same frustrated individual—just with more loans to pay off.

Think about the Virgin Mary, who lived an active, healthy life for many years. Was she rejoicing at a Canaa wedding and following her Son from place to place because she had so much leftover energy from not having sex? Hardly.

Rather, Mary made a conscious decision, at the very point in her life when she was poised to become sexually active with her husband, to instead put her entire self into serving the Lord: "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word."

So, Mary's capacity for sexual desire was not "sublimated," it was sacrificed. It is in such sacrifice to the Lord that nuns, priests, and all who are called to chastity gain strength, inspiration, and vitality. In an ideal society, we would esteem such individualswhether their chastity is relative (that is, within marriage) or absoluteas examples for ourselves and for our children.