By Tom Quiner
The Tampa Bay Times has won ten Pulitzer Prizes.
This venerable paper ran a piece by a staff writer titled, “Why I’m still a virgin at 26.”
Of course you are. In these topsy turvy times, a single woman who publicly acknowledges her virginity in her twenties is more than an anomaly, she is a statistical fluke. Even more, she sets herself up for scorn by those who have turned their back on the virtue of chastity.
Chastity doesn’t have many supporters these days. One shining exception is a young lady by the name of Arleen Spenceley, the staff writer for the Tampa Bay Times mentioned above.
I encountered Ms. Spenceley’s essay thanks to Twitter. Not only is she a devout Catholic, she is comfortable publicly proclaiming her faith in a culture that is hostile to Catholicism.
She has authored her first book with the compelling title, “Chastity is for Lovers,” which will be published by Ave Maria Press later this year. Quiner’s Diner had the honor of interviewing her about her upcoming book and her very public discussions on the virtue of chastity.
Here is background she provided:
“Arleen Spenceley is a Catholic blogger and author of Chastity is For Lovers: Single, Happy, and (Still) a Virgin, to be released by Ave Maria Press in Dec. 2014. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in rehab and mental health counseling, both from the University of South Florida. She lives in the Tampa Bay Area, is a staff writer for the Tampa Bay Times, and blogs at arleenspenceley.com. Follow her on Twitter @ArleenSpenceley and click here to follow her work on Facebook.”
[Before you go further, be sure to start following her on Twitter. Then go bookmark her blog.]
It’s normal, in other words, for somebody my age to have had sex. But I’m 28 now, and a virgin by choice, and so one day, when I first started talking to Ave Maria Press about a book, I sat on the phone with an editor to discuss that. By then, I’d written about my virginity twice for the Tampa Bay Times.
During that call, the editor and I marveled at the absurdity of what I’d written, at how unusual it is for an adult to be a virgin in our culture, let alone to be willing to discuss it. And it was during that call that I asked the question that turned into the catalyst for Chastity is For Lovers: “What do I know that makes me ok with that?”
I wanted to pinpoint what I had learned about love and chastity and sex that perhaps my peers hadn’t, to identify what the heck it is that I know that allows me to be comfortable being what lots of other people would hate to be (part of only two percent!).
The book answers that question. It answers that question because more important to me than being politically-correct is providing comfort for adults who have felt alone in their commitments to chastity, and hope for adults who haven’t chosen chastity yet, but are finding that the path they’ve picked isn’t working out as planned.
QUINER’S DINER: I read your piece in the Tampa Bay Times, “Why I’m still a virgin at 26.” How hard did the culture push back on you? Did you receive more praise than ridicule? Were you, in fact, ridiculed, whether publicly or privately?
ARLEEN SPENCELEY: “Why I’m still a virgin at age 26” was the second (and more popular) of two sex essays I wrote for the Times.
The first one, which I wrote three years earlier, appeared online a couple days before it printed, and within 30 minutes of its showing up on the web, the phone at my desk started to ring. The essay you read was on the web for about an hour and a half before a web editor had to shut down the comments.
There’s a story behind that, which you’ll have to read in the book, but feedback included and was not limited to “You’re a virgin because I can’t tell if you’re a man or a woman.” Was I ridiculed? Yes. To my face? Never.
A couple secular radio stations discussed my virginity on the air, and one in particular — a rock station — did it with the utmost respect.
The negative feedback rolled in, but it was limited to comments on the web at first, and when comments were shut down, it came in email and voicemails. Most of the negative stuff was “this is not news” (to which I’d respond “Correct, which is why we’ve printed it in the paper’s opinion section.”), and unsolicited advice from readers compelled to tell me why they think chastity is a bad idea.
A lot of readers took my lifestyle as a criticism of theirs, because something in what I’d written struck a nerve. But alternatively, what I had written struck a chord among Christian readers, both Catholic and Protestant.
It also struck a chord among some non-Christians. I got a voicemail, for instance, from a Jewish lady who’d saved sex for marriage, whose daughter was saving sex for marriage, who called simply to say she was proud of the choice we’d all made. That meant a lot to me.
I got emails on and off for two years after I wrote the first sex essay, and I still get emails regarding second one, which I wrote in 2012. Overall, I’ve gotten more positive feedback than negative.
QUINER’S DINER: From your corner of the world, is the Catholic Church doing enough to nurture chastity? If yes, what are they doing right? If no, what do you recommend as a young woman who loves her Church?
ARLEEN SPENCELEY: Catholicism itself provides a plethora of resources for nurturing chastity. We have the Catechism, for instance. What it says about chastity is incredible! Go read it.
We also have Love and Responsibility by St. John Paul II, which will literally change your life.
We have Edward Sri’s Men, Women, and the Mystery of Love which unpacks Love and Responsibility.
We have JP2’s Theology of the Body.
There’s enough here to nurture chastity. But are enough parishes and ministries and people who identify as Catholic and parents who are raising Catholic kids using all these treasures we’ve been given? No.
Our parishes and ministries and parents do something right when they introduce youth to chastity and sex. But our parishes and ministries and parents do something wrong when they let that conversation end with high school.
Chastity is so regarded as a topic “for teens” that when I offer to speak for young adults at churches, I am repeatedly referred instead to youth groups, as if the people to whom I’ve spoken or sent emails see right through my explicit declaration: “My target audience is adults.”
The message we send when we stop discussing chastity because youth group is over is that chastity isn’t relevant anymore. But chastity is always relevant. It’s for single people, and married people, and religious people. We are called to practice it ’til we’re dead. So let’s not stop the conversation.
Adults who are virgins exist, and adults who want to save sex for marriage exist. We have to tell them that’s ok, because they live in a culture that says it isn’t, and we don’t want them to be part of a parish whose silence implies that they are alone in this. We need young adult ministries, and we need young adults who know that the Catechism and Love and Responsibility and Theology of the Body exists.
QUINER’S DINER: Finally, tell us how to get your book.
ARLEEN SPENCELEY: Chastity is For Lovers is available now for pre-order from Ave Maria Press: https://www.avemariapress.com/product/1-59471-480-0/Chastity-Is-for-Lovers/ The book will ship on its on-sale date (Nov. 28) and its official launch date is Dec. 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception.
I’d like to ask Quiner’s Diner readers a favor. Would you spread this post on your social media outlets? Arleen Spenceley has written an important book. Help her and Ave Maria Press spread the word. Let’s make the next feast of the Immaculate Conception really special by promoting a book that honors the virtue of chastity. The Blessed Mother is surely smiling in heaven at Arleen Spenceley’s inspired work in God’s vineyard.