Thursday, November 13, 2008

Song and Gdansk

Recently a reporter did an e-mail interview with me on my book The Thrill of the Chaste for a glossy Polish women's magazine, similar to Cosmopolitan, whose name in English translates to Your Style. I will link to the interview if and when it becomes online, but, since the magazine will be translating it into Polish, I thought I would preview parts of it here in the original English.

You decided not to have sex untill marriage. Why would a thirtysomething modern woman, like you, give up sex? I suppose that for a woman who had a sex life before, it is not easy to give up sex. Am I right?

Deciding to refrain from sex until marriage was a huge life change for me. Not because I "had to have it," but because I had been convinced that the only chance I had of getting married was by using sex as a lure. While I knew from experience that sex alone was not enough to make a man fall in love with me, I believed that, when the right man came along, having sex with him was the only way I could cause him to be emotionally tied to me.

I wanted the power to make a man fall in love with me. Sex was power. The thought of removing it from my armory frightened me because I believed it would leave me without the means of attracting a man who would love me for life.

In short, I was an excellent student of the popular culture that brought us "Sex and the City" and pretty much all the other so-called "romantic" films and TV shows. The culture teaches us that we are not lovable for ourselves, only for what we do and the skill with which we do it. Hence, we seek advice from magazines that tell us how to be "better" at sex, because we fear that if we don't have the technical bedroom skills, we won't be loved.

I chose to reserve sex for marriage because, having had a conversion to Christianity, which caused me to believe for the first time that I was loved by God, I wanted to learn how to really love and be loved. It was a leap of faith.

At first, I did it in the hope that it would lead to marriage. After practicing chastity for a couple of years, I began to realize that no matter whether I met my husband or not, I was happier and more fulfilled than when I was living "the life." All my relationships, including those with family and friends, are deeper and more satisfying because I am learning how to love fully in the manner that is appropriate to each relationship.

In your book, you made a distinction between "abstinence" and "chastity." Could you explain it?

Abstinence is a negative—it simply means not having sex. Chastity is positive, because it is a virtue, and the meaning of a virtue is that it is enabling, not limiting. Chastity enables you to give the proper order to your affection so that you can love fully and appropriately. All love is by its nature lasting and permanent. The appropriate way to express love genitally is within the lifetime commitment of marriage, because it is only in marriage that you can make a lasting gift of your whole person to your spouse and receive your spouse's whole person in return, so that you are "one flesh." But there are endless ways of expressing love nongenitally. Discovering them is the great joy of life.

So, the "yes" of chastity does involve a "no" to sex outside of marriage, but its negative aspect is rooted in its positive aspect—you are saying "no" to something less, so that you can say "yes" to something more. In the same way, saying "I do" to a spouse in your wedding vows means saying "I don't" to everyone else in the world—but the heart of the "I do" is positive, not negative.

How has the idea of sex changed in your mind? What was sex for you before conversion and what does sex mean for you now as for a Christian woman?

I used to think that there were two acceptable kinds of sex: sex without love, and sex with love. Sex with love was preferable, but if love had not yet bloomed or was not going to bloom, I believed I was entitled to have sex with my partner anyway just for the pleasure of it.

When I received the gift of faith, I had to reevaluate my idea of what sex was for. The greatest aid for me in this respect was Pope John Paul II's theology of the body, which I learned about through Christopher West's book Good News About Sex and Marriage. (Before his papacy, as Karol Wojtlya, John Paul expressed many of the same ideas in his own book Love and Responsibility.)

Through those writings, I learned that love, being eternal, always comes from God, via the Holy Spirit. A true act of love returns that love to God through another person. Because love is eternal, an act of sexual love is authentic only if the love expressed is permanent. To give oneself sexually without giving one's heart is to act out a lie.

I want to be authentic in all my actions, and especially in how I love, which is the most important thing I will do in my life--the height of what I was created to do and be. So, I can no longer act out sexually in a way that is not truthful. At the same time, whether or not I have the opportunity to have sex within marriage, I can aspire to a deeper love of God and neighbor and so gain greater joy and fulfillment. That is my goal and, regardless of how my mood may fluctuate according to the environmental circumstances of my life, I know I will never regret it.

Do not you think that resigning from sex is not natural for a young woman like you? Maybe you are just pushing your sexual desire to your unconscious mind and in the future it will explode with even greater strength than before?

Sexual desire is not meant to exist in a vacuum. It is not something that is meant to be expressed with just anybody, otherwise we would think it was perfectly normal to have sex with the mailman, the cashier at the supermarket, the stranger walking his dog, and any other person who crosses our path. I am not pushing my sexual desire to my unconscious, but, rather, recognizing that it is meant to be expressed with a specific person—my future husband.

If I do not meet my future husband, it will do me no good to attempt to express my sexual desire with anyone else. To release a desire without an appropriate object in which it may terminate would be far more frustrating than to reserve that desire for the appropriate moment.

The only way that a desire can "explode" is if one pretends it does not exist. I know that I am capable of expressing myself sexually, and I choose not to do so until and unless I am married. To paraphrase Samuel Johnson, if you meet someone who claims human beings are animals who cannot control their desires, hide your fine silverware.*

What is the thrill of the chaste? How chastity can be a thrill?

Chastity is thrilling because it is an open rebellion against the limitations that society and one's own fears put on one's ability to love. When you are free to love appropriately and fully, you are free from the false currencies that society tries to pass off as "love"—the illusions that lead to frustration, loneliness, and bitterness.

What—in your opinion—can ensure sexual satisfaction in marriage?

Ask your grandparents or any couple that's been together for 20 years or more about what ensures sexual satisfaction and they will tell you that it is communication and compromise, formed by love.

Have you ever met a man for whom chastity is as important as for you?

Yes, many. When you start to live chastely, you attract people who appreciate chastity. That's not to say that all who notice you will be chaste themselves, but you'll discover that chaste marriage-minded people do exist, and there are more of them than you might imagine.

Are you not afraid that you won't be able to find a husband because of your approach to sex?

I look at it the other way. If I'm meant to be married, and to be married for life, then the man I marry will love me for who I am, not for what I do. Having sex before marriage might help me win a husband, but it won't help me win the right husband. If a man puts his desire for sex before his desire to vow lasting love, who's to say he would love me when I'm no longer sexually attractive? I would rather risk never marrying than marry a man who lacks love, respect, and self-control.

Do you have in mind some restrictions towards marital sex? [...] What should sex in marriage be like, in your opinion?

Sex in marriage, contrary to what some well-meaning theologians say, is not always going to be technically awesome, no matter how much two people love each other. But I believe that the most technically inept married sex is more satisfying and fulfilling than the most technically proficient unmarried sex, because it is without fear. As a spouse, you want to give and receive sexual pleasure, so you're motivated to perform well. Yet, at the same time, you have the reassurance that if you're not awesome on a given night, the one you love will still be there the next night, and the next, and the next. That is where true sexual fulfillment lies—in the fulfillment of the whole person, who longs to be loved always, and not just the fleeting satisfaction of the body.

How do Christians and non-Christians react to your books?

Christians like Dreszcz czystości [the Polish title of The Thrill of the Chaste] because it shows them they're not alone. Non-Christians like it because it shows them they're not crazy.

Buy The Thrill of the Chaste: Finding Fulfillment While Keeping Your Clothes On from

*Could someone remind me what the original line was? I think it had to do with counting one's forks.