Our story begins inside the mind of teenage, youth-group-frequenting Greg. Perhaps you find this locale disconcerting. Rest assured, we won’t linger here any longer than necessary.
When it came to sexual purity, youth-group Greg knew that he and his fellow teenagers fell into one of two crowds. The first crowd lived in wanton indulgence—having all the extramarital sex they wanted (with a probable side dish of chlamydia). The second crowd remained chaste because they were “saving themselves for marriage.”
This article was curated by the Purity issue's guest editor, Rachel Joy Welcher.
There was no grey area between these two crowds. If you weren’t saving yourself for marriage, you must be having all the sex. If you weren’t having all the sex, you must be saving yourself for marriage.
The first of these two teenage crowds was obviously enjoying themselves more, at least for the time being. But those of us who were saving ourselves for marriage would get the last laugh— we’d taken the path of delayed gratification. Abstaining from sex now meant Jesus would give us mind-blowingly good sex from our wedding night onward. “Wait for marriage,” we told each other in small group discussions. “Keep it in your pants until the ring exchange. You’ll have better sex in the end than anything your friends are having now.” This promise appealed to a bunch of teenagers who knew without a doubt that we’d eventually marry.
Leap forward in the timeline with me, a decade or so, to that season of young adulthood when I finally reached several conclusions: (1) I am not, have never been, and probably will never be sexually attracted to women. (2) Despite my best efforts, I’m not persuaded by the argument that same-sex marriage is available to me as a follower of Jesus. (3) The more I seek God in prayer, the more convinced I become that I am called to lifelong celibacy.
Celibacy. The word sounds like bad news for a whole host of reasons. Foremost among them, it deprives me of the promise that once kept my chastity belt securely buckled. I can’t just keep waiting for mind-blowing sex on my wedding night. I’m not “saving myself” for marriage anymore. I’m saving myself for nothing, waiting around for my own funeral. No matter how chaste I stay in the meantime, the funeral will look exactly the same.
If chastity’s best perk is supposed to be an improved marital sex life, why should I bother with celibacy?
This is the point in our story where I give up on chastity and start having all the sex.
Belonging to Someone
Just kidding. I still don’t have any sex. The death of the “saving myself for marriage” narrative doesn’t spell the end of my sexual discipleship. In fact, something like the opposite is true. For the first time in my life, I’ve begun to realize how much of my old motivation for chastity was fundamentally selfish. As teenager and young adult, I had been willing to forego extramarital sex, yes, but only so I could maximize my marital sex. I was willing to deprive myself temporarily, but only so I could gorge myself later on. My purity pledges might have had Jesus’s name written at the top, but in the end they were still about me, about the life I wanted, about the things I deserved.
What if, I begin to ask, chastity is instead meant to be a sign that the story of my life is no longer about me at all? What if my sexual stewardship is about Jesus, about the passion he sparks within me, about the allegiance he deserves?
The best reason I’ve found for chastity—the only one that works on me anymore, as a celibate gay Christian—has nothing to do with my present sex life (nonexistent) or my future sex life (probably also nonexistent). It’s the reason Paul gives his readers in Corinth to flee from sexual immorality, and it applies equally to the married and the unmarried, to the not-yet-married and the permanently single:
Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. (1 Corinthians 6:19–20)
The value of our bodies—the reason we’re called to steward those bodies in chastity before God—is rooted in the Holy Spirit’s indwelling of us. Our sexed embodiment doesn’t accrue worth because we’re married or because we might get married someday. We’re not meant to “save ourselves” for the moment we finally belong to someone, so that our bodies can finally matter. Our bodies already matter; we already belong to someone.
When I choose to live without sex as a single person, I’m not saving my body for later. I’m spending it in exactly the way it was meant to be spent. I’m investing it, moment by moment, as a living monument to the divine lover who owns me absolutely.
It’s not sex. Not even close. It’s so much mind-blowingly better.
Cover image by Dan Burton.