Real Girls in a Photoshopped World

Real Girls in a Photoshopped World

With the annual hype surrounding New York’s Fashion Week winding down, I’m reminded of a news story from the beauty and fashion industry from earlier this year. Back in July, Seventeen magazine editor Ann Shoket announced the implantation of a “Body Peace Treaty” in which she and the her magazine’s team pledged to “never change girls’ body or face shapes” in published images, explaining that they will “leave body shapes alone, reserving Photoshop for the stray hair, clothing wrinkle, errant bra strap or zit.” She also promised that they will only feature “real girls and models who are healthy.”

The treaty came in response to the campaign of Julia Bluhm, a 14-year-old activist whose online petition against the magazine’s use of airbrushed images garnered more than 84,000 signatures. In the petition, called “Give Girls Images of Real Girls,” Bluhm implored the magazine to keep it real. I consider this to be very impressive and it shows some of the influence of online networking and social media, not to mention the grit and character possessed by many of our young people today. (Julia’s pro-Real Girl movement inspired a separate campaign targeting the publishers of Teen Vogue.)

Frankly, though, I doubt Seventeen will stick to its promise.

My cynicism is based on the magazine’s response in the article and my knowledge of the image-making industries (like the ones we’ve seen out in full force during Fashion Week). Here are a few quotes from a Washington Post article about the issue:

A 14-year-old Maine ballet dancer who led a crusade against altered photos in Seventeen magazine now has a promise from top editor Ann Shoket to leave body shapes alone, reserving Photoshop for the stray hair, clothing wrinkle, errant bra strap or zit.

According to the article, a promise was made. Great.

 “Shoket’s promises are included in a “body peace treaty” that also commits the magazine to always feature healthy girls and models regardless of clothing size.”

Okay. The editor may have submitted some promises to the “Body Peace Treaty” but the above promise mentioned in the first quote is not in there and neither are any that require Seventeen to do anything.

 “Shoket did not identify Julia by name in her full-page declaration, which also denied the magazine ever changed the shapes of bodies and faces.”

Whaaattttt? So the editor promises to leave body shape alone yet denies ever changing the cover models’ body shapes and faces? So, is Seventeen really admitting to anything?

RED CARPET REALITY: In July, teen protesters demonstrated in front of the Times Square headquarters of Teen Vogue, demanding that the magazine’s publishers use real girls, healthy looking models, and unaltered images in its pages. (Photo: Richard B. Levine/Newscom)

My first job after graduating college was as a graphic designer at an international relief and development organization. Back then, Photoshop was used only by designers because it was expensive and had a huge learning curve. This organization received a photo from the field that included an adult male with shoulder-length hair. The group was concerned about its conservative donors’ reaction to the hair length, so my supervisor asked me to give him a Photoshop haircut. I was happy to oblige, just to show off my skills.

Well, I scanned (who scans anymore?) the photo, altered it, and placed it in one of the org’s publications. The young man eventually saw the photo and became upset. He felt we had no right to alter his appearance. That was my first foray into the ethical issues of altering photos of people for publication. Although magazines have been airbrushing for years, and have professional contracts with its models/celebrities to do so, Photoshop allows for detailed retouching that pushes it over the boundary of reality. Consequently, I stopped trusting the images I see in magazines.

Also, the “Body Peace Treaty” on Seventeen’s page is good but most of it does not mention what the magazine itself is willing to do.

If the quotes from Washington Post article are true and the treaty is more of a therapeutic “love-myself” list for girls (which is not a bad thing), my concern is that Seventeen’s editor is not being completely honest. It sounds like all the heavy lifting will still be done on the reader’s part. The disturbing thing about this is that many of these magazines know they are selling an illusion but won’t admit to it. They portray it as real life with article titles layered over the photo (“Get This Body in 5 Days,” “The New Grass and Twigs Diet,” etc.). Over time, as the young activist said on a morning news show, these words and images are harmful. I can tell my daughter not to buy the magazine, but there is a larger issue at stake here.

A few questions to ponder:

• Why is the sexualization of girls not an issue in our society?

• Beyond getting girls to love themselves, what does it look like for the image industry to feature healthy girls and models regardless of clothing size?

• When we laugh at the way celebrities are exposed in tabloid magazines, have we bought into the illusion that every body must look the same way?

