Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Palins and Chastity

Track Palin and his wife Britta apparently conceived before they were married or even engaged. Bristol Palin is making a lot of money talking to teens about chastity after getting pregnant as a teen. This is not unusual. Often youth leaders who talk the most about chastity did not keep their virginity until marriage. Teens notice that. Certainly those asserting teen chastity is unrealistic have noticed. So what is going wrong?

The problem is the tie between sex and procreation has been cut. Protestants and many Catholics don't talk about being ready for sex as being ready to raise a child. They talk about waiting for marriage but they are unclear on what precisely happens on your wedding day. Marriage is not understood as a sacrament and divorce is seen as a fact of life. So what is marriage? It does not mean openness to life. It does not mean a special grace from God to join you together. It does not mean staying together no matter what. So why wait with sex until marriage when it means so little?

The most concrete reason is children. It is easy to understand that God intended sex and procreation to be linked. It is the way we are made. It is intuitive that sex should not be manipulated just for kicks. People get that it is something sacred. So the argument against contraception is much easier to make than the argument that contraception is OK but you should wait for marriage anyway.

From a teen point of view marriage seems like easy sex for adults. Why should they be expected to exercise self control? They are less mature. Their hormone levels, at least for males, are higher. So why is chastity for teens while adults get this big out with marriage, divorce, and contraception? Does it not make much more sense to say sexual self control is simply something they will need in every state of life? Marriage and celibacy would both be seen as hard roads that you would only go down if you were really called. Guess what? That way you end up with strong families and solid vocations instead of broken homes and an abuse crisis.

So chastity as it is taught now is unrealistic. Not because it is too hard. The problem is it is too easy. It is a compromise with the culture that has left Christian sexual ethics incoherent. People can do hard things if they have a good reason. They do very little if they are given a story that does not ring true. If young men know they are remaining pure so they can be good fathers or good priests they will rise to the challenge. If they think their future is in a contraceptive marriage where they won't need self control then they won't work hard to develop it.


  1. Great article, Randy!

  2. I don't understand the point you're trying to make by discussing the fact that Bristol Palin had a child outside of marriage and now talks about abstinence. As a society, we're fine listening to alcoholics and drug addicts telling us not to drink or shoot up, but we all criticize Bristol for her choices. Whether or not I agree with abstinence only education is irrelevant-- isn't the best person to tell us about it the person who has actually experienced one of the worst case scenarios?

  3. Thanks for the comment. Great to see someone is still finding the old stuff.

    The problem teens can have with chastity is they wonder if it is possible. Are they destined to fail of they try it? Society does not encourage them much. So when we push forward these spokespeople for chastity who have not actually lived it we fail to answer that question.

    This is especially true when chastity is seen as something that is really hard for a few years between when your hormones kick in and when you get married. After that contraception takes all the challenge out of it. So when somebody fails to live chastely for those years teens wonder. Is the message that God will forgive after my inevitable failure?

    The alcoholic is different. His sobriety is life long. He is where many problem drinkers think they can never get, free from alcohol. He still faces all the temptation and live a victory. Does Bristol Palin still face the same temptation she succumbed to? Hard to say. So how do we know from her story that chastity is possible? It is not clear.

  4. Here are some Catholic articles that touch on this subject from another angle, which is that of getting married young, rather than unnaturally bottling up the hormones:

    And the second article:

  5. Young marriage is certainly an interesting idea. One problem is not knowing how to do it. How young is right? If you are dating someone then you can decide to be efficient. Don't just let the relationship sit in a holding pattern for years. Either make progress towards marriage or move on. Hard choices.

    I do think equating marriage and children is helpful. Do I want to marry him or her is kind of fuzzy. Do I want to make huge sacrifices to raise kids that will be a lot like this person? I think that is easier to get your mind around.