Learning Chastity and Self-Mastery

NOTE: This article features some sensitive topics that may not be suitable for younger readers. Please use discretion.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines addiction as the following: “Addiction is a treatable, chronic medical disease involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and an individual’s life experiences. People with addiction use substances or engage in behaviors that become compulsive and often continue despite harmful consequences.”

Virtually everybody has either dealt with some form of addiction personally or has been affected by the addiction of somebody in their life. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the top three most common addictions among people in the US revolve around substances: alcohol addiction (10% of Americans), nicotine addiction (8.5%), and marijuana addiction (5%).

But, contrary to what many might expect, the fourth and fifth most common addictions in the United States don’t revolve around substances, but rather behaviors: pornography (3-6%) and gambling (1%). Tens of millions of people are not only being exposed to pornography but have become addicted to it.

On a recent episode of The Inner Life, Josh Raymond welcomed Fr. Eric Nielsen onto the show to talk about the epidemic of pornography and impurity, and why the virtue of chastity and self-mastery are so necessary for escaping the slavery to one’s sexual desires.

Similar to the way tobacco companies used to deny that there was any link between smoking and cancer, proponents of pornography use will often deny that porn feeds directly into an addiction. They will say that pornography isn’t harming anybody, that masturbation and sexual promiscuity can be healthy, and that it doesn’t bear any addictive properties. That’s simply not true.

There aren’t sex addicts anonymous support groups all over the country for nothing. Nobody made up the fact that 4.73 million people are trafficked for sexual exploitation every year. Prostitution walks hand-in-hand with the porn industry, exploiting people, especially young women, every day. But while the porn industry will deny these facts, and the high rate of porn consumption will feed this system, there is still hope. It won’t be easy, but there are concrete ways to reclaim the sanctity of humanity’s sexuality.

“We need to be aware of the reality of the sin, the temptation of lust that we can face,” said Josh. “But it’s more important for us to have a proper understanding of human sexuality, of relationships, so that we can enter into those areas in the way that God designed for us, not in the way that’s perpetrated out there in a stripped-down, made up, warped fantasy.”

As Fr. Eric explained, the best way to counter a bad habit, or vice, like pornography or sex addiction is through the formation of good habits, or virtues. And the virtue that informs us on how to oppose the desire to participate in impure acts is chastity. Chastity is a subset of temperance that allows us to correctly integrate our sexuality into our actions so that we might appropriately love another person freely, as opposed to loving someone out of compulsion.

When we allow ourselves to become slaves to addiction to pornography or sex, we have given up control of our sexual desires. We are no longer capable of thinking clearly, making the decision to walk away, or keeping ourselves from following through on something that we know is wrong. That’s where self-mastery comes in.

Self-mastery is the key to living out chastity in a practical, tangible way through daily habits and observable changes to one’s life. As Josh pointed out, you cannot simply make the decision to “be better” and wait for things to improve. While clear intentions and determination are parts of the solution to addiction, the other half is to discipline yourself. That discipline could take many forms, but they all boil down to sacrifice: mortification, cutting out things in your life that trigger impure thoughts or impulses, cutting out friends that lead you to make bad decisions, deciding not to go to certain events or places, etc.

Josh recalled speaking to another priest about how prevalent the sin of pornography is, and the priest replied by saying that it’s nothing short of an epidemic: the use of pornography and masturbation, among other sexual sins, is the most common sin that he heard in the confessional. How does a generation, a nation, a world conquer such a vice?

The good news is that people recognize its harmfulness because they’re bringing it to confession. And if it’s a sin, that means that God doesn’t want us to do it. And if he doesn’t want us to do it, He is going to give us every chance, every ounce of grace that we ask for, and all the assistance that He can to help us overcome that vice. But it’s up to us to be open to His saving grace. Do we truly want to conquer this sin? Do we truly want to be chaste? Do we truly want to be saints?

Tune in to The Inner Life weekdays at 11am CT

John Hanretty serves as a Digital Media Producer for Relevant Radio®. He is a graduate of the Gupta College of Business at the University of Dallas. Besides being passionate about writing, his hobbies include drawing and digital design. You can read more of his daily articles at relevantradio.com and on the Relevant Radio® app.