Fifty Shades of Monotony

Fifty Shades of Monotony

SUDDENLY HOT: Author E.L. James at a New York book signing. Her ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ trilogy is a bestseller, but its erotic content has sparked controversy. (Photo: John Roca/Newscom)

You ever see a trailer for a movie starring one of your favorite actors and get super excited? You mark the date on your calendar, find as many sneak peeks and behind-the-scenes pieces you can and plan to see it opening night. The day arrives and you take out a loan so you can afford the overpriced buttery popcorn, Tropical Skittles, and calorie-packed soda. You sit through the previews, the reminder to turn your cell phone off and you anxiously wait for Will Smith/Hugh Jackman/Emma Stone to appear on the screen.

And then … the movie sucks. Not in the “it was OK” kind of way, but in the “B.A.P.S.” or “Soul Plane” kind of way. You feel duped by your favorite actor, the previews, and all the critics who failed to warn you.

This horrific feeling is EXACTLY how I felt after reading Fifty Shades of Grey, the bestselling book that everyone’s been talking about. Sadly, this wasn’t the end of my turmoil. Optimistic idealist that I am, I read the sequel and was disappointed again. At this point, I was two-thirds through the trilogy and it seemed that God had forsaken me. But I read that weeping only lasts for a night and that joy comes in the morning, so I walked back into the torture chamber that is the third installment of the Fifty Shades series. I’m sad to report that morning hasn’t arrived.

The only joy I derived from reading these three books comes from the knowledge that I can warn you to avoid them.

Prior to ingesting the revolting pill that is the Fifty Shades trilogy, I saw nothing but rave reviews about the series via social media. To be honest, most of the feedback was vague — “I can’t stop reading it … I can’t put it down. It’s so addictive!” — but still positive. So, of course, as an avid reader of just about everything stirring in pop culture, from The Hunger Games trilogy to anything by Malcolm Gladwell, I had to check it out.

I could write a book, maybe even a trilogy, about the horrors of Fifty Shades, but I’ll condense it to the top three problems I had with the books. (And be warned, my reflections may include a few spoilers.)

1. No one told me it was erotica!!! Call me old-fashioned but I thought books like this came in a brown paper bag and required an ID for purchase. In all of my discussions of the book, no one mentioned that one of the primary themes of the plot involved the VERY adult subject of a sexual counterculture BDSM. My issue with the book isn’t that it’s erotica; it’s the idea that erotica is considered mainstream reading material. Since when does erotica make it to the NY Times bestsellers list? I was caught off guard, unprepared for it, and therefore, a bit nauseated by it. (Erotica is one thing; erotica I’m not prepped for is a whole ‘nother matter.)

2. The plot is implausible. Pardon me for wanting my fiction to make at least a little sense, but I’m pretty sure that there are several Disney fairy tales that are only slightly less believable than Fifty Shades. A few plot problems:

• What 22-year-old woman with several handsome and eligible men fawning all over her has NO idea that she’s attractive?

• What 27-year-old man who is savvy enough to amass a colossal wealth of billions of dollars is also silly enough to entrust it to a woman that he’s known for a few months?

• What are the odds that a billionaire who is a local celebrity has had an extremely deviant sexual relationship with over a dozen women and NO ONE knows?

GREY GROUPIES: Fans of ‘Shades of Grey’ author E.L. James snap pictures of the writer at her New York book signing. The trilogy, and its erotic themes, has struck a chord with ordinary housewives. (Photo: John Roca/Newscom)

3. The story is redundant. Possibly the worst crime committed by Fifty Shades is the monotony. You just want to shake Ana and tell her to stand up for herself; then you want to grab Christian and tell him to grow up. For those of you who must go through the pain of reading this on your own, I won’t spoil it. But I will tell you this. The characters don’t change or grow. They do and say the same things over and over. There are no plot twists. At the beginning of the trilogy, Ana is a girl with low self-esteem who believes her best friend is beautiful and she is mousy. In the third book, Ana meets with an interior designer and this same low self-esteem makes her feel mousy again. At the beginning of the trilogy, Christian is an intelligent but selfish man with a little boy temper. At the end of the trilogy, Christian is a man with a family and a little boy temper. What most people love about a book series is that you get to see the characters evolve and the story keeps getting better and better as it progresses. In this case, the story keeps going but it never changes.

Fifty Shades of Grey apparently began as an experiment in fan fiction, with British housewife Erika Leonard mimicking The Twilight series and giving her stories away for free on the Internet. Initially popular with bored housewives, the stories soon developed a cult following and exploded into a publishing phenomenon. Leonard, writing as “E.L. James,” now reportedly hauls in millions of dollars each week from her erotic trilogy.

