Last month, Lady Gaga made headlines with her statement that it’s “not really cool anymore to have sex all the time.” Can Lady Gaga make chastity cool? This was the question many people were asking.
What is cool about choosing chastity? Lady Gaga proposes that what is cool is “to be strong and independent”, and “having the confidence to stick to your guns”. She continues:
It’s ok to be whomever it is that you want to be. You don’t have to have sex to feel good about yourself, and if you’re not ready, don’t do it.
Lady Gaga is right in many respects. Many of the college students advocating chastity on their campuses continue to be mocked for their commitment to abstinence. It is not uncommon for them to be called “prudes” or to be accused of choosing abstinence only because they “can’t get any”. But in a culture where we are told to “be true to ourselves” and where personal choice is revered, why should choosing abstinence be ridiculed?
Not too long ago, Princeton University hosted a student panel focusing on “Perspectives on Abstinence”. The panel featured Princeton undergraduates who have chosen to be abstinent. One male student said he chose to be abstinent to show a girl that he really cared about her and wanted to have a relationship, as opposed to just wanting to get her into bed. Another student said she is abstinent as a way of finding herself and knowing herself better. Yet another student, David Pederson, the vice-president of our Member Group the Anscombe Society, explained his choice for practicing abstinence as
being rooted in the virtue of chastity, a universally applicable ethic that is essential for understanding how to live well in community, and that is a point of navigation helping one to achieve the goal of self-gift within marriage.
Lady Gaga is right – you don’t need to have sex to feel good about yourself, and these students at Princeton, and many others, make that clear. In fact, very often when people have sex to feel good about themselves, they end up being quite disappointed. While some women claim to feel a sense of power and liberation from sex, and while some men may boast of their sexual exploits, recent studies and books have revealed the common experience of emptiness and disappointment that comes from making this type of behavior habitual. These findings make sense when you consider the nature of sex and what it is actually expressing. While Lady Gaga may not make this connection in her statements on abstinence, our own advocacy of abstinence is largely rooted in an understanding of sex as the beautiful and powerful physical expression of the promise of fidelity and unconditional love that is made in marriage. When the reality of this personal union and commitment is missing, sex is often experienced as lacking in some way.
With this understanding of sex, abstinence can be better understood as choosing to practice fidelity to your spouse prior to marriage. I would propose that this is what makes abstinence “cool”. As Lady Gaga says, it is cool “to be strong and independent”, and to have “the confidence to stick to your guns”. The type of commitment and strength of will and character that a person demonstrates by choosing to be abstinent out of love and fidelity to a future spouse is not sentimental idealism, but is really quite admirable. With the sexual pressures that are rampant today, it takes self-control and self-confidence to make this choice. We admire athletes and musicians for the incredible discipline and training they go through to perfect their talent. Isn’t there something to admire in the discipline, poise, and self-ownership that goes along with choosing to abstain?
Can Lady Gaga make chastity cool? Well, her advocacy for it certainly helps. But what is really cool is not just being strong, independent, and confident, but being this way out of respect for the value of sex and because of a commitment to marital love and fidelity.