Chastity Project founder Jason Evert to speak at schools, parishes
An internationally acclaimed Catholic speaker and author will talk to teens and parents at several archdiocesan parishes and schools about the beauty of chastity and ways to cope with the influences of a permissive culture.
Jason Evert, who with his wife, Crystalina, co-founded the Chastity Project, will speak later this month at St. Mary Church in Norfolk and St. Wenceslaus Church in Omaha. The talks are free and open to the public.
“He’s a fantastic, engaging speaker,” said Jeff Krohn, a member of St. Wenceslaus Parish and its Knights of Columbus council, which is sponsoring the event at his parish. “It amazes me how many kids stick around afterwards to talk to him.”
Krohn said Evert appeared at St. Wenceslaus a number of times, including a presentation four years ago that drew nearly 1,000 people.
Evert’s presentations will include “Parenting for Purity” for adults, and “Love or Lust? Why Save Sex for Marriage?” for young people in seventh grade and older.
He also will speak to students during the school day at V.J. and Angela Skutt Catholic High School in Omaha and Mount Michael Benedictine School near Elkhorn Nov. 26, and to seventh- and eighth-graders at St. Wenceslaus School in Omaha Nov. 27.
Evert has spoken on the virtue of chastity to more than 1 million students worldwide, and is author or co-author of numerous books, including “How to Find Your Soulmate Without Losing Your Soul,” “Pure Love” and “Theology of the Body for Teens.”
The Catholic Voice spoke with Evert about the challenges young people face in being chaste, and what parents can do to help.
Q: Given our permissive society and the challenges it presents, especially for the youth as they try to formulate their own sense of the proper role of sex in their lives, how have the pill, pornography, and promiscuity influenced our overall culture?
A lot of things are coming against the kids right there. I mean, you just look at pornography. I mean, when we were growing up, you had to really go out of your way to find that kind of stuff.
You know, go sneak it somewhere or hope your friend’s dad has a collection, and now virtually every kid has a smartphone in his pocket with millions of X-rated bookstores basically two clicks away, and so it takes an exceptional amount of self-mastery on the part of a 14-year-old not to start clicking around there, and unfortunately a lot of the parents are disconnected and not very tech savvy and they don’t know how to put filters on these things. As a result, the kids are really warping their ideas of what human sexuality is supposed to look like.
I met one boy at a high school recently, a Catholic high school, and he said he goes home from school on the weekends, he watches 12 hours of pornography on Saturday, 12 on Sunday, and then he goes back to school, and he said, “I don’t even like it anymore. It’s gross to me, but I don’t know how to function without it.” And imagine that boy now entering into a relationship with an actual woman. I mean, good luck there. You know, that’s just the pornography.
And then, you look at the pill, and essentially what that’s done is taught women, in a sense, that they can have relations with a man as if they were a man, meaning no risk of pregnancy, and as a result, women typically become less choosy when it comes to their partners because they say, “Well, there’s not as much at risk here and I’m not gonna get pregnant.” And then, they do accidentally. Planned Parenthood said most unplanned pregnancy is caused by contraceptive failure, and then they think, “Well, pregnancy’s like a disease and abortion must be the cure.” And so, the mix of all of these things creates a promiscuous culture.
But in the midst of it, there’s good news. I mean, the sexual activity rates for teenagers in America have been going down for 27 years straight. Most high school students are virgins. So in the midst of the mess, there’s still some good news.
Q: How would you say today’s hookup culture is harming our young people, both today and, and in their future marriages and family lives?
Well, I think a lot of young people are told, “Just use protection, and then you’re safe and you’re protected and you’re responsible.” But, what this doesn’t really realize is that sex – the sexual act, is not (just) a biological act. It’s a human act, and even if you don’t get a disease or pregnancy, it doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods because we’re talking about your memories, your soul, your family, your ability to bond. For these poor young people, the girls think, “Well, if I did this with him, then it’ll show how invested I am and then he’s gonna stay in the relationship.” And then, he bails out. I met a girl yesterday at a high school in Wisconsin who said, “I did that with him and then he just got what he wanted and he left.” And then, she was left feeling like garbage thinking, “Okay, well what’s my (problem), am I not skinny enough? Am I not this enough or that enough?”
