Allegory of chastity by Hans Memling

Chastity refers to the sexual behavior of a man or woman acceptable to the moral standards and guidelines of a culture, civilization, or religion.

In the western world, the term has become closely associated (and is often used interchangeably) with sexual abstinence, especially before marriage.[1] However, the term remains applicable to persons in all states, single or married, clerical or lay, and has implications beyond sexual temperance.



The words "chaste" and "chastity" stem from the Latin adjective castus meaning "pure". The words entered the English language around the middle of the 13th century; at that time they meant slightly different things. "Chaste" meant "virtuous or pure from unlawful sexual intercourse" (referring to extramarital sex),[2][3] while "chastity" meant "virginity".[3][4] It was not until the late 16th century that the two words came to have the same basic meaning as a related adjective and noun.[2][3]

In Abrahamic religions

In Jewish, Christian and Islamic religious beliefs, acts of sexual nature are restricted to the context of marriage. For unmarried persons therefore, chastity is identified with sexual abstinence. Sexual acts outside or apart from marriage, such as adultery, fornication and prostitution, are considered sinful.

In Christianity

In the Christian tradition, chastity is synonymous with sexual purity. Those who are chaste are morally clean in their thoughts, words, and actions. Chastity means not having any sexual relations before marriage. It also means complete fidelity to husband or wife during marriage.

In Catholic morality, chastity is placed opposite the deadly sin of lust, and is classified as one of seven virtues. The moderation of sexual desires is required to be virtuous. Reason, will and desire can harmoniously work together to do what is good.

In the context of marriage, the spouses commit to a lifelong relationship which excludes the possibility of sexual intimacy with other persons. Chastity therefore requires marital fidelity. Within marriage, various Abrahamic religions consider several practices to be considered unchaste, such as: sexual intimacy during or shortly after menstruation or childbirth.(see Leviticus 12:2, 15:24, 20:18)

After marriage, a third form of chastity, often called "vidual chastity", is expected of a woman while she is in mourning for her late husband. For example, Jeremy Taylor defined 5 rules in Holy Living (1650), including abstaining from marrying "so long as she is with child by her former husband" and "within the year of mourning".[5]

The particular ethical system may not prescribe each of these. For example, within the scope of Christian ethic, Roman Catholics view sex within marriage as chaste, but prohibit the use of artificial contraception as an offense against chastity, seeing contraception as unnatural, contrary to God's will and design of human sexuality. Many Anglican communities allow for artificial contraception, seeing the restriction of family size as possibly not contrary to God's will. A stricter view is held by the Shakers, who prohibit marriage (and indeed sexual intercourse under any circumstances) as a violation of chastity.

The Catholic Church, has set up various rules regarding clerical celibacy, while some Protestant communities, such as Lutheran and Anglican traditions, allow clergy to marry or even favour it.

In Christian traditions, celibacy is required of monastics—monks, nuns and friars—even in a rare system of double cloisters, in which husbands could enter the (men's) monastery while their wives entered a (women's) sister monastery. Celibacy among the clergy is a relavtively recent practice: it became Church policy at the Second Lateran Council in 1139. It was not uniformly enforced among the clergy until 200 years later. [6] Certain Latin-Rite Catholic priests may receive a dispensation to be married before ordination, and all Eastern Catholic priests outside the United States are also permitted to be married, provided they are so before ordination.

Vows of chastity can also be taken by laypersons, either as part of an organised religious life (such as Roman Catholic Beguines and Beghards) or on an individual basis, as a voluntary act of devotion and/or as part of an ascetic lifestyle, often devoted to contemplation. The voluntary aspect has led it to being included among the counsels of perfection.

Chastity (the state and practise of sexual abstinence outside of marriage) is a central and pivotal concept in Christian praxis. Chastity's importance in traditional Christian teaching stems from the fact that it is regarded as essential in maintaining and cultivating the unity of body with spirit and thus the integrity of the human being.[7] It is also regarded as fundamental to the practise of the Christian life because it involves an apprenticeship in self-mastery.[8] By attaining mastery over one's passions, reason, will and desire can harmoniously work together to do what is good. Chastity is classified as one of seven virtues.

