Dawn Eden, a writer and editor, is a self-described "agnostic Reform Jew" and veteran of the New York City singles jungle who became an evangelical Christian and then a Catholic. In her new book, The Thrill of the Chaste: Finding Fulfillment While Keeping Your Clothes On, she describes her conversion from a "Sex and the City" lifestyle that made her miserable to a realization that saving sex for marriage was a liberating experience. She also encourages unmarried women to think of themselves not as "single" but as "singular"--defined by their relationship to God, not a man.
The myth is that women who don't have sex get sex-starved and feel like jumping on the next man they run into. Do you feel that way?
I used to. When I first started practicing chastity, I felt that I was depriving myself for Jesus, so to speak. I was making this big sacrifice, and God had better darn well appreciate it, because it wasn't easy. And I had to be all buttoned up and uncomfortable around men when I was really attracted to them. What I discovered is, first of all, that is not a recipe for prolonged chastity. You are going to fall off the wagon pretty quickly if you take that attitude.
And second of all, it's not really chastity. It's a word that I learned recently, which I'll use in my next book, called continence. It's simply the equivalent of abstinence, of physically preventing yourself from having sexual activity. But chastity is really from the inside.
So I began to practice that when, instead of concentrating on the fact that I was depriving myself, I concentrated on being open to all the blessings that the people around me had to offer, men and women. For example, you start to go to a social gathering, not thinking, "Oh, I hope I meet that one special guy," but just, "Oh, I'm looking forward to meeting everybody there." When you open up your perspective, you begin to experience the joys of chastity.
Do you feel sexual temptation these days? And what do you do? Say a prayer?
I do find the Miraculous Medal prayer helps a great deal: "O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee." But for those who do not practice the Miraculous Medal prayer, then, what I would advocate is just stepping back, as often as you can, and looking at what you're doing, and what the person you're attracted to is doing. Ask yourself: "Am I setting myself up to let this person use me for sexual pleasure? And am I using this person for my sexual pleasure?"
If you really are in love with a man, and you really want to kiss him, a kiss can, in that context, be a beautiful expression of love. It takes on a different color when, once you're kissing, you get passionate, and you think: "If I touch his neck right here, he is going to get excited, I know he will." Then it takes on the aspect of objectifying the other person. That's not a road that you want to take when you're chaste.
How do you deal with the cultural expectations that if you're trying to be chaste, there's something wrong with you?
Chastity is for rebels. Chastity is not for people who are conformist and meek little turtledoves, who don't want to rock the boat. I have always been a rebel. I have always enjoyed being on the edge and offending people who I thought deserved to be offended. Now, as a Christian, I've had to change. I've had to try to either get rid of or transform that part of me that is a provocateur. But I have to say, even though I still have to undo some of the angry aspects of my rebelliousness, I do find that if people are annoyed by my chastity, part of me just thinks: "Well, kiss my tuchis," as my mother would say.
What do you think about our culture? We've now had 40 years of the sexual revolution. In the 1950s, chastity was kind of the universal norm. Now we have a completely different kind of culture where young people seem to spend their 20s experimenting with each other, and different kinds of sex and arrangements that aren't going to last. Do you think it's possible to change the culture at this point?
As a Christian, I have to believe in hope for salting the culture. We are called to be salt and light. I don't believe that all the sexual revolution [is] going to disappear. But I do believe that hearts can be changed, whether it's one heart [or] a million hearts. We have a duty as Christians to show people that when they take part in what's called the pro-choice culture, the choices that they make to have sex without seeming consequences actually narrow down their choices emotionally and spiritually. With every "yes" that they are saying to casual sex, to contraceptive sex, they are saying "no" to the blessings of sex within a loving, committed, lifetime marriage, where you experience sex in all its fullness, and in all its potential for fertility.