Impact of Positive and Negative Experiences on our Sexual Formation
If we were raised in an environment in which we received positive and wholesome messages regard- ing our sexuality, our bodies, and our male and fe- male relationships, we are indeed very blessed. We are also blessed if during our teenage years, sexual- ity issues were openly discussed and talked about, and if we had mature adults in our lives to help us to negotiate the challenges of growing through our ado- lescent years.
On the other hand, if we grew up in an environment in which there was a “great silence” around sexuality issues, or in which sex was always spoken about with overtones of warning and danger, or if we were told by parents or church teachers that all sexual feelings were wrong and sinful, we would most likely have picked up lots of negative messages about sex and sexuality. Worse still, if the key rela- tionships in our childhood formation were dysfunc- tional or abusive, we are, most likely, deeply wounded in this important area of our lives.
Such woundedness would have made it very difficult for us to feel positive about our bodies and sexuality. It would also have wounded our capacity to enter into healthy relationships with other men and women. Furthermore, if we were raised in a home or church environment in which we were told that all sexual thoughts and feelings were sinful and that the worst sins were the sins against the sixth and ninth commandments, our capacity to relate to a loving God would also have been negatively impacted. As a result of negative experiences and messages in childhood, many of us may have grown into adult- hood with a certain amount of confusion, guilt, shame and awkwardness in the area of our sexuality.
Pause: How would you rate the formation you received at home and at church on sexuality issues? How could it have been more helpful? When it comes to relationships, what are some things men can learn from women, and vice versa?
Women: What is one thing you would want men to re- member when relating to women?
Men: What is one thing you would want women to remem- ber when relating to men?
Part Two: CHASTITY
The Catechism (2337) defines chastity as “the suc- cessful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiri- tual being.” The virtue of chastity helps us to inte- grate our sexuality with our whole being—body, mind and spirit. It helps us to celebrate and appreci- ate our God-given gift of sexuality and to relate to other men and women in a caring and respectful way, and helps us to avoid all forms of manipulative and exploitative relationships.
Developing a Pure Heart (C 2517-2527, USC p. 441)
The Catechism’s teaching on the ninth command- ment looks at how we can develop a heart that will help us to be chaste and pure in our relationships with others and self. The sixth beatitude says: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Mt. 5:8). According to the Catechism, the “pure in heart” are those who have attuned their in- tellect and will to the demands of God’s holiness in three areas: charity, chastity and the love of truth and orthodoxy of faith (C 2518).
The heart is the scriptural term for the very center of the soul, as the physical heart is the center and life- blood of the body. “The heart is the seat of moral personality” (C 2517). Out of the heart flows evil thoughts such as murder, adultery and fornication, as well as noble thoughts such as charity, mercy, jus- tice and purity (Mt 15:9).
Obstacles and Helpful Ways to Living a Chaste Life
Dr. William Kraft, Ph.D., who has degrees in Spirit- uality and Psychology, outlines in his book Whole and Holy Sexuality, healthy and unhealthy ways to deal with sexual thoughts and feelings. Three of the unhealthy ways mentioned by Kraft are:
Repression. Through this negative defense mecha- nism, a person seeks to deny and/or repress sexual thoughts and feelings.
Insulation and isolation. Some people cope with sexual feelings and the fear of genital involvement by withdrawing into themselves, by becoming very detached and emotionally uninvolved, and by living “from the neck up.”
Acting out. The other extreme to the above disor- ders is a promiscuous lifestyle whereby a person becomes involved periodically or regularly in “one-