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Chastity is sexual behavior of a man or woman that is acceptable to the moral standards and guidelines of their 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.
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), while "chastity" meant "virginity". 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.
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For Muslims and many Christians, acts of sexual nature are restricted to marriage. For unmarried persons, chastity is identified with sexual abstinence. Sexual acts outside or apart from marriage, such as adultery, fornication and prostitution, are considered sinful.
In many Christian traditions, chastity is synonymous with sexual purity. Chastity means not having any sexual relations before marriage. It also means 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 marriage, the spouses commit to a lifelong relationship which excludes sexual intimacy with other persons. Within marriage, various Abrahamic religions consider several practices to be considered unchaste, such as sexual intimacy during or shortly after menstruation or childbirth. 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".
The particular ethical system may not prescribe each of these. For example, 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 sexual intercourse under any circumstances) as a violation of chastity. The Catholic Church has set up various rules regarding clerical celibacy, while most Protestant communities allow clergy to marry.
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. Required celibacy among the clergy is a relatively 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. Certain Latin-Rite Catholic priests may receive a dispensation to be married before ordination, and Eastern Catholic priests in many countries 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 in the past) or on an individual basis: as a voluntary act of devotion, or as part of an ascetic lifestyle (often devoted to contemplation), or both.
The voluntary aspect has led it to being included among the main counsels of perfection.
Chastity is a central and pivotal concept in Roman Catholic praxis. Chastity's importance in traditional Roman Catholic 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. It is also regarded as fundamental to the practise of the Catholic life because it involves an apprenticeship in self-mastery. By attaining mastery over one's passions, reason, will and desire can harmoniously work together to do what is good.
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.
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.
The teachings of Buddhism include the Noble Eightfold Path, comprising a division called right action. Under the Five Precepts ethical code, Upāsaka and Upāsikā lay followers should abstain from sexual misconduct, while Bhikkhu and Bhikkhuni monastics should practice strict chastity.
The Five Precepts of the Daoist religion include No Sexual Misconduct, which is interpreted as prohibiting extramarital sex for lay practitioners and marriage or sexual intercourse for monks and nuns.
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