I came to understand that the idea of chastity was a complete owner's manual for our bodies. This was about understanding, finding and living love! Then I had a radical idea.
Mary Beth Bonacci
When I was a senior in college, I attended a lecture series on a subject that, at the time, had not been receiving much attention on college campuses or anywhere else. That subject was chastity.
Up to that time, I had always been a nice Catholic girl. I knew the Church forbade premarital sex, and I had complied. I had even become fairly adept at the I'm not that kind of girl speech. But I wasn't exactly sure why. I knew it had something to do with not getting pregnant and not going to hell. (You're a nice boy, and I'm sure sex is fun if you say it is. But forever is a very long time, and I don't want to spend it in a climate quite so warm.) Of course, these aren't bad reasons to abstain, but neither do they give the whole story.
Like every unmarried Christian, I had struggled with questions. How far is too far? How do I know when I am in love? How do I say no nicely? When should I break up with someone? How should I break up with someone? Why does the Church teach what she does?
Like most people, I found far too few answers.
I had rarely even heard the word chastity. To me, it referred to Sonny and Cher's kid. I was familiar with the term abstinence, and that was what I was practicing. The problem with abstinence, of course, was that I didn't really see anything positive about it, aside from avoiding the more unpleasant realities of teen pregnancy and eternal damnation.
Thus, what I heard my senior year in those chastity talks enthralled me. The word chastity brought my understanding of the gift of sexuality to a whole new level. This was not just about avoiding unpleasant consequences. This was a complete owner's manual for our bodies. This was about understanding, finding and living love !
Human sexuality is a gift an incredible, beautiful, precious gift from God. I had certainly heard that in vague terms before, but no one had ever brought the reality home to me as did this series of talks. Like any gift, sexuality is designed for use in a certain context in this case, in the context of a loving marriage. In that context, it is an incredible instrument of the transmission of God's own love and life. Outside of that context, it can be damaged, and it can cause damage. I certainly didn't have to look far to see that kind of damage.
After that talk, I began to look around me and to assess what I had been seeing over the past years. I saw the damage right there in my own generation. But those who were abstaining seemed to be doing better and not just in avoiding pregnancy and disease. Love was going better. Relationships were going better. They were more easily able to leave when things were not working out. There was less turmoil in their lives. They were happier.
I had discovered the difference between chastity and mere abstinence. Abstinence is negative. it is about what you don't do. Chastity is positive. It is a virtue. It is about understanding and living real love, not just in dating, but in every area of life.
Real love seeks not just to satisfy itself. In real love, we look out for what is best for the other. That is what chastity helps us to do to understand the precious gift of sexuality, and to respect it in ourselves and others, so that we can really love each other instead of using each other. That kind of love real, honest, self-giving love is rare in this day and age.
At the time I realized all of this, I was working with pregnant teenagers at a pregnancy center. I kept thinking, if only I had talked to you two months ago. It was so clear to me that their sexual activity was fueled by an unfulfilled desire for real love. I was tired of dealing with the consequences. I wanted to get to the root of the problem.
Then I had another radical idea. Why don't I go to schools and talk about chastity? Others are probably asking all the same questions I've asked. I would have loved to have had someone talk to me about all of this when I was a teenager. It seemed like a pretty novel idea at the time. I wasn't aware of anyone else speaking on the subject. (In fact, a handful of others around the country were getting the same novel idea at about the same time. Isn't it funny how God works?) Of course, I had no intention of making this kind of work a career. This was just supposed to be the good deed I did on Wednesday afternoons while I climbed the corporate ladder.
I expected audiences to be interested, to be sure. I was convinced then, as I am now, that most people are attracted to chastity, even if they don't know it. I couldn't possibly have predicted, however, the degree of enthusiasm this work would generate. From the beginning, the students gave standing ovations. They kept me after the talks. They asked questions through their lunch breaks and long past school hours. The talks moved from classrooms to auditoriums to stadiums to TV studios; from high schools to college campuses to young adult and parent groups. My first post college job quickly went by the wayside, and I dedicated myself to this work on a full-time basis. That was ten years ago, and the work just keeps growing. The harvest is plenty . People of all ages are starved for this message, starved for guidance and starved for love.
They are also starved for straight answers. One of my favorite parts of any presentation is the question-and-answer period. I always ask audiences to submit anonymous questions in writing, so that they feel free to ask any question without being identified. Over the past ten years, I've been asked a lot of questions.
The questions I hear are often wonderful and insightful. Many are very personal. Far too many reflect long unaddressed pain. Many are the same questions I have asked and sometimes still ask. Audiences of all ages, in all areas of the country and in all the other countries I have visited ask the same questions. We all seem to struggle with the same problems and challenges.
I have written this book to answer those questions. Every question you will find in these pages has actually been asked of me. These questions are representative of those I am most frequently asked. Most are taken directly from anonymous questions submitted in the context of a talk. Some are paraphrased from verbal questions asked after a talk. A few are from letters I have received. I have summarized these letters, changing any information that might identify their source, and include them here.
Many of these questions are from teenagers. As a single person well past my teens, however, I know that the answers apply not just to those under twenty, but to anyone who believes it is important to respect God's gift of sexuality while dating.
It is a particular joy for me to work with other single people, knowing that we face the same struggles and challenges. I have always known that those of us who are unmarried need more than exhortations to abstinence. We need concrete help. We need to date well, so that we can marry well. We need to know how to take chastity from the realm of the conceptual to the realm of our everyday lives. We need divine support and, through Him, the support of other single Christians. We need to know that others out there are on the same road we are. This book is my attempt to address those needs.
This work is not mine. It is God's, from end to end. I didn't invent chastity He did. But I stand in awe of His incredible plan for love, and I enjoy nothing more than sharing it with any audience I can find. It is a blessing and an amazing privilege to be chosen to participate in His work in this way. There is an amazing hunger for love in today's world, and I honestly believe that chastity is the answer His answer.
Chastity is love real love.
Bonacci, Mary Beth. Introduction Real Love. Introduction in Real Love: Mary Beth Bonacci Answers Your Questions on Dating, Marriage and the Real Meaning of Sex (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996), 15-19.
Reprinted by permission of the publisher. Real Love: Mary Beth Bonacci Answers Your Questions on Dating, Marriage and the Real Meaning of Sex may be ordered from Ignatius Press, P.O. Box 591090, San Francisco, CA 94159-1090. 1-800-651-1531. (ISBN 0-89870-613-0)
Mary Beth is an internationally known speaker who does frequent radio and TV work, and has even made several appearances on MTV. Mary Beth Bonacci is the founder of Real Love Incorporated and the the author of We're on a Mission from God: The Generation X Guide to John Paul II, the Catholic Church, and the Real Meaning of Life and Real Love: The Ultimate Dating, Marriage and Sex Question Book.Copyright © 1996 Ignatius Press