Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Focus on Chastity

Thank you to the Bright Maidens for this opportunity!

I have never seen TLC's show The Virgin Diaries, partly because we don't have cable TV, and mostly because I wouldn't bother watching it even if we did.  The name of the show itself betrays its true intentions -- not to promote chastity by featuring perfectly normal, virginal people going about their lives, but to mock a supposedly crazy, unattainable lifestyle by characterizing adult virgins as freaks.  Not for me.

The fact that the show exists demonstrates our society's terribly flawed understanding of sexuality.  Most obviously, it takes the fact that the vast majority of young adults do not abstain from sex before marriage and hyperbolizes it by presenting the minority as strange and obsessed with their virginal status.  No doubt there are folks out there who start the ball rolling on a first date by announcing that they've never had sex (thanks for the info, Google), but -- come on.  What a ridiculous and distorted characterization. I could just as easily make a documentary on how people who don't wait must be crazy by featuring a girl I knew who swept her hand across her chest and declared that "these are not for babies."  Since, you know, nobody who has sex before marriage understands lactation.

Another aspect of the show and its title that doesn't ring true for me is the focus on virginity.  Now, don't get me wrong: virginity is very special.  Complete preservation of oneself for a future spouse or (in the case of religious, and most importantly and prominently, the Virgin Mary) for Christ is absolutely beautiful.  But, for many young (or even not-so-young) folks, I think too much focus on virginity itself can be a stumbling block for a couple of reasons.  One, because once a person has had sex, even if it was a single terrible and embarrassing time at age fifteen, he or she is no longer a virgin.  And two, because a person can commit sins against chastity out the wazoo and still technically be a virgin.

What I'd like to see is a focus on chastity.  Being an unmarried non-virgin, whether it's because of one bad decision in high school or a string of hundreds during adulthood, does not make a person worthless.  Everyone is called to live a chaste life, married or not, and past transgressions do not nullify one's exercise of virtue later on.  Some of my favorite speakers on chastity and the Theology of the Body openly admit to having lost their virginity long before being married.  They don't say it with pride, but with contrition and sadness.  They don't say it because they enjoy dredging up their past, but because they want others, especially those who have had similar experiences, to know that it isn't too late to commit themselves to the freedom of a chaste life.  (N.B.: my Google search also revealed that one of the girls on the show was previously sexually active but has recommitted herself to a chaste life and considers herself a "virgin again."  I do think it's good to feature such a person, but sadly, her attitude makes such a choice appear stupid, because of course nobody can "revirginize."  It seems like TLC was hell-bent on not picking anyone who could intelligently articulate the point of chastity.)

Chastity is not the same thing as virginity -- and virginity is not the same thing as chastity.  Young people have a notoriously difficult time resisting temptation, and when the chant is simply "virginity, virginity, virginity!" they find all sorts of ways to give into their desires without necessarily "going all the way."  Which, of course, is why we so desperately need the positive, affirmative, and integrated message of Theology of the Body, and not the message that one type of activity is irrevocably bad while everything else is okey-dokey.

What I'd love to see is not a single show with a distorted view of awkward adult virgins, but the presence of chaste characters in just plain old regular shows.  I don't watch very many shows, but I'm aware enough of popular culture to know that such a notion is almost laughable.  It is completely taken for granted that couples who start dating will have sex soon after -- if they're even dating when it happens.  I can't think of any instances in the shows I've watched where adultery is presented as a morally good or neutral action, but I'm fairly certain that it is in soap operas and the like.  Writers are very adept at developing situations that lean a viewer's sympathies toward morally illicit decisions.

Let's pray for better representation of chastity in the media.  It isn't crazy, it isn't weird, and it isn't unattainable, even for people whose virginity is long since gone.  And more importantly, let's pray for the virtue of chastity in our own lives.  Married or unmarried, virgin or not, we all need God's help as we pursue a joyfully chaste life!

**This post is part of a Bright Maidens blog carnival.  Go to the Bright Maidens Facebook page to read more!**


  1. Great post! Love this!

    Also, writers are VERY good at making me cheer for adultery. My example is Glee when Will was married to Terri but was having an emotional affair with Emma. My goodness I was rooting for for Will and Emma to hook up like crazy.

  2. Good point. And you know what - I think the lack of morals in general in characters in tv shows is why I find so few shows enjoyable nowadays. Moral dilemmas can be quite entertaining, and while not everyone makes the 'right' choices all the time, it would be nice if the 'wrong' choices were presented as so.

  3. This post is amazing. I've said it on Twitter but not in comment form.

  4. Katie, great example! I had forgotten about Glee.

    Lindsy, I totally agree!

    Thank you, Emily!

  5. What you said about the name of the show betraying itself - you hit the nail RIGHT ON THE HEAD! I don't know why faithful people would even agree to be on the show when the intent is clearly to mock them.

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