Recently, I've had cause to teach my CCD kids about chastity, and it's lead to two insights I'd never had before.
The first derives from the fact that I used to think chastity and abstinence were the same thing, that is white knuckling it until you got married and sex became "legal."
Abstinence and chastity, however, while related, are vastly different, sorta like my cousin who's at best agnostic and is a biology professor in Illinois, whereas I'm a practicing Catholic who writes, edits, publishes, and does sales for a living. Abstinence is, well, abstaining. That can involve white knuckling it if it is not informed or animated by the virtue of chastity. Chastity is a gift. It comes from love, defined as the constant, ceaseless willing of the good for the object of that love. Thus person who loves says, "I will never do anything that isn't for your ultimate good, either in this life or the next. And since sex outside of marriage is not for anyone's good (nor is sex inside of marriage when it is lust wrapped up in shiny giftwrap), I will give you the gift of not doing something that is bad for you. I also love me enough that I will give myself the gift of not doing something bad for me."
This is not to say that sex is bad. It's not. It's awesome. It's beautiful. It's holy. It's powerful. It's bonding. The mystic saints write that sex is the closest thing humans can get on this side of heaven to an ecstatic, mystical union with God. Think it's coincidence that those Bernini statues of St. Teresa of Avila or Bl. Ludovica Albertoni in ecstasy make them seem like they're having orgasms? Think again. Again, sex is amazing.
But sex is a glue, a glue meant only for husbands and wives. It is a language of the body that says I give myself to you completely. I give you a love that is free, faithful, total, and fruitful each and every time, because the second I stop doing that, I introduce division into our marriage, and that is not good. When we're not married and have sex, we're making our bodies say things they cannot really be saying. Because outside of marriage, sex -- that is, our intimate, complete gift of self to another -- cannot be, cannot ever be free, faithful, total, and fruitful. Without anyone of those components, it is a lie (so is contraception, but that's another post).
Chastity, which enables abstinence, says, "If I can't give myself to you in a way that's free, faithful, total, and fruitful, then I will love you (and myself) enough to abstain until I can. And if that time never comes, so be it. Praise God."
So that was the first insight. The second was that pre-marital sex is adultery before the fact. Is the person you're dating right now -- or the persons you dated before you got married -- for sure the person you will eventually marry? I was engaged at age 22. I no longer have any contact with that woman besides the fact that we're "friends" on Facebook. She wasn't the woman I ultimately married. Thus my relations with her were adulterous, because I was making love to someone who was not my wife. Even if I'd become a priest, it would have been so because then, as an alter Christus (another Christ), my bride would have been the Church.
The Church has so much wisdom in leading us away from sin and toward God, but in our pride and unbreakable desire to have absolutely everything our way, we will ourselves into thinking she is all wet behind the ears. And ultimately, we are the ones who are wet, wet with tears because of the regrets that sin invariably brings. When will we learn?