What Is Chastity?

The Oxford Dictionary describes "chaste" as abstinence from extramarital (or all) sexual
intercourse or pure, virtuous, or decent speech and behavior. That's a good start.

The church teaches that chastity is one of the twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit, that is, one of the
twelve perfections formed in us as the first fruits of eternal glory (Catechism of the Catholic
Church 1832).

Chastity is more fully discussed in the Catechism from 2331 through 2400, below. It is well
worth reading. To faithful Catholics, it would be worth reading and asking what in these words
applies to you. To non-Catholics, it would be worth reading and asking how your views differ
and why.

From the Catechism...




You shall not commit adultery.[112]
You have heard that it was said, "You shall not commit adultery."
But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed
adultery with her in his heart.[113]

2331 "God is love and in himself he lives a mystery of personal loving communion. Creating the
human race in his own image . . .. God inscribed in the humanity of man and woman the
vocation, and thus the capacity and responsibility, of love and communion."[114]
"God created man in his own image . . . male and female he created them";[115] He blessed
them and said, "Be fruitful and multiply";[116] "When God created man, he made him in the
likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man
when they were created."[117]
2332 Sexuality affects all aspects of the human person in the unity of his body and soul. It
especially concerns affectivity, the capacity to love and to procreate, and in a more general way
the aptitude for forming bonds of communion with others.
2333 Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity. Physical,
moral, and spiritual difference and complementarity are oriented toward the goods of marriage
and the flourishing of family life. The harmony of the couple and of society depends in part on
the way in which the complementarity, needs, and mutual support between the sexes are lived
2334 "In creating men 'male and female,' God gives man and woman an equal personal
dignity."[118] "Man is a person, man and woman equally so, since both were created in the
image and likeness of the personal God."[119]
2335 Each of the two sexes is an image of the power and tenderness of God, with equal dignity
though in a different way. The union of man and woman in marriage is a way of imitating in the
flesh the Creator's generosity and fecundity: "Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother
and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh."[120] All human generations proceed from
this union.[121]
2336 Jesus came to restore creation to the purity of its origins. In the Sermon on the Mount, he
interprets God's plan strictly: "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.'
But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery
with her in his heart."[122] What God has joined together, let not man put asunder.[123]
The tradition of the Church has understood the sixth commandment as encompassing the
whole of human sexuality.

2337 Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the
inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being. Sexuality, in which man's belonging to the
bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is
integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift
of a man and a woman.
The virtue of chastity therefore involves the integrity of the person and the integrality of the gift.

The integrity of the person
2338 The chaste person maintains the integrity of the powers of life and love placed in him. This
integrity ensures the unity of the person; it is opposed to any behavior that would impair it. It
tolerates neither a double life nor duplicity in speech.[124]
2339 Chastity includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom.
The alternative is clear: either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be
dominated by them and becomes unhappy.[125] "Man's dignity therefore requires him to act out
of conscious and free choice, as moved and drawn in a personal way from within, and not by
blind impulses in himself or by mere external constraint. Man gains such dignity when, ridding
himself of all slavery to the passions, he presses forward to his goal by freely choosing what is
good and, by his diligence and skill, effectively secures for himself the means suited to this
2340 Whoever wants to remain faithful to his baptismal promises and resist temptations will
want to adopt the means for doing so: self-knowledge, practice of an ascesis adapted to the
situations that confront him, obedience to God's commandments, exercise of the moral virtues,
and fidelity to prayer. "Indeed it is through chastity that we are gathered together and led back
to the unity from which we were fragmented into multiplicity."[127]
2341 The virtue of chastity comes under the cardinal virtue of temperance, which seeks to
permeate the passions and appetites of the senses with reason.
2342 Self-mastery is a long and exacting work. One can never consider it acquired once and for
all. It presupposes renewed effort at all stages of life.[128] The effort required can be more
intense in certain periods, such as when the personality is being formed during childhood and
2343 Chastity has laws of growth which progress through stages marked by imperfection and
too often by sin. "Man . . . day by day builds himself up through his many free decisions; and
so he knows, loves, and accomplishes moral good by stages of growth."[129]
2344 Chastity represents an eminently personal task; it also involves a cultural effort, for there
is "an interdependence between personal betterment and the improvement of society."[130]
Chastity presupposes respect for the rights of the person, in particular the right to receive
information and an education that respect the moral and spiritual dimensions of human life.
2345 Chastity is a moral virtue. It is also a gift from God, a grace, a fruit of spiritual effort.[131]
The Holy Spirit enables one whom the water of Baptism has regenerated to imitate the purity of

