The Two Sides of Being Single and Chaste
(Once a month, The Exponent is featuring posts from members of the Exponent II board. This is the second in the series. Suzette serves as the Treasurer of Exponent II on the Executive Board – and also writes the 4th Sunday Poll on this blog. She lives in the Washington DC area.)
Single and chaste is a precarious way to live. There are (at least) two sides to the situation. On one side, making the difficult and committed choice of chastity gives confidence and grows sensitivity for ones own body. One the other side, this unnatural way of life, leaves a hurt that is difficult and sorrowful.
Last year, an article in the New York Times generated a lot of discussion around this topic in my single social circles. The author describes her decision to leave her celibate, Mormon life to explore sexual experiences. She writes: “Most troubling was the fact that as I grew older I had the distinct sense of remaining a child in a woman’s body; virginity brought with it arrested development on the level of a handicapping condition, like the Russian orphans I’d read about whose lack of physical contact altered their neurobiology and prevented them from forming emotional bonds. Similarly, it felt as if celibacy was stunting my growth; it wasn’t just sex I lacked but relationships with men entirely. Too independent for Mormon men, and too much a virgin for the other set, I felt trapped in adolescence.”
On one side
This article states that the lack of touch leaves one feeling adolescent and handicap, but, for me, that same lack builds a deeper consciousness of my body. I consider my sexual feelings deeply because I am compelled to consistently reconcile my beliefs and my passions. I have considered my choices and fully own my sexuality. This depth of feeling creates, for me, a keener understanding of intimate relationships, rather than a feeling of adolescence.
Additionally, I grow tired of the word “virgin” being tied to ideas like naive, simple, scared, fragile, and ashamed. I would like to see the word make a shift to connect with ideas like courageous, determined, strong, clean, and sound … all attributes of a fully aware and responsible adult.
On the other side
I give the author credit for describing a situation that has my complete empathy. Living chaste, at arms length with ones sexuality, into mid-adulthood is a hard way to live. Sex is a normal part of adult life. It is, however, a missing part of my live or the lives my friends who live single and chaste. We are not only missing the act of sex, but the intimacy of shared living.
Many adults live without sex for a few years into adulthood while they finish college or “find the right one”, but we live without sex for an additional 15, 20 years or more. Over time, this physical isolation changes us; creating a wound in body and spirit. It is a dark hurt of longing, unsatisfied yearning, aloneness, and insufficient closeness.
The situation is exacerbated by the feeling that this wound is invisible to our married brothers and sisters who see only the benefits of a chaste life. It seems that for them there is no real difference between chastity at age 17 and chastity at age 40. Their sermons about the benefits of saving ourselves for marriage don’t fall on deaf ears, but seem to lack understanding. The emphasis on “not slipping up in the backseat” misses the mark because it equates their 20 year old single experiences with our current situation. We also see the benefits of living chaste, but our situation differs for that of a youth. Making sensible choices in a passionate moment is not as difficult in mid-adulthood as it once was. We’ve had practice with drawing boundaries and are fully aware of consequences. The harder part is the living; making the choice every day as the loss of a shared bed and a life companion grows. We miss intimacy into the deep parts of ourselves and know that some of those losses cannot be restored. We pay a price for the benefits of being chaste.
Choosing a chaste life comes with its price, but it has been a powerful choice for me. I feel strong. I feel free. I feel whole. And the scope goes beyond myself, which gives me reason to continue choosing it. On its own, the Law of Chastity may fall short on benefits, but combined with all the principles in the gospel of Christ, it holds greater weight and the choice becomes more clear. All of these principles, together, create a tight weave in the fabric that connects me to God and to others in my faith community. It provides a sense of safety that spreads throughout my life.
Living chaste allows me to participate fully with my community of Saints – and holds me in solidarity with them. This community sustains me with their own faith and trust. I am better and live richer because I am whole with them.
By choosing to live chaste, I sacrifice parts of myself and am built stronger in others parts. My relationship with Christ allows me to believe that His atonement will, in time, heal my wounds and deepen my understanding.
What are your experiences with living single and chaste or with interacting with those who choose this for their lives?