To me, people who don’t have sex before marriage are kind of like people who voluntarily go gluten-free. Of course I respect the decision — as should all non-assholes — but internally, my knee-jerk reaction is to find a way to disagree. I’ve internalized abstinence as an involuntary choice that’s usually accompanied by shame. That bias might even be comfortable to hold onto if I never expected to venture outside my bubble, but that’s not how I want to go through life.
Thankfully, I was lucky enough to meet Jonathan James Deuling, UBC music and philosophy alumnus. He’s also a practicing Catholic who was kind enough to take the time to explain to me how he sees sexuality differently from me.
Interview with Jon Deuling
K: What is chastity?
J: Chastity in a nutshell: deep, erotic desire is good and wholesome and leads to a happy life and even God. Therefore, we aren’t stoic about it, and neither should we be addicts. Like most things, we ought to be somewhere in the middle ground — sexuality’s middle ground is “chaste” sexuality.
Hugh Hefner (RIP) did well to challenge the stoic view, but on the other hand, he landed a whole lot of porn addicts craving sex all the time. So we have often had a twisted idea of erotic desire; whereas it’s supposed to be about a happy life, we twist it to say a happy life is all about sex. Erotic desire points us upward, a foretaste of what we could call “The Great Orgasm of Heaven,” which will be 100 times more hardcore — it will be eternal intimacy with God! That’s sexier than sex.
How has the idea of chastity impacted your life?
Neither my wife nor I had ever had sex with anyone before marriage. When we first did, the power of that intimacy solidified our commitment to each other unlike anything imaginable. Because of our desire to be chaste, our marriage is now strengthened in a unique way. The gift of sex — our two children — also brings us closer together, naturally, because of the love we share for them.
What’s something a lot of people get wrong about religion’s relationship with sex and love? Why do you think they end up forming a mistaken impression?
Basically that the Catholic Church is sex-negative — for example, chastity is a bunch of rules that inhibit our freedom to live, love and grow. Us religious folk are often to blame for broadcasting such puritanical, stoic misinformation by the way we act or preach.
Really, chastity is “yes” to a sexuality which is transcendent and “no” to one which makes us descend into lust. There are many rules in being chaste — covering things like masturbation, contraception and sex before marriage — but we approach these rules in a sex-positive manner.
Why is this topic important to you?
I own a small business that sells 100 per cent organic fruit and us young people spearhead the organic movement. Chaste sex is real, unadulterated love that doesn’t settle for counterfeits. Chaste sexuality is like Silver Hill’s Squirrelly bread. Unchaste sexuality is like white Wonder bread.
Sure, Silver Hills is more expensive — but it’s worth it.
What could be sexier than sex: Making room for chastity within sex positivity
I'll admit, it was a surprise hearing how much room Catholicism allows for enthusiastic sexuality, albeit within the structure of marriage. If heaven had been described to me as “an eternal orgasm, but times a hundred,” that week of Christian summer camp, it might have made more of an impression on me — though doubtless for all the wrong reasons.
Greater people than I have written plenty of criticisms of abstinence-as-default. While those are absolutely valid, I’m more curious about function.
During the vast stretch of history that took place before reliable contraception became a thing, chastity made a lot of sense. Combined with marriage’s traditional role as a business transaction, chastity and monogamy together made sure that one, the kid you’re planning on passing the family farm onto is probably genetically yours and two, you don’t have to worry about as many fatherless children running around.
With that in mind, it’s interesting that Deuling presents casual sex as “Wonder Bread” — the artificial option. If anything, chastity is an artificially created product of society, like shoes or washing your hands. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing — naturalistic fallacy, anyone? — but that does help explain why all chastity’s rules can be hard to follow: they don’t come instinctually. It also helps explain why contraception is a problem for chastity. It eliminates the materialistic incentive not to have sex, leaving only the spiritual one.
Chastity overlaps a lot with mindfulness: you’re deliberate about who you have sex with, why, and how — and your boundaries are firm. That’s something I think absolutely everyone should do, and it’s 100 per cent up to you to decide how to answer each of those questions. That said, risk arises when chastity is separated from mindfulness and treated as a set of rigid rules, a mindset which Dueling himself criticizes.
Take sex addiction. We define “addiction” as the point that a behaviour becomes a problem. Like a teetotaler who thinks that one drink makes them an alcoholic, if you think that any sexuality outside of marriage is inherently bad, you’re gonna be pretty quick to call it a problem.
In that case, sexual shame plays a way bigger role in addiction than anything Hugh Hefner ever did. Media exposure heightens the problem; fightthenewdrug.com in particular was debunked as a credible source in Jason Winter’s PSYC 350 course because it makes claims that are unsupported by science and capitalize on fear. At the same time, you can abuse anything, from food to video games to shopping. That definitely includes sex. Sex positivity means respecting people’s choice to not have sex as much as it means respecting their choice to partake.
I don’t think chastity works for everyone, but I also don’t think eating kosher, attending confession, or praying to Mecca works for everyone. I have nothing to gain by telling somebody like Deuling that they’re secretly miserable from all the sex they’re not having. If you’re an adult making a conscious choice that works for you, it works for you. I respect that.
Deuling isn’t holding back the sex positive movement by being chaste, but I would be by choosing to tell him his choices are wrong. It can rankle when somebody shrugs off the chance to take advantage of all the slutty freedom previous generations couldn’t afford, but other people’s sexual choices aren’t a reflection of mine: the wrong choice for me can be the right choice for you. The only way forward is to lose the shame and make room for people living the lives they choose.