The integrality of the gift of self
2346 Charity is the form of all the virtues. Under its influence, chastity appears as a school of
the gift of the person. Self-mastery is ordered to the gift of self. Chastity leads him who
practices it to become a witness to his neighbor of God's fidelity and loving kindness.
2347 The virtue of chastity blossoms in friendship. It shows the disciple how to follow and
imitate him who has chosen us as his friends,[133] who has given himself totally to us and
allows us to participate in his divine estate. Chastity is a promise of immortality.
Chastity is expressed notably in friendship with one's neighbor. Whether it develops between
persons of the same or opposite sex, friendship represents a great good for all. It leads to
spiritual communion.

The various forms of chastity
2348 All the baptized are called to chastity. The Christian has "put on Christ,"[134] the model
for all chastity. All Christ's faithful are called to lead a chaste life in keeping with their particular
states of life. At the moment of his Baptism, the Christian is pledged to lead his affective life in
2349 "People should cultivate [chastity] in the way that is suited to their state of life. Some
profess virginity or consecrated celibacy which enables them to give themselves to God alone
with an undivided heart in a remarkable manner. Others live in the way prescribed for all by the
moral law, whether they are married or single."[135] Married people are called to live conjugal
chastity; others practice chastity in continence: There are three forms of the virtue of chastity:
the first is that of spouses, the second that of widows, and the third that of virgins. We do not
praise any one of them to the exclusion of the others.... This is what makes for the richness of
the discipline of the Church.[136]
2350 Those who are engaged to marry are called to live chastity in continence. They should see
in this time of testing a discovery of mutual respect, an apprenticeship in fidelity, and the hope
of receiving one another from God. They should reserve for marriage the expressions of affection
that belong to married love. They will help each other grow in chastity.

Offenses against chastity
2351 Lust is disordered desire for or inordinate enjoyment of sexual pleasure. Sexual pleasure
is morally disordered when sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes.
2352 By masturbation is to be understood the deliberate stimulation of the genital organs in
order to derive sexual pleasure. "Both the Magisterium of the Church, in the course of a
constant tradition, and the moral sense of the faithful have been in no doubt and have firmly
maintained that masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action."[137] "The
deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially
contrary to its purpose." For here sexual pleasure is sought outside of "the sexual relationship
which is demanded by the moral order and in which the total meaning of mutual self-giving and
human procreation in the context of true love is achieved."[138]
To form an equitable judgment about the subjects' moral responsibility and to guide pastoral
action, one must take into account the affective immaturity, force of acquired habit, conditions
of anxiety, or other psychological or social factors that lessen or even extenuate moral
2353 Fornication is carnal union between an unmarried man and an unmarried woman. It is
gravely contrary to the dignity of persons and of human sexuality which is naturally ordered to
the good of spouses and the generation and education of children. Moreover, it is a grave
scandal when there is corruption of the young.
2354 Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the
partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties. It offends against chastity
because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other. It does grave
injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an
object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion
of a fantasy world. It is a grave offense. Civil authorities should prevent the production and
distribution of pornographic materials.
2355 Prostitution does injury to the dignity of the person who engages in it, reducing the person
to an instrument of sexual pleasure. The one who pays sins gravely against himself: he violates
the chastity to which his Baptism pledged him and defiles his body, the temple of the Holy
Spirit.[139] Prostitution is a social scourge. It usually involves women, but also men, children,
and adolescents (The latter two cases involve the added sin of scandal.). While it is always
gravely sinful to engage in prostitution, the imputability of the offense can be attenuated by
destitution, blackmail, or social pressure.
2356 Rape is the forcible violation of the sexual intimacy of another person. It does injury to
justice and charity. Rape deeply wounds the respect, freedom, and physical and moral integrity
to which every person has a right. It causes grave damage that can mark the victim for life. It is
always an intrinsically evil act. Graver still is the rape of children committed by parents (incest)
or those responsible for the education of the children entrusted to them.

Chastity and homosexuality
2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an
exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great
variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis
remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual
acts as acts of grave depravity,[140] tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are
intrinsically disordered."[141] They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to
the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under
no circumstances can they be approved.
2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not
negligible. They do not choose their homosexual condition; for most of them it is a trial. They
must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination
in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and,
if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may
encounter from their condition.
2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them
inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental
grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.

