Clothes On, Eyes Open (Review: “The Thrill of the Chaste”)

As I’ve mentioned before, I am a big fan of the theology of the body (TOB). It has changed the way I view past and future relationships and the way I relate to other people in my life, male and female. Most of what I’ve learned about TOB has been from Christopher West or from people who learned what they know from him. I am also a huge fan of Jason Evert, and although Monica Ashour has not published a book (yet!), I got to learn her perspective in person.

One thing that many of these TOB speakers lack is a story of the transition. How does one go from buying into the world’s view of life, sex, and marriage to understanding the meaning of God as it is expressed in our bodies (which is TOB in a nutshell)? Crystalina Evert speaks frankly about her journey in the booklet Pure Womanhood, but she came back to Christ fairly early in life. For Dawn Eden, living Christ’s vision for human sexuality took a while. Although The Thrill of the Chaste: Finding Fulfillment While Keeping Your Clothes On was published back in 2006, its ideas remain fresh and a unique voice in the sea of TOB.

Eden, whose Jewish parents divorced when she was young, spent her first three decades of life with no good reason why she ought to save sex for marriage. Even through a string of non-boyfriends, one-night stands, and returning home alone, she didn’t understand chastity until well after she became a Christian and then a Catholic. As she recounts the stories of her past (in detail that makes this book more appropriate for older readers than the teen/Jason Evert set), she makes it clear that although she didn’t know what, she knew there was probably something better out there. By sharing her journey through the casual sex that never left her fulfilled, she demonstrates how much peace and grace can come from a life of true chastity.

In addition to her personal experiences before and after embracing chastity, Eden shares various conclusions she has drawn about the journey. Concerning the loss of innocence, she declares that it is not having sex that takes away that innocence and simple thrill of hope and possibility. Losing your innocence means learning to detach. If you are not with someone to whom you’ve already pledged your life, you risk a lot of pain, so you build a shell against emotional connections, positive and negative. “The answer [to having to protect yourself behind that shell] is to stop protecting yourself,” she writes, “and the only way to do that is to take yourself out of situations where you have to protect yourself. To truly connect with someone, you must allow yourself to be vulnerable.” Committing to someone in marriage makes you uniquely vulnerable, and ideally, your spouse will share an equal vulnerability with you. Your innocence, then, is never truly lost.

photo by Nick Losacco

Dabbling in other topics such as modesty in dress, spiritual support, and especially relationships with family, Eden presents the ideas behind chaste living in a particularly modern and adult package. If you yourself are struggling to embrace chastity despite an unchaste past, or if you want to help someone you know to see the beauty of living out our sexuality according to God’s plan, give The Thrill of the Chaste a try. I can’t promise you a spouse, but I can promise that God will take your desire to live chastely, bless it, and help you grow in it. He’s our ultimate lover, after all.

Dawn Eden’s second book, My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints, will be published in May. Watch this space for a review.

The Thrill of the Chaste también se puede comprar en español, como La Aventura de la Castidad: Encontrando satisfacción con tu ropa puesta. El título en espanol no tiene lo mismo juego de palabras como el inglés, pero todos los proyectos educativos a los católicos hispanohablantes en los EE.UU son importantes. Comparte el mensaje de la castidad con todo el mundo, sin importar la lengua.

Next time: Style, Sex, and Substance: Ten Catholic Women Consider the Things That Really Matter, featuring Austin’s own Jennifer Fulwiler