Then, they start blaming themselves and beating themselves up. I just got an email from a young girl who’s cutting herself. About five minutes ago, I got the email, and they feel all this self-hatred and self-harm. They’re more likely to attempt suicide, to be depressed, and they just don’t need this drama in their lives, and that’s why the church’s teaching on sex is good news. It’s not a litany of regulations and prohibitions. It’s not about avoiding pregnancy and disease. It’s about just speaking the truth in and through our body and that virtue of chastity, as John Paul II said, is actually the sure way to happiness.
Q: How would you say that chastity is different from mere abstinence, and how does it help to form a foundation for healthy and holy marriages and families?
Well, people get these terms confused: celibacy, abstinence, chastity. Celibacy is the state of not being married. Abstinence is the absence of something, in particular, and here, sex. And then, chastity is a fuller notion. It’s not so much what you’re not doing, it’s what you are doing. It’s a virtue that orders the sexual desires so that it realizes, yes, sexual value is a good thing, but the personal value of the person comes first, and so it leads you not to use someone as a means to an end. It involves the way not only you act with someone physically, but your imagination, your speech, the way you dance, the things you look at online.
So it encompasses the whole person with this virtue of purity, which then frees us to love, because if I can’t say no to my sexual desires, my yes really doesn’t mean much at all, if anything, and likewise it frees you to know if you’re being loved. Because if you’re in a relationship with sex before marriage, if you take it out you see the value of the relationship. Sometimes the other person will say, “Well, if you’re not gonna do that with me, then I’m outta here.” So, it shows that they never loved you to begin with; they just loved the pleasure that they were getting at your expense.
And so, the virtue is goodness and, you know, it’s a challenge to practice, but it’s, in my eyes, easier than the alternative. Some people think, “Oh, well chastity is so hard.” But, really? I mean, what is the chaste girl worrying about today, versus what the girl who was not chaste last night is having to worry about? “Am I pregnant? Did I get a disease? Is this guy gonna leave me? Does God not love me anymore?” I mean, to me that is a much heavier burden than just the burden of trusting that the right person is gonna come at the right time.
Q: What are some key things parents can do to help teach their children the proper role of sexuality?
Well, one thing I would say is that they need to be proactive in talking to their kids about this stuff. I mean, don’t think that you can just remain silent and just don’t talk about it. Get over your insecurities. Talk to your kids about chastity and start with age-appropriate stuff when they’re real young. And then gradually, through the building blocks and the birds and the bees, they’re gonna have more serious questions, so get good answers.
Our website, chastity.com, has got tons of resources. If they want to, they can help get their kids some internet safety. There’s a great tool called covenanteyes.com, and if you use the promo code “chastity,” I think they give you a free month of use of Covenant Eyes. That’s an internet filter to block pornographic content and accountability software, so it’ll send you a report of all the websites that everybody’s looking at in your family. So you don’t install it and tell the kids, “Now we’re gonna know what you’re looking at.” Say, “We’re gonna install this on all of our phones and computers, so your little sister can know what websites Dad’s looking at and Dad can know what websites your brother’s looking at. We’re gonna hold each other accountable as a family to the principles of the Gospel.
And so, the key really is that the parents are willing to practice chastity in their own life through the gift of sexuality according to their state in life. Now, it doesn’t mean abstinence necessarily in marriage, but the proper use of that given sexuality, because otherwise, what are we doing? Like, “You kids need to obey the church’s teachings on sex before marriage, but Mom and I can completely disobey the church’s teachings on sexuality inside of marriage.” You know, it’s a virtue. It’s more easily caught than it is taught, and the kids aren’t always gonna obey you, but I think they’ll never fail to imitate you.
Q: Jason, tell us about the Chastity Project and what prompted you and your wife to start it.
Well, we’ve been doing this for 20 years now. I did several years of sidewalk counseling. They had an abortion clinic in Pittsburgh and I really felt late. I’m meeting women a half hour before their abortions. How come I can’t meet them when they’re 15 years old, talk to them about chastity then, and then they never would have dated this guy to begin with and be in this difficult situation? So, I realized to save most unborn babies, I gotta swim upstream, so to speak, to the root of the issue, which is chastity.
