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“Ask a Priest: What If My Friends Are Having Sex and I Feel Inexperienced?”
Q: I am 18 and attend a Catholic high school and have a boyfriend whom I have been dating for almost a year. I would say that I am pretty religious, but am struggling with my purity and keeping my virginity. Occasionally when I am with my boyfriend, things will go too far. Lately I’ve have debated whether or not I am ready for sex. I know that this is something I shouldn’t do, but I feel extremely influenced by the social group I am in. I like to have fun and go to parties, but I am also in the church more than many of those people. Also, three out of five of my closest friends have either had sex before or do it regularly, and they talk about it in front of me and to me, which makes me feel inexperienced or out of the norm. I also worry about how this conflict I feel will be in college next year. I understand that attending a Catholic high school somewhat puts me in a bubble, and everyone next year will have far different morals. Lastly, how can my boyfriend and I practice purity? –L.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: It is good that you have purity as an ideal and that you trying to be true to yourself and God. Purity is a virtue commensurate with your dignity as a young Catholic woman. The capacity for intimacy with another person is one of God’s special gifts to mankind. It is a gift you want to protect joyfully.
That you are struggling is natural, especially in this culture which doesn’t do much to hold up purity as an ideal. Above all, you want to see purity as a positive good that you can achieve with work and the grace of God. He calls you to holiness, so holiness is achievable with his help.
Perhaps a few points are worth considering.
First, you and your friend want to see that guarding your purity is an expression of true concern for each other, not to mention a good preparation for marriage. No matter whom you might marry someday, the guarding of purity is your way of saving a gift for a future spouse. That in turn can lead to a stronger marriage and a happier family life.
Second, the notion of being “ready for sex” can be misleading. The intended use of sex is within the sacred bonds of marriage. What you want to focus on is how to prepare for marriage. One way, and this comes back to the first point, is to practice chastity. When someone is ready for sex, she is really ready for marriage — a lifelong commitment blessed by God.
Third, you and your friend need to set up parameters for yourself. If need be, it would help for the both of you to go to confession, and then start over, committed to helping each other grow in virtue. It might help to speak honestly with your friend and to set up boundaries, such as not being alone after a certain hour, not being alone in an empty house, no immodest dress, etc. A simple criterion to follow: Don’t do anything with him that you wouldn’t do if your family were in the same room. Anything more intense than that can easily lead to seriously sinful acts.
Fourth, you might consider getting new friends. Friends who give you bad example and/or encourage you to forgo chastity are not really friends. Real friends help to bring the best out in you. One way to find better friends is to get involved in volunteer projects; that puts you in contact with people who think about others, who spend their time helping others.
Fifth, you might consider a strategy for when you get to college. The choices you make in your first days might set the tone for all four years. When you hit campus, try to get involved with the Catholic center. Find people who go to Mass and who don’t spend their weekends and nights partying. Look for ways to make time for prayer and, of course, staying close to the sacrament of confession.
As short-term practical steps, you and your friend could browse the Chastity Project site. Perhaps you might look at books such as Christian Courtship in An Oversexed World: Revised Edition, by Father Thomas Morrow.
Helpful, too, could be this video with Leah Darrow, a former America’s Next Top Model participant, who discusses her own experience and regret for losing her virginity in high school.
In the meantime keep making time for prayer each day. Stay close to the sacraments. And cultivate your devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. With her help and the help of prayer and the sacraments, purity is possible.