What is Emotional Chastity?
heard the term thrown around at your Newman Center. Maybe you read about
it in your bible study. Maybe someone used it as their reason for
breaking up with you. Emotional chastity, emotional purity, emotional
integrity, emotional virtue,
whatever people are calling it these days, has become quite a buzz
topic in young adult Catholic circles. But what exactly is it?
To answer those questions we’re going to need to turn to the writings of a dead man who was celibate. Just what you were thinking for this new topic on human sexuality, right? The truth is that way before my generation was wearing diapers Blessed Pope John Paul the Great was writing about it and his ideas even stemmed from the great saints who went before him.
He started with a little red book called Love and Responsibility. Here Karol Wojtyla, who later became Pope John Paul II, wrote one of his greatest works on sexual morality at the beginning of the sexual revolution in 1960. To the right is a picture of my personal copy. It's well loved.
This gem of a book is a complex philosophical work that sometimes goes unnoticed because it wasn’t made for popular consumption. Let me take out a few commas, parentheses, 36 word sentences and philosophical terms from the text and I’ll give you the basic gist on the part that applies to the emotional side of a truly pure relationship.
There are two types of attraction, sensual attraction and sentimental attraction. Sensual attraction has to do with the material value of a person, what we find physically attractive about them (she’s hot). Sentimental attraction has to do with the non-material value of a person, what we find emotionally attractive about them (he’s fascinating). Both of these types of attraction can spark in us the instant we meet someone or grow with time and they are both necessary for attraction to turn into love.
But we must be careful because if these attractions are not under control, rather than leading to true, authentic love, they can lead us to using people. While it’s easy to see how sensual attraction can turn into a desire to use someone simply for physical pleasure, it’s harder to see that sentimental attraction can have the same effect by enticing us to use someone for emotional pleasure.
Maybe you’ve seen this before. She’s with him because he gives her a sense of emotional security. He’s with her because she makes him feel important. They’re both afraid to break up because they’re afraid of being alone. While enjoying the time you spend with a person is necessary for a healthy relationship, a relationship based on fear is not a healthy relationship.
Emotional “chastity”, like physical chastity, also requires a discipline of mind. Just as we can sexually fantasize about a person in our mind we can emotionally fantasize about a person as well. The best way to describe this is “mental stalking.” It’s that game we can play where we think and daydream about a person almost incessantly. We picture what it would be like to date them, check out our names together as a couple and even mentally plan our wedding. It seems harmless, but when we do this we turn a person into an object by using them for the emotional high we get from the imaginary relationship we have with them. Mentally using a person, whether physically or emotionally, is always in direct contrast with loving a person.
In the end these two types of attraction are so interconnected it’s difficult to separate them. So, if we want to be people of sexual integrity, we must start with being people of emotional integrity because where our hearts go our bodies want to follow.
Emotional attraction needs emotional purity to develop into authentic emotional love and physical attraction needs physical chastity to develop into authentic physical love. If we can get these two types of attraction right we are well on our way to finding true, lasting love, which is what those who struggle with emotionally using someone are in search of in the first place.
Be saints, it’s worth it!
*Need to jump start getting your emotional attractions or fantasies under control? One great way to do that is by cutting out excessive emotional images from your life. Say goodbye to chick flicks, romance novels, and emotionally charged music and TV shows then see what it does for your heart. Also, for more on this topic, check out Dr. Edward Sri's article entitled, Sense and Sentimentality and for the full picture read his book Men, Women, and the Mystery of Love.