2360 Sexuality is ordered to the conjugal love of man and woman. In marriage the physical
intimacy of the spouses becomes a sign and pledge of spiritual communion. Marriage bonds
between baptized persons are sanctified by the sacrament.
2361 "Sexuality, by means of which man and woman give themselves to one another through
the acts which are proper and exclusive to spouses, is not something simply biological, but
concerns the innermost being of the human person as such. It is realized in a truly human way
only if it is an integral part of the love by which a man and woman commit themselves totally to
one another until death."[142]
Tobias got out of bed and said to Sarah, "Sister, get up, and let us pray and implore our Lord
that he grant us mercy and safety." So she got up, and they began to pray and implore that
they might be kept safe. Tobias began by saying, "Blessed are you, O God of our fathers....
You made Adam, and for him you made his wife Eve as a helper and support. From the two of
them the race of mankind has sprung. You said, 'It is not good that the man should be alone;
let us make a helper for him like himself.' I now am taking this kinswoman of mine, not because
of lust, but with sincerity. Grant that she and I may find mercy and that we may grow old
together." And they both said, "Amen, Amen." Then they went to sleep for the night.[143]
2362 "The acts in marriage by which the intimate and chaste union of the spouses takes place
are noble and honorable; the truly human performance of these acts fosters the self-giving they
signify and enriches the spouses in joy and gratitude."[144] Sexuality is a source of joy and
The Creator himself . . . established that in the [generative] function, spouses should
experience pleasure and enjoyment of body and spirit. Therefore, the spouses do nothing evil in
seeking this pleasure and enjoyment. They accept what the Creator has intended for them. At
the same time, spouses should know how to keep themselves within the limits of just
2363 The spouses' union achieves the twofold end of marriage: the good of the spouses
themselves and the transmission of life. These two meanings or values of marriage cannot be
separated without altering the couple's spiritual life and compromising the goods of marriage
and the future of the family.
The conjugal love of man and woman thus stands under the twofold obligation of fidelity and

Conjugal fidelity
2364 The married couple forms "the intimate partnership of life and love established by the
Creator and governed by his laws; it is rooted in the conjugal covenant, that is, in their
irrevocable personal consent."[146] Both give themselves definitively and totally to one another.
They are no longer two; from now on they form one flesh. The covenant they freely contracted
imposes on the spouses the obligation to preserve it as unique and indissoluble.[147] "What
therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder."[148]
2365 Fidelity expresses constancy in keeping one's given word. God is faithful. The Sacrament
of Matrimony enables man and woman to enter into Christ's fidelity for his Church. Through
conjugal chastity, they bear witness to this mystery before the world.
St. John Chrysostom suggests that young husbands should say to their wives: I have taken you
in my arms, and I love you, and I prefer you to my life itself. For the present life is nothing, and
my most ardent dream is to spend it with you in such a way that we may be assured of not
being separated in the life reserved for us.... I place your love above all things, and nothing
would be more bitter or painful to me than to be of a different mind than you.[149]

The fecundity of marriage
2366 Fecundity is a gift, an end of marriage, for conjugal love naturally tends to be fruitful. A
child does not come from outside as something added on to the mutual love of the spouses, but
springs from the very heart of that mutual giving, as its fruit and fulfillment. So the Church, which
"is on the side of life"[150] teaches that "each and every marriage act must remain open 'per se'
to the transmission of life."[151] "This particular doctrine, expounded on numerous occasions
by the Magisterium, is based on the inseparable connection, established by God, which man
on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative
significance which are both inherent to the marriage act."[152]
2367 Called to give life, spouses share in the creative power and fatherhood of God.[153]
"Married couples should regard it as their proper mission to transmit human life and to educate
their children; they should realize that they are thereby cooperating with the love of God the
Creator and are, in a certain sense, its interpreters. They will fulfill this duty with a sense of
human and Christian responsibility."[154]
2368 A particular aspect of this responsibility concerns the regulation of procreation. For just
reasons, spouses may wish to space the births of their children. It is their duty to make certain
that their desire is not motivated by selfishness but is in conformity with the generosity
appropriate to responsible parenthood. Moreover, they should conform their behavior to the
objective criteria of morality:
When it is a question of harmonizing married love with the responsible transmission of life, the
morality of the behavior does not depend on sincere intention and evaluation of motives alone;
but it must be determined by objective criteria, criteria drawn from the nature of the person and
his acts criteria that respect the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in
the context of true love; this is possible only if the virtue of married chastity is practiced with
sincerity of heart.[155]
2369 "By safeguarding both these essential aspects, the unitive and the procreative, the
conjugal act preserves in its fullness the sense of true mutual love and its orientation toward
man's exalted vocation to parenthood."[156]
2370 Periodic continence, that is, the methods of birth regulation based on self- observation and
the use of infertile periods, is in conformity with the objective criteria of morality.[157] These
methods respect the bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them, and favor the
education of an authentic freedom. In contrast, "every action which, whether in anticipation of
the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences,
proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible" is intrinsically
Thus the innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife is
overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not
giving oneself totally to the other. This leads not only to a positive refusal to be open to life but
also to a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love, which is called upon to give itself in
personal totality.... The difference, both anthropological and moral, between contraception and
recourse to the rhythm of the cycle . . . involves in the final analysis two irreconcilable concepts
of the human person and of human sexuality.[159]
2371 "Let all be convinced that human life and the duty of transmitting it are not limited by the
horizons of this life only: their true evaluation and full significance can be understood only in
reference to man's eternal destiny."[160]
2372 The state has a responsibility for its citizens' well-being. In this capacity it is legitimate for
it to intervene to orient the demography of the population. This can be done by means of
objective and respectful information, but certainly not by authoritarian, coercive measures. The
state may not legitimately usurp the initiative of spouses, who have the primary responsibility
for the procreation and education of their children.[161] It is not authorized to intervene in this
area with means contrary to the moral law.

