|Via dolorosa. From the Rosary Walk at Aylesford Priory.|
I think such testimonies are helpful to see, and her essential point is true enough. One might add to it the risk of (let's use the proper term) venereal disease. Like pregnancy, people living the promiscuous lifestyle which our society regards as normal for the young and unmarried (at least) have a far greater chance of this than most of them imagine.
Such arguments from the perspective of the young person and what he or she wants for him or herself are related to the approach to apologetics which has taken hold in Catholic circles in the last half-century. The focus is not on the objective existence and provability of God, for example, so much as the lack one feels without God: instead of looking at the reality outside us, it looks at the feelings within us.
To return to Joyner's article, I have already argued that she fails to articulate a massively important motive for young women to join the promiscuous party: male attention. Since she doesn't articulate it, she doesn't say anything to undermine it. The force of her argument is futher undermined by two other factors, which tend to be present in more explicitly Catholic versions of it.
The first is that if you appeal to self-interest, your interlocutors are going to want to make their own calculation, and young women tend to think they are clever and attractive and liberated enough to make promiscuity work. Telling them they are, actually, too stupid, ugly and repressed to make it work, isn't going to go down terribly well. Convincing people that they should regard themselves as clever, attractive and liberated is, after all, the main purpose of modern education.
The other is that Joyner's story has a happy ending, which encourages the thought that even an unsatisfying foray into promiscuity doesn't carry great risks. You can have it both ways: a promiscuous youth followed by a faithful and happy marriage. This is exactly what most young people intend to pull off, and the message is reinforced by the emphasis placed by Joyner, and quite understandably by Catholic apologetics, that there is a way back. One you have embarked on a bad lifestyle, you can repent and everything will be all right. The Church won't slam the door in your face ... and nor will the male sex.
As a matter of fact, with the number of divorces running at approximately half of the number of marriages, and a significant number of women not finding a husband in their preferred window of opportunity, a happy marriage is clearly not guaranteed, and it has to be said that a decade of promiscuity will neither help a young woman find a good husband, nor to remain happily married to him. (It is hardly a training in self-restraint and sexual fidelity.) I have already said that showing that something is risky is never going to be a knock-down argument, but we shouldn't pretent that the risks aren't there.
That said, I would say something rather different in defence of chastity, such as we can present to our own children, and anyone else who is open-minded.
We must, first, have the honesty to say that young people of either sex who maintain a chaste lifestyle are making a very considerable sacrifice, in terms of short and medium-term popularity. They commonly suffer a form of persecution, through ostacism and ridicule, and while marginalised and despised are somehow still blamed for making everyone else feel belittled and guilty, as if they had some kind of power over others. Their contemporaries will say:
He is grievous unto us, even to behold: for his life is not like other men's, and his ways are very different. (Wis 2:15f)
Against promiscuity I propose to take a three-pronged approach. The first prong is to make an argument from shared moral intuitions that, for all its allurments, a life of promiscuity, like a life dedicated to alcohol, hard drugs, or compulsive gambling, is sordid and worthless. Note, first, that nobody has the moral intuition that egoism and hedonism are noble and pure; everyone understands that self-restraint and self-sacrifice are admirable. Second, while the value of sexual integrity may seem impossible to vindicate in today's world, its power is betrayed by the strong--indeed, volcanic--reactions accusations of low sexual standards still generate. The breakdown of clear-cut sexual norms have made people more, not less, paranoid about finding themselves publicly in the wrong sexual category. At the back of people's minds there is a still the thought that promiscuity and infidelity involve cheapening oneself. (Don't believe me? Search for 'slut-shaming' on Twitter.)
It is important that we aren't saying 'it's not where I am right now', or 'it wouldn't be being true to myself': no, promiscuity, drug use and the rest are objectively without value. We could not possibly admire them, want to emulate them, or recomend them to others. They are worse than that, however, as they have a powerful tendency to destroy the character of the people who engage in them, most of all morally, but often mentally and physically as well. Those who have long devoted themselves to them are changed: what was attractive or sound or sympathetic is eroded, and instead they are coarsened and made increasingly ego-centric. After a while you can see it in their faces. It's not a hard argument to make: we all know this is true.
The second prong is a realistic understanding of relationships and what is called 'the sexual economy'. Young people living a chaste lifestyle can avoid, at least to some extent, being categorised as complete losers by their peers if they have a better understanding of how the system works. The totally unrealistic picture of relationships which is generally presented to children and the young does them no favours. I can't develop this point here, however.
The third prong of my approach to chastity derives from the recognition that today it calls for a kind of heroism, a heroism which requires supernatural motivation: the desire to live in friendship with God. What is needed is a sense of the seriousness of sin, an understanding that mortal sin cuts one off from God, and that a life characterised by mortal sin is an existence without sanctifying grace.
It is one of the tragedies of the Church today that those trying to live good lives are consistently undermined, even in the Church. Their teachers too often try to hide from them the difference between mortal and venial sin. The Church's love for the sinner is transformed from charity towards the broken-hearted, to connivance with the bully. The very idea of a good life and an easy conscience, the life of grace, is belittled and even mocked. Despite all this, reality persists, and it is possible for young people striving for virtue to find a solace in God, which they are denied by men.
This all implies a seriousness in the spiritual life, of a kind expressed in the Church's traditional liturgy and spirituality. But that is another story.
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