I’ve never met her in person, but in a way I feel like I “know” author and journalist Arleen Spenceley after having read her terrific new book Chastity Is for Lovers: Single, Happy, and (Still) a Virgin. In her first outing as an author, Arleen writes with an openness that is truly compelling. Her subject matter is crucial to a beautifully lived faith-life, but can also be challenging to tackle. I hope our readers won’t fall into the trap of thinking that this book is only for singles. As Arleen shares below, chastity is a gift for all of us!
Q: Please briefly introduce yourself to our readers.
I’m a 29-year-old single, happy virgin (my book’s subtitle kids you not). By day, I’m a staff writer for the Tampa Bay Times. Outside the newsroom, I blog and speak at churches (and sometimes, at bars) about love, chastity and sex. I have a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in rehabilitation and mental health counseling, both from the University of South Florida.
Q: What motivated you to write this book? How challenging was it to see your original vision for this work transformed into book format?
Oh, lots of stuff: Adults who are virgins exist, who have felt alone. I want them to know that they aren’t. Adults who aren’t virgins but are saving sex from now on exist, who have wondered if chastity is even possible. I want them to know that it is. Other adults exist who haven’t heard of chastity, or who have dismissed it based on a misconception of it. I want them to know what it actually is. And on top of that, we are all called to practice this virtue, and it requires critical thought about love and sex while living in a culture that doesn’t want to think critically about love and sex. So I want the book to challenge readers to do that.
Before I wrote the book and outside academia, I’d never written anything as long as a single chapter in this book. Which means it was not as difficult to see my vision turn into a book, as it was to be the person to turn it into one. But I’m glad I did it anyway. God used the journey from book proposal to book to remind me of just how faithful He is. Every time I thought I had run out of words, He surprised me with more to say. Every time I thought I couldn’t do it, He had a way of reminding me that I could. It was a growth experience to write it, and I hope it inspires growth experiences in the people who read it, too.
Thank you so much! When I wrote Chastity Is For Lovers, I wasn’t super nervous, even though it goes to a lot of personal places. That’s because I’d already disclosed my virginity in the newspaper, and all over the blog. But the first time I wrote about being a virgin for the Times, I was nervous — I was so nervous that I backed out. Thankfully, I changed my mind, and we printed what I wrote, which wound up in 400,000 driveways on a Sunday morning. You can imagine the feedback from a secular audience when what you’ve written is basically about forgoing sex because of Jesus. The worst was probably the comment from a dude who said “You’re a virgin because I can’t tell if you’re a man or a woman.” But haters gonna hate, and I don’t mind, because it’s usually great fodder for the blog, and a good reminder that what I write about is important.
Q: How have your loved ones and friends reacted to the book?
My Jewish grandmother called as soon as she finished reading it to tell me how much she enjoyed it. So, it’s going well so far. 🙂 It’s actually been super fun to get feedback from family and friends, who’ll text me pictures of pages with all their underlines and highlights, and stuff. I’m excited that they’re excited about this, and I’m also excited that they each seem to get something good out of the book.
Q: This book is not just for singles…. Please say a few words about how ALL of us are called to live chastely.
Far too many people think chastity is solely for single people. It isn’t. Chastity is about arranging our lives in such a way that we don’t misuse sexuality, and that’s something all of us can do, regardless of or our marital statuses. As Catholics, we believe that sex is a sacred physical sign of the vows spouses made to each other on the altar where they were married. So chastity implies different things for different people. Because of what we believe about sex, chastity requires abstinence of single people. But married people who practice chastity have sex for reasons more substantial than “because one of us had an urge,” and they don’t use or abuse each other. And for priests and nuns, chastity implies perpetual celibacy, which frees them up to serve God and the Church, undivided.
Q: What advice would you offer to parents of teens and young adults (along with “buy this book!”)?
Define sex for your kids. How and when naturally will depend on their ages and capacities to understand. But it’s worth noting that if your sex talk starts and ends with “save sex for marriage” but never defines sex, kids will absorb conceptions of sex from other sources — sources that say sex can be solely for fun, for instance. But when a kid puts two and two together, your message — “save sex for marriage” — sounds like “wait until you’re married to have fun,” which, let’s face it, is absurd.
Q: What’s next for you in your writing?
I’m gonna blog, blog, blog while I continue to promote Chastity Is For Lovers, but I do hope to write another book. I have a few ideas-a-brewin’, but nothing is set in stone yet.
Q: Are there any additional thoughts or comments you would like to share with our readers?
A lot of people are curious as to why the heck I’d write a book about chastity that is primarily targeted to adults. The topic so has been relegated to youth groups that a lot of people hear the title and assume that this is for teens. But that’s part of why I wrote the book for adults: it alarms me that even within the Church, adults can disregard a virtue that is actually designed for all of us. I hope Chastity Is For Lovers starts a conversation that never should have stopped among adults.
Copyright 2015 Lisa M. Hendey
Arleen Spenceley – photo used with permission of author