The gift of a child
2373 Sacred Scripture and the Church's traditional practice see in large families a sign of God's
blessing and the parents' generosity.[162]
2374 Couples who discover that they are sterile suffer greatly. "What will you give me," asks
Abraham of God, "for I continue childless?"[163] And Rachel cries to her husband Jacob, "Give
me children, or I shall die!"[164]
2375 Research aimed at reducing human sterility is to be encouraged, on condition that it is
placed "at the service of the human person, of his inalienable rights, and his true and integral
good according to the design and will of God."[165]
2376 Techniques that entail the dissociation of husband and wife, by the intrusion of a person
other than the couple (donation of sperm or ovum, surrogate uterus), are gravely immoral. These
techniques (heterologous artificial insemination and fertilization) infringe the child's right to be
born of a father and mother known to him and bound to each other by marriage. They betray the
spouses' "right to become a father and a mother only through each other."[166]
2377 Techniques involving only the married couple (homologous artificial insemination and
fertilization) are perhaps less reprehensible, yet remain morally unacceptable. They dissociate
the sexual act from the procreative act. The act which brings the child into existence is no
longer an act by which two persons give themselves to one another, but one that "entrusts the
life and identity of the embryo into the power of doctors and biologists and establishes the
domination of technology over the origin and destiny of the human person. Such a relationship
of domination is in itself contrary to the dignity and equality that must be common to parents
and children."[167] "Under the moral aspect procreation is deprived of its proper perfection when
it is not willed as the fruit of the conjugal act, that is to say, of the specific act of the spouses'
union .... Only respect for the link between the meanings of the conjugal act and respect for the
unity of the human being make possible procreation in conformity with the dignity of the
2378 A child is not something owed to one, but is a gift. The "supreme gift of marriage" is a
human person. A child may not be considered a piece of property, an idea to which an alleged
"right to a child" would lead. In this area, only the child possesses genuine rights: the right "to
be the fruit of the specific act of the conjugal love of his parents," and "the right to be respected
as a person from the moment of his conception."[169]
2379 The Gospel shows that physical sterility is not an absolute evil. Spouses who still suffer
from infertility after exhausting legitimate medical procedures should unite themselves with the
Lord's Cross, the source of all spiritual fecundity. They can give expression to their generosity
by adopting abandoned children or performing demanding services for others.