Eastern religions

Hinduism: Hinduism's view on premarital sex is rooted in its concept of the stages of life. The first of these stages, known as brahmacharya, roughly translates as chastity. Celibacy is considered the appropriate behavior for both male and female students during this stage, which precedes the stage of the married householder. Many Sadhus (Hindu monks) are also celibate as part of their ascetic discipline. In classical Hinduism, sexual intercourse was seen as a sacred act of procreation- within marriage.

Jainism: Although the Digambara followers of Jainism are celibate monks, most Jains belong to the Shvetambara sect, which allows spouses and children. The general Jain code of ethics requires that one do no harm to any living being in thought, action, or word. Adultery is clearly a violation of a moral agreement with one's spouse, and therefore forbidden, and fornication too is seen as a violation of the state of chastity.

Buddhism: The teachings of Buddhism include the noble eightfold path, comprising a division called right action. For laymen this involves abstaining from sexual misconduct, and for monks strict chastity.

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b Chaste at
  3. ^ a b c
  4. ^ Chastity at
  5. ^ Jeremy Taylor (1650). "Chapter II, Section III, Of Chastity". Holy Living. 
  6. ^ Diarmaid MacCulloch, 'Reformation', Penguin Books, 2003, pg 28
  7. ^ Cathechism of the Catholic Church, 1999, Geoffrey Chapman, p.500
  8. ^ ibid p.501

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.


Look at other dictionaries:

  • Chastity — • The virtue which excludes or moderates the indulgence of the sexual appetite Catholic Encyclopedia. Kevin Knight. 2006. Chastity     Chastity      …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • CHASTITY — CHASTITY, avoidance of illicit sexual activity. In the name of holiness, the Bible exhorts against following the abominations of the land of Egypt in which ye have dwelt and of the land of Canaan into which I bring ye (Lev. 18:3). Adultery,… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • Chastity — Chas ti*ty, n. [F. chastet[ e], fr. L. castitas, fr. castus. See {Chaste}.] 1. The state of being chaste; purity of body; freedom from unlawful sexual intercourse. [1913 Webster] She . . . hath preserved her spotless chastity. T. Carew. [1913… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • chastity — (n.) early 13c., chastete, virginity, celibacy, from O.Fr. chastete (12c., Mod.Fr. chasteté), from L. castitatem (nom. castitas) purity, chastity from castus (see CASTE (Cf. caste)) …   Etymology dictionary

  • chastity — index continence Burton s Legal Thesaurus. William C. Burton. 2006 …   Law dictionary

  • chastity — [n] celibacy, purity abstemiousness, abstinence, chasteness, cleanness, continence, decency, demureness, devotion, honor, immaculacy, innocence, integrity, modesty, monogamy, morality, naiveté, restraint, singleness, sinlessness, spotlessness,… …   New thesaurus

  • chastity — ► NOUN ▪ the practice of refraining from sexual intercourse …   English terms dictionary

  • chastity — [chas′tə tē] n. [ME chastite < OFr chastete < L castitas: see CHASTE] the quality or state of being chaste; specif., a) virtuousness b) sexual abstinence; celibacy c) decency or modesty d) simplicity of style …   English World dictionary

  • Chastity — The idea of chastity as a chivalric virtue was added chiefly by the religious orders of knighthood, the Templars and Hospitallers, who took a vow of chastity as a part of their monastic role. Chastity per se was not a part of secular chivalry,… …   Medieval glossary

  • Chastity — noun from the virtue chastity. Since she was saddled with that awful name, Chastity Bono has given her parents much grief over it. It helps to get into a show or something, but most of the time its a pain, she told McCalls. The girl blames mama… …   Wiktionary

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