In some ways, I can resonate with Leonard’s backstory. She turned an evening diversion into a literary jackpot. Who doesn’t love a good success story?

But that feel-good stuff only goes so far. My favorite pastime is reading and I’ve always looked at it as a temporary escape from my own personal reality. Leonard’s trilogy, however, wasn’t an escape from my reality; it was a departure from all reality.

I’d call it a waste of paper, but I at least was smart enough to purchase the e-versions. Save yourself from 50 evenings of exasperation. Leave Fifty Shades of Grey on the shelf.

What do you think?

If you’ve read the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, what’s your opinion of the books? Harmless entertainment? Porn for soccer moms? How should Christians think about these books and their popularity?

Why Unmarried Christians Are Having Sex

Why Unmarried Christians Are Having Sex

RELATED:
Loving Bravely
8 Ways to Pull Yourself Up When You’re Going through Hell
5 Questions Many Christians Forget to Ask While Dating


Remember the days when Christians used to blush over conversations about sex? Sermons on the Song of Solomon left us avoiding eye contact with our pastors and safe sex talks in public school meant guaranteed giggling after class. I guess we’re all grown up now. The generation of kids who once kissed dating goodbye and held fast to the promise that True Love Waits is no longer hanging its moral hat on the hook of sexual purity.

According to the National Association of Evangelicals, 80 percent of unmarried evangelical Christians between ages 18-29 admit to having had premarital sex, a shocking figure when measured against the number of pledges made in youth ministries and wristbands worn endorsing abstinence around the country throughout the late ’80s and early ’90s. For a generation fed a steady diet of “just wait until you’re married for sex,” why are so many of us losing our virginity before we say “I do”? What is causing the growing chasm between our Christian belief and sexual purity?

I suspect much of our early understanding of sexuality is at fault, being reduced to just saying no instead of developing a holistic view of human sexuality through a person’s entire lifespan, fully integrating it with God’s plan.

Compartmentalizing Sexuality

When I moved to New York City in the years following college, I was devastated to learn how many of my Christian friends were regularly hooking up at bars and sleeping with boyfriends and girlfriends with no plans for marriage. And more than that, they didn’t seem to feel bad about it. The subcultural sentiment was that abstinence is worth preaching through the college years as parental influence wanes and students bumble through the early years of adulthood. But for twenty and thirtysomething Christians, for mature adults who had yet to find the one and had been battling hormones for a decade-plus, waiting was child’s play. Celibacy amongst my Christian peer group was viewed as cute and commendable, but certainly not crucial.

Despite the disappointment I felt over my friends’ behavior, there wasn’t much room for judgment. At the core they were simply living out the compartmentalization of sexuality that was also present in my heart. From the day I received my True Love Waits Bible in junior high school, I locked up my sexual desire to be opened only in case of marriage. Like Prisca Bird wrote for the Good Women Project, I wore my virginity as a badge of honor, latching onto “the image of myself as the radical abstinence practitioner” and one who would remain chaste to “fight the good fight.” I was unable to view human sexuality as a gift, holy and blessed by God. By failing to embrace my sexual identity in the midst of tempering my desire, I inadvertently called evil what God had deemed good.

You see, promiscuity and abstinence can be two sides of the same coin. Both can hint at an insufficient understanding of God’s intention for sex, his blessing of it in the context of marriage, and his creation of his people as sexual beings. So preaching only abstinence is not the answer.

Harder Than the Olympics

We need a new conversation around sexuality in the church — one that doesn’t insist on the wait without the while. We need a conversation that acknowledges our sexuality along a continuum and prepares men and women of Christ to engage in their own sexual development, desire, and growth while they move throughout the seasons of life and relationship. It can’t be left at telling 15-year-olds to “just say no.” We need an open discussion around what it looks like to abstain at 33 when marriage is nowhere on the horizon or at 27 when engaged and just days from saying I do.

That’s why it’s helpful to have a new wave of Christians coming forward to reengage the public on the topics of sexuality and faith. This past May, when 29-year-old Olympic hurdler Lolo Jones talked about the difficulty of being a virgin into her late twenties, saying it was the hardest thing she’s ever done in her life — “harder than training for the Olympics” — we could almost hear the shouts of “could the Church get an Amen!” (See the video below.)

Jones’ acknowledgment of the tension of feeling sexual desire while also affirming a commitment to abstinence revealed an important dynamic in the vow of purity: it’s not easy. There will be temptation and desire while waiting. But as believers, we endure the struggle because we know that the testing of our faith always produces perseverance leading to godly character and a hope for the future (James 1:3, Romans 5:4).