2380 Adultery refers to marital infidelity. When two partners, of whom at least one is married to
another party, have sexual relations - even transient ones - they commit adultery. Christ
condemns even adultery of mere desire.[170] The sixth commandment and the New Testament
forbid adultery absolutely.[171] The prophets denounce the gravity of adultery; they see it as an
image of the sin of idolatry.[172]
2381 Adultery is an injustice. He who commits adultery fails in his commitment. He does injury
to the sign of the covenant which the marriage bond is, transgresses the rights of the other
spouse, and undermines the institution of marriage by breaking the contract on which it is
based. He compromises the good of human generation and the welfare of children who need
their parents' stable union.
2382 The Lord Jesus insisted on the original intention of the Creator who willed that marriage be
indissoluble.[173] He abrogates the accommodations that had slipped into the old Law.[174]
Between the baptized, "a ratified and consummated marriage cannot be dissolved by any
human power or for any reason other than death."[175]
2383 The separation of spouses while maintaining the marriage bond can be legitimate in
certain cases provided for by canon law.[176]
If civil divorce remains the only possible way of ensuring certain legal rights, the care of the
children, or the protection of inheritance, it can be tolerated and does not constitute a moral
2384 Divorce is a grave offense against the natural law. It claims to break the contract, to which
the spouses freely consented, to live with each other till death. Divorce does injury to the
covenant of salvation, of which sacramental marriage is the sign. Contracting a new union, even
if it is recognized by civil law, adds to the gravity of the rupture: the remarried spouse is then in
a situation of public and permanent adultery:
If a husband, separated from his wife, approaches another woman, he is an adulterer because
he makes that woman commit adultery, and the woman who lives with him is an adulteress,
because she has drawn another's husband to herself.[177]
2385 Divorce is immoral also because it introduces disorder into the family and into society.
This disorder brings grave harm to the deserted spouse, to children traumatized by the
separation of their parents and often torn between them, and because of its contagious effect
which makes it truly a plague on society.
2386 It can happen that one of the spouses is the innocent victim of a divorce decreed by civil
law; this spouse therefore has not contravened the moral law. There is a considerable difference
between a spouse who has sincerely tried to be faithful to the sacrament of marriage and is
unjustly abandoned, and one who through his own grave fault destroys a canonically valid

Other offenses against the dignity of marriage
2387 The predicament of a man who, desiring to convert to the Gospel, is obliged to repudiate
one or more wives with whom he has shared years of conjugal life, is understandable. However
polygamy is not in accord with the moral law." [Conjugal] communion is radically contradicted
by polygamy; this, in fact, directly negates the plan of God which was revealed from the
beginning, because it is contrary to the equal personal dignity of men and women who in
matrimony give themselves with a love that is total and therefore unique and exclusive."[179]
The Christian who has previously lived in polygamy has a grave duty in justice to honor the
obligations contracted in regard to his former wives and his children.
2388 Incest designates intimate relations between relatives or in-laws within a degree that
prohibits marriage between them.[180] St. Paul stigmatizes this especially grave offense: "It is
actually reported that there is immorality among you . . . for a man is living with his father's
wife.... In the name of the Lord Jesus ... you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction
of the flesh...."[181] Incest corrupts family relationships and marks a regression toward
2389 Connected to incest is any sexual abuse perpetrated by adults on children or adolescents
entrusted to their care. The offense is compounded by the scandalous harm done to the
physical and moral integrity of the young, who will remain scarred by it all their lives; and the
violation of responsibility for their upbringing.
2390 In a so-called free union, a man and a woman refuse to give juridical and public form to a
liaison involving sexual intimacy.
The expression "free union" is fallacious: what can "union" mean when the partners make no
commitment to one another, each exhibiting a lack of trust in the other, in himself, or in the
The expression covers a number of different situations: concubinage, rejection of marriage as
such, or inability to make long-term commitments.[182] All these situations offend against the
dignity of marriage; they destroy the very idea of the family; they weaken the sense of fidelity.
They are contrary to the moral law. The sexual act must take place exclusively within marriage.
Outside of marriage it always constitutes a grave sin and excludes one from sacramental
2391 Some today claim a "right to a trial marriage" where there is an intention of getting married
later. However firm the purpose of those who engage in premature sexual relations may be, "the
fact is that such liaisons can scarcely ensure mutual sincerity and fidelity in a relationship
between a man and a woman, nor, especially, can they protect it from inconstancy of desires or
whim."[183] Carnal union is morally legitimate only when a definitive community of life between
a man and woman has been established. Human love does not tolerate "trial marriages." It
demands a total and definitive gift of persons to one another.[184]

2392 "Love is the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being" (FC 11).
2393 By creating the human being man and woman, God gives personal dignity equally to the
one and the other. Each of them, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual
2394 Christ is the model of chastity. Every baptized person is called to lead a chaste life, each
according to his particular state of life.
2395 Chastity means the integration of sexuality within the person. It includes an
apprenticeship in self-mastery.
2396 Among the sins gravely contrary to chastity are masturbation, fornication, pornography,
and homosexual practices.
2397 The covenant which spouses have freely entered into entails faithful love. It imposes on
them the obligation to keep their marriage indissoluble.
2398 Fecundity is a good, a gift and an end of marriage. By giving life, spouses participate in
God's fatherhood.
2399 The regulation of births represents one of the aspects of responsible fatherhood and
motherhood. Legitimate intentions on the part of the spouses do not justify recourse to morally
unacceptable means (for example, direct sterilization or contraception).
2400 Adultery, divorce, polygamy, and free union are grave offenses against the dignity of

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