Are abstinence & chastity the same?

Aren’t they about the same thing? No way! Both are great words to learn but very different.

Abstinence simply means saying “NO.” It means avoiding certain things, whether that is meat on Friday, chocolate before dinner, or sex before marriage. Abstinence says, “Don’t do it!”— for a variety of different reasons, in regard to a many different issues.

Abstinence is a great habit to learn. Those that encourage abstinence are doing so because they believe there is a spiritual, eternal, or even delayed reward in withholding oneself from a particular action at the present. There is an extremely valuable discipline learned through not immediately acting on one’s desires. It keeps humans from acting like animals.

Abstinence is also encouraged so that one learns “delayed gratification”—saving something now makes it more valuable in the future. A child can learn such habit at a young age. For example, there are ten cookies on the counter. Mom encourages the child to only have one or two now, because later, there will be more to enjoy. If the child “abstains” from eating all the cookies immediately, the child is learning the value of delayed gratification.

Viewing abstinence as such, you can see why many people choose to use this term when encouraging young people to save sex for marriage. “Abstinence” has become more commonly known simply as the act of waiting for marriage. A good habit to learn—but is abstinence the best way to understand God’s plan for marriage and the gift of our sexuality? I think not. In fact, many people tune out when they hear “abstinence” because it means, in essence “say no to sex.” The term also doesn’t help us to understand what are appropriate boundaries, short of the act of intercourse. Technically, one could be very promiscuous, involved in many sexual behaviors, and still remain abstinent. Abstinence has certain limitations.

Chastity is a virtue—not a habit. Chastity is freedom from sexual impurities, not necessarily freedom from sexual activity. We know that God created sex, and everything God created is very good. Within the boundaries of chastity, one can be sexually active. Chastity is the virtue of understanding and respecting sex to such a great degree that one keeps it in the appropriate time and place (marriage). Every man, woman, and child in the world can be living chastity—priests, religious brothers and sisters, single people, married couples, and teenagers. It’s a lifestyle choice. It means that you understand the power of sex enough to keep it in marriage.

Why is Chastity so Attractive? Three Major Reasons:

  1. Chastity includes the act of having sex, which is something most people would like to experience in life. Chastity, in fact, encourages and demands that married couples have sex due to its incredible bonding power. Chastity encourages a healthy understanding of sexuality, not a repression until marriage.

  2. Every person considering marriage would agree that they DESIRE CHASTITY for both themselves and their spouses once they are married. Every couple should want a chaste marriage because it means that your spouse respects sex enough to not cheat on you. No one wants a spouse that will “sleep around” or even be unchaste on one occasion. Most of us would admit that chastity is something that we will eventually want in our lives. However, chastity is a lifestyle you don’t learn in a day. So, if you eventually want chastity, you had better start training now. You don’t automatically learn this skill just because a ring is on your finger.

  3. Chastity is a positive message. It doesn’t tell us, “don’t do it.” It tells us “there is an appropriate time and place.” God gave us directions to make our lives better, more fulfilling, and for the sex to be awesome. Chastity encourages an understanding of one’s own sexuality, a deep appreciation of the emotional, physical, mental and spiritual aspects of sex, and a sincere respect and love for others, including those you date or marry.

Why Chastity is So Great and Challenging

In our society, many young people think they’re just fine, as long as they don’t go “all the way.” Abstinence, from many sources, says, “don’t do it”, and there’s often not clarification as to what “it” is, and how you avoid “it”, especially while dating. In fact, some who believe in abstinence would agree it would be okay to take showers as a couple, to make out as much as possible, just as long as you refrain from intercourse. Young people struggle with this a great deal. They’re told to date like the rest of the world, just have this supernatural power to say no the moment before sex would begin.

Chastity is an awesome answer for those who struggle with “abstinence dating”. Chastity believes it is most loving to not tempt your partner. Foreplay and “making out” is what occurs as one leads up to intercourse. Why start something you don’t plan to finish? (If your date loved chocolate, would you really be so cruel as to drive her to Baskin Robbins, buy her chocolate ice cream, then dangle a spoonful in front of her mouth, but never let her take a bite? That would be so cruel - not even close to loving.) Heavy, sexual making out and foreplay also encourages a great deal of emotional attachment, almost as much as when intercourse occurs. Purity in dating relationships improves communication, dating creativity, and the respect each partner has for the other—to be above one’s own desires for the benefit of the other person.

Chastity also calls for freedom from all sexual impurities—especially in the mind and heart. Jesus was specific about this when he said, ” I tell you that any one that looks at a woman lustfully, has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt 5:28). Chastity requires that one think respectfully about members of the opposite sex. True virtue begins in the mind, and actions flow from virtue. If one’s only reason for refraining from sex until marriage is because they feel they should, then their heart and mind could be exploding with sexual desires—they simply stop themselves from acting upon such desires. Chastity calls every heart to desire purity in order to experience true love and respect. God also wants to keep all of His children close to His heart and His love. Impurities, of any kind, will lead or distract Christians from Christ and their faith.

In conclusion, both abstinence and chastity are excellence terms to learn. I highly encourage parents to teach even young children the habit of abstinence; and that young people practice abstinence (giving up one thing for Lent has always helped me). If this habit is learned early in life, teens and young adults find it much easier to say “no” to sex before marriage (and many other temptations that lead to unhealthy behaviors). Chastity, however, is the most all-inclusive, positive way to view our sexuality. Chastity includes God’s plan for our heart, mind, emotions, and physical well-being. God desires that we become more loving, and chastity is the best route to become a truly great lover.

By Heather Gallagher
The REAP Team