By Lisa Cotter

Maybe you’ve heard the term thrown around at your Newman Center. Maybe you read about it in your bible study. Maybe you watched Sarah Swafford talk about it recently on EWTN’s Life on the Rock. Emotional chastity, emotional purity, emotional integrity, whatever people are calling it these days, has become quite a buzz topic in young adult Catholic circles. But what exactly is it?

To answer that questions we’re going to need to turn to the writings of a dead man who was celibate. Just what you were thinking for this new topic on human sexuality, right? The truth is that way before our generation was wearing diapers Blessed Pope John Paul the Great was writing about it and his ideas even stemmed from the great saints who went before him.

He started with a little red book called Love and Responsibility. Here Karol Wojtyla, who later became Pope John Paul II, wrote one of his greatest works on sexual morality at the beginning of the sexual revolution in 1960. To the right is a picture of my personal copy. It's well loved. 

This gem of a book is a complex philosophical work that sometimes goes unnoticed because it wasn’t made for popular consumption. Let me take out a few commas, parentheses, 36 word sentences and philosophical terms from the text and I’ll give you the basic gist on the part that applies to emotional chastity.

There are two types of attraction, sensual attraction and sentimental attraction. Sensual attraction has to do with the material value of a person, what we find physically attractive about them (she’s hot). Sentimental attraction has to do with the non-material value of a person, what we find emotionally attractive about them (he’s fascinating). Both of these types of attraction can spark in us the instant we meet someone or grow with time and they are both necessary for attraction to turn into love.

But we must be careful because if these attractions are not under control, rather than leading to true, authentic love, they can lead us to using people. While it’s easy to see how sensual attraction can turn into a desire to use someone simply for physical pleasure, it’s harder to see that sentimental attraction can have the same effect by enticing us to use someone for emotional pleasure.

Maybe you’ve seen this before. She’s with him because he gives her a sense of emotional security. He’s with her because she makes him feel important. They’re both afraid to break up because they’re afraid of being alone. While enjoying the time you spend with a person is necessary for a healthy relationship, a relationship based on fear is not a healthy relationship.

Emotional chastity, like physical chastity, also requires a discipline of mind. Just as we can sexually fantasize about a person in our mind we can emotionally fantasize about a person as well. I like to call this “mental stalking.” It’s that game we can play where we think and daydream about a person almost incessantly. We picture what it would be like to date them, check out our names together as a couple and even mentally plan our wedding. It seems harmless, but when we do this we turn a person into an object by using them for the emotional high we get from the imaginary relationship we have with them. Mentally using a person, whether physically or emotionally, is always in direct contrast with loving a person.

In the end these two types of attraction are so interconnected it’s difficult to separate them. So, if we want to be people of sexual integrity, we must start with being people of emotional integrity because where our hearts go our bodies want to follow.

Emotional attraction needs emotional purity to develop into authentic emotional love and physical attraction needs physical chastity to develop into authentic physical love. If we can get these two types of attraction right we are well on our way to finding true, lasting love, which is what those who struggle with emotional chastity are in search of in the first place.

*Need to jump start getting your emotional attractions or fantasies under control? One great way to do that is by cutting out excessive emotional images from your life. Say goodbye to chick flicks, romance novels, and emotionally charged music and TV shows then see what it does for your heart. It makes for a great Lenten resolution! Check back in a few weeks for a post on emotional free media to get you through it!


 For more on this topic, check out Dr. Edward Sri's article entitled, Sense and Sensibility.


Lisa and her husband Kevin have been a FOCUS family for the past 5 years. She is a proud graduate of Benedictine College where she received degrees in Religious Studies and Youth Ministry and later served as a Resident Director while Kevin served as an on-campus missionary. Now she spends most of her days playing with her two young children, and also enjoys speaking and writing on relationships and family life. 


How wonderful it is to have a tangible article to share with friends or have as a resource! I hope you don't mind me sharing this on a new website for young Catholic women. Please let me know if you do! You can check it out here: Thank you again!!!
Semantic, Thank you for your well thought out comment, it is not the first time I've heard a remark on the etymology of the term. The reason I used the phrase "emotional chastity" is because it is the term that is most commonly used for discussing the struggles that can come with sentimental attraction and I wanted to make sure readers knew what I was going after. I do agree that it is the wrong phrase and I like your suggestion for "emotional prudence". While I didn't coin the phrase, it's hard to change it! I have also seen the difficulty in people wanting to draw hard, fast lines with emotional boundaries, and in doing so they shut off their hearts all together. When I speak on this topic I always emphasize that how, when and what you share is a very gray area and I can't give them a timeline for what is appropriate for their particular situation. Factors such as ones' personality, upbringing, past experiences and scars all factor into what is appropriate for any given situation. I also emphasize that if a person has proven themselves worthy of another persons trust, then they need to honor that person with their trust and be a bit vulnerable at times. Finally I stress the importance of using prudence and asking yourself what your motive is for what you want to share. I tell them if it is a pure motive and appropriate to the nature of their relationship, then stop stressing over it! This is a difficult aspect of emotional maturity, thank you for bringing the topic up. I will continue to seek out ways to better clarify it. Any further thoughts are welcomed!
Great work on helping women and men to be mature in their emotions. I think it is extremely important to help youth grow in emotional maturity, especially in this culture. May I make one suggestion open for about instead of referring to it as emotional chastity we refer to it as emotional prudence. The etymology of the word chastity is strictly of sexual/physical origin. So it could dilute the meaning of chastity. Plus the way to respond in virtue to chastity versus prudence are slightly different. For many chastity of the body needs to be a rigid boundary, but for the emotions it can actually be unhealthy and repressive to put up the same type of strict boundaries. I've actually witnessed this in many FOCUS missionaries and students. A rigidity of the heart that doesn't allow for freedom of friendship between the sexes, and the end result is less dating and less openness to the opposite sex. We don't want to cut off our emotions in relating to others, but we do want to be prudent in how much to let in. Yes? We do want to cut off physical impurity though. Thoughts?


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