Good Enough to Wait For

On the flipside, there can be joyful anticipation while waiting. One of the best examples in recent years of this is bombshell actress Meagan Good, who has long since been a movie vixen playing sexy roles in Jumping the Broom and most recently Think Like A Man. This spring Good, a Christian, publicly shared her commitment to abstain from sex until she wed her Seventh Day Adventist pastor and film executive husband DeVon Franklin. Despite her commitment, for the past year she has been able to exude sex appeal onscreen. Chastity doesn’t have to mean wearing a habit and ignoring our sexual identity. Though we exercise self-control, as responsible adults we are free to tap into our sexuality, own our appeal, and recognize our desire. Good’s story shows us that true love doesn’t wait; it develops.

Christian adults must carry on the conversation of abstinence to the next phase. It’s not just a youth issue. If we could more openly discuss the tingling we feel, the occasional knockout attraction we have to the opposite sex or the times where our sex drives lull, I believe we might find that we’re able to maintain purity much later into adulthood. Because when we don’t talk about it, we allow the normal ebb and flow of sexual desire to become associated with shame and guilt over what we’re experiencing. And since the desire won’t go away, we’re forced to relieve the shame by separating our morality from our behavior.

We’ve got to get talking and see ourselves afresh as sexual beings, moving gradually and prayerfully through stages of sexual expression until marriage where it’s fulfilled. Because “not yet” is much easier to digest than “no.” Our sexuality, today, is an integral part of who God has created us to be, and like all things must be celebrated while also put in submission to Christ.

RELATED:
Loving Bravely
8 Ways to Pull Yourself Up When You’re Going through Hell
5 Questions Many Christians Forget to Ask While Dating

Recommended Resources

For further study and reflection, Chanel suggests these books (and website):

Song of Solomon (live on the wild side and read it using The Message)

Sheet Music: Uncovering the Secrets of Sexual Intimacy in Marriage by Dr. Kevin Leman

Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship, and Life Together by Mark and Grace Driscoll

A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue by Wendy Shalit

Good Women Project (this month is dedicated to the topic of sex)

Editor’s Note: Chanel married her soulmate, Lanre Dokun, last month.

Think Like Someone Who Enjoys Good Romantic Comedies

Think Like Someone Who Enjoys Good Romantic Comedies

I have a confession to make. You might want to sit down for this: I am a young Black woman and I enjoyed the film Think Like A Man.

Whew. Feels good to get it off my chest.

I’ll be honest, when I first heard that there was a film slated for 2012 based on the book, I did the obligatory eye roll and didn’t expect much. The past few times I made the grudging trek to the theatre to see movies with predominately Black cast — primarily so that I could keep my membership in the Black community — I was mildly disappointed. I say mildly because I have sadly grown to expect very little from Black movies. In real life, I find my community to include a wealth of comedic talent, natural artistic abilities, an eye for concepts that are abstract and often complex, and yet … on screen it seems that we often fall flat.

Nevertheless, Think Like a Man (TLAM) was everything you wanted a romantic comedy to be. It was witty, keen, and resonated for me as a young unmarried woman in her late 20s. I kept whispering to my best friend, “This is hilarious … This is so on point … This is so true!” He agreed.

But of course, EVERYONE doesn’t agree. Rahiel Tesfamariam, the founder and editor of Urban Cusp (a website I deeply respect), posited that TLAM served up “patriarchy with a smile.” Rahiel writes:

… Harvey, Tyler Perry, T.D. Jakes and countless others are making millions branding themselves as cultural gurus who understand the plight of black women.

Only a patriarchal mind set would constantly paint women with stereotypical, pathological brushstrokes and serve it up as digestible truth. As if real-world paternalism wasn’t enough, we can also have it to look forward to in black cinema.

She goes on to outline the four stereotypes of Black women found in the movie: the single mother, the promiscuous Jezebel, the never-satisfied control freak, and the emasculating powerful executive.

The problem here, though, is the article forgets the purpose of a romantic comedy. Have you ever seen a good rom-com where the women and men in the movie don’t have some serious flaw? That’s the whole point! Let’s break down these alleged stereotypes:

1. Single Mother – I’m not sure if “single mother” is a stereotype or if it’s a reality for many women, of all races. I’d be more inclined to believe that Regina Hall’s character was a stereotype if she were irresponsible, unable to care for her child, and dependent on welfare. But she wasn’t. She was the mother of one child who balanced healthy friendships, relationships, and a career. She was a single mother you’d be proud of!

