Heather Gallagher is a single, pretty 25-year-old. She also happens to be a chastity educator. And when she meets guys, the conversation usually goes like this: "I'm a chastity educator," she says. "And the guys are like...'hmmm...OK...anyway...'"

Gallagher's reaction? She laughs and says: "I love having this job."

Did you wait until marriage to have sex?
Yes, and I'm glad I did.
No, and I'm glad I didn't.
No, but I wish I had.
Yes, but I wish I hadn't.
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The tall, thin brunette with a quick, big smile that highlights apple cheeks is an employee of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis. And she's the only full-time Catholic chastity educator in America. The archdiocese created the job recently to help the church deliver an old message in a new way: Don't have sex until you get married.

"We are revolutionary!" Gallagher yelled as she stood on a chair in front of 30 young volunteers who will take the message to their high schools and college campuses. "Think about it," Gallagher told the group. "We are the counterculture now. We're completely opposite of the media."

"To want anything other than what's immediate is out of whack with our culture. To want what's best for the other is out of whack with our culture." Gallagher explained. "Chastity simply means we respect sex so much...we keep it where it's supposed to be, and that's in marriage," she said. "We understand it; it's not about repression or pretending it's not there," she added.

Paul Masek, who runs the archdiocese's youth retreat ministry office and who hired Gallagher, said the archdiocese has gotten enormous response from its new approach to the chastity message. "We've really seen a great need," he said.

Census figures demonstrate that need. The 2000 census shows the number of traditional nuclear families-two married people with children-dipped below one quarter of American households for the first time ever. Meanwhile, the percentage of adults who live as couples without marrying rose from 3% in 1990 to 5% in 2000.

Organizations promoting chastity believe that talking about the issue in plain language helps. They point to a study published in January in the American Journal of Sociology that looked at virginity pledges. The authors found that "Adolescents who pledge...are much less likely than adolescents who do not pledge to have intercourse." Though not foolproof, on average, pledgers delayed becoming sexually active by two to three years.

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