After a chastity talk I gave to an all-girls high school, one of the senior students shared that her boyfriend told her he has sexual urges that he “needs” satisfied. He said that since he is unable to say no to them, he needs her to do sexual stuff with him to release the build-up of sexual tension in his body. After her new conviction to live the virtue of chastity, she wanted to know what to say to him now. After all, if he “needs” her to do stuff with him, what will saying no to him mean for their relationship?
Firstly, both men and women experience sexual urges. This is not something exclusive to men. However, it is a lie to say that these sexual urges are “needs” that must be met in the same way that we need food, water, shelter and clothing to survive. We would die without these essentials, but we will not die or “explode” if we do not respond to every sexual urge we experience.
When people say they are going to “explode” if they do not respond to every sexual urge only reveals that he, like I used to be, was addicted to sexual climax as a coping mechanism for certain stress triggers and as a counterfeit way to meet my need for love and affection. I am not in any way shaming this young man for feeling this, as I understand his heart perhaps too well from my own experience.
In his book, Love and Responsibility, Karol Wojytla (the future Pope John Paul II) writes about the purpose and meaning of the sexual urge. Contrary to what this young man is suggesting, the sexual urge is not simply a build-up of sexual tension that needs to be released. It is so much more than that. The sexual urge, in fact, points us to our ultimate destiny and is a reminder from God of what we were created for – love and communion.
St John Paul the Great writes in his first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis: ” Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it.”
As he usually does, JPII hits the nail on the head with this one. This young man does not desire regular sexual climaxes. What he really desires is love and communion. The sexual urge is a reminder that we have been made for love and communion. When we fail to see the connection between the sexual urge and our desire for love and communion, we are left empty and frustrated. When I was in this place, what helped me was learning to live the virtue of chastity. This virtue is greatly misunderstood and is often seen as the same thing as abstinence or even virginity. However, this is a shallow view of this liberating and beautiful virtue.
The virtue of chastity makes us free. It sets us free to love and sets us free from lust. Chastity frees us from seeing a person merely as an object of use to satisfy our sexual urges for immediate gratification. Only the chaste person is free to see another as a gift and to love them accordingly.
Paragraph 2339 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church says that “Chastity includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery, which is a training in human freedom.” Without mastery over one’s sexual urges, we become slaves to our passions, following them wherever they lead and whenever they call. The purpose of the sexual urge gets flipped on its head. Rather than being a reminder we were made for love and communion, we become enslaved to its lust which makes us empty and lonely.
Although chastity is demanding, this apprenticeship in self-mastery is truly the path to freedom and human happiness. Only when this young man embraces the call to chastity, will he be free from the need to respond to every sexual urge instantly and use his girlfriend as the means by which to satisfy it. If he really loved her, he would put his desires at the service of his girlfriend and do what is best for her, which is to safeguard her sexuality and preserve her purity. Will this be difficult, absolutely. But real love is worth the wait and the sacrifice. She should be worth the wait and the sacrifice.
So what should this young woman tell her boyfriend? To undertake a serious, lifelong apprenticeship in the virtue of chastity. It is, as the Catechism says, “a long and exacting work,” but it is the only answer to the sexual freedom they both desire. It is this sexual freedom that will open the way for them to experience the love and communion they are so desperately seeking in their relationship. This is something they must pursue wholeheartedly and together. If he refuses to desire and live this virtue, she would be much happier without him. If a relationship is not chaste, it can never be real love.