2. Promiscuous Jezebel – Meagan Good’s character, Maya, just doesn’t fit this stereotype. She’s only shown sleeping with one man prior to her onscreen counterpart, Zeke. If anybody was seen as promiscuous, it was the man she was sleeping with who failed to remember her name and left the morning after. Was she more trusting than she should have been? Possibly. Promiscuous. Not sure on that one.

3. Never Satisfied Control Freak – I’m having trouble with the premise that Gabrielle Union’s character fell into this stereotype. She wanted the man she was dating to improve his career and commit to her…. Where’s the control freak part? Furthermore, when attempting to remodel their apartment, she asked for his input prior to making any decisions and only proceeded after he passed the reins over to her. Yeah, calling her a control freak is quite a stretch here.

4. Emasculating Powerful Executive – Here is where I can concede that there was a possibility that Taraji Henson’s character, Lauren fell into a stereotype, just not the one that Rahiel pointed out. What stuck out for me wasn’t Taraji’s power role, it was her ridiculous expectations for a man. She expected him to have a certain kind of career, pedigree, and power. The sad part is, while this is a stereotype, it’s one that I see in real life, much too often.

I’d be more inclined to believe that men are stereotyped in the film more than the women. You have:

1. The Reckless Rebounder – Kevin Hart’s character, Cedric, is the recently separated man who leaves a good woman he loves and embarks on a tour to get back on the dating scene and do nonsense in strip clubs.

2. The Playa – Romano Malco’s character, Zeke, is the ultimate player who wines and dines women, sleeps with them, then disappears.

3. The Mama’s Boy – Terrence J’s character, Michael, plays the ultimate cliché, the adult male who can’t quite let go of his dependence on mama.

4. The Normal White Guy – Gary Owen’s character, Bennett, is the White friend who has it all together and is in a happy marriage.

Unfortunately, though, calling out TLAM’s stereotypes of men doesn’t appear to fit in Rahiel’s overall theme that Steve Harvey and the film’s producers are serving up patriarchal ideals.

One other criticism lobbed at TLAM, not only by Rahiel but by others, is the lack of a spiritual message or any discussion of faith. In her commentary at The Washington Post, Rahiel says:

Matters of faith have historically been so deeply embedded into the black American psyche that’s its practically dishonest to reflect black women navigating concerns about love, family and careers without any substantive “God talk”…. Maintaining centrality in the character’s lives by providentially coaching them through life’s most important decisions, Harvey symbolically played the role of God.

Wow. Considering Steve Harvey’s frequent and often Tebow-like references to God in his comedy and on his radio show, I’m sure he’d be offended by the statement. As a Christian, though, I understand why matters of faith may have been strategically left out of the movie. A good portion of the movie centers around the “90-Day Rule,” in which Harvey posits that women should not have sex with a man until after 90 days of dating, because a good man who respects you will stick around for that long to “get the cookie.” The Christian perspective as outlined by the Bible, however, is in direct conflict with this advice. Sex outside of marriage is simply not an option for committed Christian couples. Steve Harvey knows this. And there clearly are contradictions inherent in his “God talk” and “relationship guru” personas. I cannot defend him on that. But this film is a separate matter, and I think viewers should judge TLAM for what it is, not what we want it to be.

How exactly could a movie with such a heavy focus on Steve Harvey’s 90 Day Rule also expect its characters to rely heavily on spiritual themes or guidance? If the characters did that, then they’d toss the book and its advice in the trash, and we would never have had a premise for this hilarious film that gives us something relevant to talk about with our friends.

In short, expecting a movie that does not purport to represent Christian values and themes to include references to “matters of faith” is a bit odd.

Think Like A Man is a keen, entertaining film with characters that I recognize from my daily life, but I believe many people expected it to suck — and probably for good reason. Unfortunately, when you start with low expectations, there is opportunity for self-fulfilling prophecy to take hold. You assume the movie is going to have you up in arms, so you find a way for the movie to, well, have you up in arms.

Give it a chance, if only for the lively discussions afterward.

Abstinence = Epic Fail

Abstinence = Epic Fail

On February 10, 2012, rapper Too $hort posted a video on XXLMag.com, a hip-hop website, where he gave “Fatherly Advice” to middle-school and high-school boys on sexuality. The disgusting, misogynistic, dehumanizing, and graphic nature of his comments do not bear repeating here, but his comments made me wonder about the consequences of reducing sexuality to merely a physical concept in the absence of virtue. Thankfully, the video was removed and Too $hort offered an apology for offending people. The rapper, however, offered no apology for the way in which he advised young men to touch the bodies of young girls.