Then I also led many high school retreats while I was in college and saw up close so much of this suffering these young people were having to go through in their broken relationships and realized no one’s really teaching them about chastity. And at this time in college I was learning physiology of the body and Pope John Paul II’s (book) “Love and Responsibility,” and I realized this is really the antidote in my hands to so much of this hurt and confusion in this hookup culture. I started bringing that message to young people and they loved it.
And so, I’ve been doing it for 20 years now, speaking to about 100,000 kids a year. I mean, this last week we were in Wisconsin, then before that, Utah and Louisiana. Next trip’s Virginia, and then out there to Nebraska. The young people are hungry. They’re starving for this, and chastity is that virtue that can free them to find the love that they deserve.
Q: Has your message changed in any way since you began your ministry?
Yeah, I mean it’s had to evolve with the culture and the new questions that are coming out. I mean, 15 years ago sexting wasn’t an issue, and now what you’ve got is teenage boys telling girls, “Hey, send me a picture of yourself.” And the girl is like, “Oh, OK. I’m dumb. I’ll do that.” And, she sends an immodest picture and then he shares it all over campus, and so we have to address why we shouldn’t be doing this stuff or having to get into issues like gender, where Facebook right now has 58 genders that kids can pick from. Facebook in the UK is up to 71. You can be intersex, nonbinary, transmasculine, two-spirit, gender neutral, gender nonconforming… . What’s going on here? We’ve gotta be able to teach these kids a solid anthropology so they’re not defining their very human identities by the changing attractions and feelings of adolescence. So, as the culture has evolved, we’ve had to formulate the language to give the kids a foundation so they don’t get swept up in so much of these confusing things.
Q: In addition to those speaking engagements around the world, what other things does the Chastity Project do to spread its message?
Well, we’ve published more than 40 resources and we make them available at chastity.com for $3 or less. These are big books that you’d get at a store for $15, but we make them $3 or less so people can get them in bulk to evangelize. Like, “Hey, our teens are having a confirmation retreat. Let’s get a box of these books, give them out at the girls’ session and the guys’ session.” And so, we think there’s so many good apostles in the church, but they don’t have big budgets, so if we can just make good resources affordable for families and parishes and schools, then people will take these resources and they’ll spread the messages to people that we may never ever see in person. So, at chastity.com, we’ve got those resources, the seminars, social media, outreach, all kinds of videos.
We’ve got on our website now Philip Rivers of the Los Angeles Chargers on the home page, talking about chastity. He’s (a Pro Bowl) NFL quarterback who saved his virginity for marriage and he’s generously open to life. He and his wife have eight kids right now and they just talked about the beauty of the church’s teaching of human sexuality. These kinds of witnesses are really needed in the culture because the young people are seeing so many role models going in the opposite direction. They’ve gotta realize that there’s a lot of good people going in the right direction, too.
Q: What do you want your audiences to take away from your presentations in Nebraska?
Well, we’ve got the parent presentation, which is gonna give parents 10 tips on how to effectively communicate the message of chastity to their kids, whether they’re 5 years old or 25.
And then with the teens, we really dive into the stuff that they’re struggling with, whether it be pornography or starting over, or how to stay strong and, really equipping these kids against the temptations that are gonna bombard them on a daily basis, even in good Catholic schools sometimes, and give them encouragement that, no matter what’s happened in the past, it doesn’t matter. It’s never too late to start over. So, it’s not like a shame; fear; guilt-based, scare-tactic kind of approach. I mean, that’s never worked. It’s really inviting these kids to consider it. What is it you really want when it comes to human love and relationships, and how can this virtue of chastity help us get there?
WANT TO GO?
WHAT: Jason Evert presentations; open to the public
NORFOLK: Nov. 25, Norfolk Catholic Activity Center, 2301 W. Madison Ave.; teen presentation, 6:30 p.m.
OMAHA: Nov. 26, St. Wenceslaus Church, 15353 Pacific St.; parent presentation, 6 p.m; teen presentation, 7:15 p.m.