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.
Do you think that that is the worst thing about casual sex? That it shuts it off to the goodness of that experience?
Oh, completely. It jades you. It hardens you. One thing that I found very interesting about the television show Sex and the City is that it's surprisingly honest, in the sense that the characters are all so superficial. And they have this hard shell. Sarah Jessica Parker's character, for all her seemingly openness in her body, and in her willingness to physically let a man in, her face is pinched. And tense. And you can just see the fear, even in those characters' eyes, of really allowing a man inside.
A friend of mine who has two daughters who are in their late 20s, and they are committed to chastity. They're all very good Catholics. And they're having a terrible time finding men. Men will go out with them and then decide that, well, they're not going to have sex with them, there's no point pursuing this relationship. My friend is in despair about her daughters. She feels that they might never get married.
If you're a religious person, if you're a Christian, then you have to believe that God is the matchmaker. Having faith means that you ask God to let you exhibit all the graces that you've been given as a woman. When you do that, not only will you enjoy life more, but you will be attractive in a way that you couldn't have imagined before.
Yes, it is very hard to find men who will wait. But I know for a fact that they are out there. And the more that you despair, the more that you are not trusting God to set you up.
That said, you do have to put yourself in places where you will meet men. Doing the positive things, taking advantage of the opportunities that God sends. But if you're taking advantage of all those opportunities, and you haven't met someone, that simply means that the one person God has chosen for you hasn't come yet.
What do you think about the fact that virginity, which used to be idealized, now seems to be regarded as a burden? It's something that young girls want to get rid of as soon as they can.
I absolutely thought that my virginity was a burden. I thought of it as an albatross around my neck.
I remember when I was about 20 years old, having a makeout session with a man. At this time, I was trying to save my virginity for my true love. I knew that I tended towards depression, [and] I was afraid that if I lost my virginity to someone who wouldn't stay around, it would be shattering to me--which was rather prophetic on my part.
So I remember making out with a man, and telling him, "There's something I should tell you. I'm a virgin." And he said to me, "If you ever want to lose your virginity, don't tell the guy you're a virgin." So I know how our culture treats that.
I think the way to get [it] back, ironically, is not to put so much emphasis on virginity. Virginity has replaced chastity in our culture's language, in the sense that people refer to chastity as secondary virginity. I've actually had very good-natured arguments with fellow Christians about this, because people who teach abstinence in schools rely upon the term secondary virginity. But in my view, the term secondary virginity implies that you can only be chaste if you are a virgin.
So if you're not a virgin, you have to pretend to be one in order to be chaste. Not all of us can be virgins. For some of us, that train has already left the station. But we all can be chaste.
Do guys still ask you out?
(Laughs) Not as often as they used to, because I'm no longer putting out the “I'm available” vibe, like I used to. Guys can tell pretty easily when a woman wants to, you know, put out that she's willing to put out. (Laughs)
But recently I was at a party—really a discussion or salon on the Upper East Side, hosted by a Catholic friend. I met a young Catholic man there, younger than me. We were just chatting. I asked him what was he was reading currently, and he said Men and Marriage, by George Gilder. I said, “Oh, are you engaged?” And he said, “Oh, no, not at all. I just want to get married someday, and I thought I should learn more about it.”
I said to him well, I certainly must be traveling in the right circles now, because in the circles where I used to travel, I would never in a million years meet a man who would admit to reading a book about men and marriage.
I was very careful not to volunteer my card to this young man. Because I, first of all, have this book coming out, and I didn't want [him] to say, “Oh, a chaste girl gave me her card--told me to come up some time and see her.” Also he's a bit younger, so I didn't want to seem like this older woman moving in.
Well, he proceeded to get my email address from this host, and he contacted me. We're now dating, and our first dinner date was on the night that my book came out.
He's just absolutely wonderful. So that was something that actually came about, because I was not putting out that vibe. And yet he knew where I stood, in terms of chastity. He's chaste himself. If you are putting out the vibe that says that you're a woman of substance, that men of substance will seek you out.