The whole episode reminded me that I am not convinced that Christians do a good job of telling young people what to do with their bodies other than say “no” to them. As a result, I am beginning to wonder if abstinence programs are even helpful for developing moral maturity. While abstinence rightly places sexual intercourse within its proper context — marriage — it fails to construct a moral theology of the body. Perhaps this is a good opportunity for Christians to return to teaching chastity.

Some of the early teachings on chastity date back to church Fathers like Tertullian (c. 160 – c. 225 A.D.) who made a serious case for bodily self-control (some argue he went too far). The teaching has faded, but some contemporary authors continue to make a case for chastity. For example, Duke Divinity School scholar Lauren Winner sought to reintroduce the ancient subject for a postmodern generation in her 2006 book, Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity and Bible teacher Paul Tripp offers a challenging perspective on the reality of sex and commitment in his 2010 book, What Did You Expect?: Redeeming the Realities of Marriage.

For the sake of brevity, the Roman Catholic Catechism provides a useful and succinct introduction to chastity that is helpful even if one does not agree with Catholic doctrine (I will adapt the teaching in this article). The Catholic teaching begins with the recognition that we are sexual beings whose “physical, moral, and spiritual difference and complementarity are oriented toward the goods of marriage and the flourishing of family life.” That is, the mutual support between the sexes is lived out as we recognized are complimentary need for mutuality.

The vocation of chastity, then, is defined as “the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being. Sexuality, in which man’s belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman.” Chastity as a vocation does not require that one divorce one’s body from one’s passions but that one strive for maturity in the virtue of self-control — a skill needed before and after marriage (Prov. 25:28; 1 Cor. 7:5; Gal. 5:23; Titus 2:6; 1 Pet. 5:8). In fact, “the chaste person maintains the integrity of the powers of life and love placed in him. … Chastity includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom. The alternative is clear: either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy.” What develops and matures young people in their moral reasoning and virtue is the conscious and free choice to use one’s body for the good. Not simply to say “no” to sin but “yes” to holiness (Deut. 7:6). Moreover, we are not to be mastered by any sin but are called to intentionally pursue holiness (1 Cor. 6:12). Abstinence does not teach this virtue.

For Christian young people, the knowledge of one’s union with Christ, a commitment to obedience to God’s commandments, exercise of the moral virtues, fidelity to prayer, and a daily requesting and reliance on the Holy Spirit, and so on, gives one what is needed to inaugurate one into the vocation of chastity. The active work of the Holy Spirit enables us to permeate the passions and appetites with mature moral reasoning that is consistent with what the Bible teaches.

“Self-mastery is a long and exacting work,” says the Catechism. “One can never consider it acquired once and for all. It presupposes renewed effort at all stages of life. The effort required can be more intense in certain periods, such as when the personality is being formed during childhood and adolescence.” Self-mastery is ordered to the gift of freedom. Our union with Christ in the pursuit of chastity enables us, then, to be fully human. Chastity leads those who practice it to become witnesses to their neighbors of God’s fidelity, loving kindness, and the power of the gospel (Rom. 1:16). The call to chastity is simply a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23).

Chastity is for everyone.

All baptized men and women, single or married, are called to the vocation of chastity. Sexual wholeness is living according to God’s articulated design for human beings and applies to married couples and singles in the same way. Abstinence does not teach this. As a man who can relate to sexual temptation (Heb. 4:15), but who never sinned against His call to a chaste life, Jesus Christ is the perfect example of living out the vocation of chastity.

Growth in chastity includes the reality of failure, repentance, and renewal. This is why the gospel and work of the Holy Spirit is so central to the sustaining of such a vocation and why it is unsustainable in the best possible way outside of one’s union with Christ. Chastity is violated with things like adultery, pornography, rape, sex outside of marriage, sexual abuse, and so on.

In the end, if chastity were a dominant teaching in urban America, it would not only address sex before marriage but would create a culture of sexual virtue that honors God, best fits with how God designed human beings to live, and would serve as a powerful example of what is means to live knowing God’s Word is true. Abstinence education is well intentioned but fails to develop young people into morally mature followers of Christ. True love does not wait. True love loves God and neighbor by saying “yes” to God’s better way (Matt. 22:36-40).