His mercy is on them that fear Him


Speaking rightly about the Christian formation of sexual desire requires first speaking about something other than sex. Desires are shaped by our theological and communal practices; to consider sexual desire outside this broader context misconstrues it from the outset. I take this to be the heart of the Augustinian legacy on moral formation: sexual desires are fundamentally about something deeper than or more transcendent than sex itself. Because of this, chastity requires the reorientation or transposition of the fires that animate sexual passion, rather than their extinction. Pace C.S. Lewis, it is not that the pornography addict’s desires for sex are too strong, but that his other desires are too weak—the intense longing for an immediate consummation is only the lowest form of what is meant to be a more radiant and enduring love. Chastity in our youth allows us to enjoy the full flowering of fidelity as we age—which is often a sexless intimacy founded upon years of life together. This form of love is foreign to many of us, children as we are of the divorce generation—but it is deeper and more powerful than the intensity of sexual passion that occupies so much of our attention in youth.