The Thrill of the Chaste: Finding Fulfillment While Keeping Your Clothes On
by Dawn Eden (W Publishing Group, $17.50, 224 pages)

Dawn Eden, “a Jewish-born rock journalist turned salty Christian blog queen,” has written “a book for marriage-minded single women who (have) had enough of the Sex and the City lifestyle.” While giving up her promiscuity has been an arduous aspect of her faith journey, Eden – who has always been independent and creative – has come to value chastity as countercultural and subversive. She has also discovered that surrendering her old ways is a necessary pre-condition for realizing her dreams and her vocation – an important message in the month of Valentine’s Day.

“I became convinced that having premarital sex – contrary to what our culture claims – actually made me less likely to gain a husband. Moreover, I realized that my readiness to engage in physical intimacy altered me emotionally to the point that I was not equipped to sustain a marriage.” That, she explains, is “why at this time of my life – when the world would tell me that I’m farther from marriage than ever, with no current ‘prospects’ – I am, against all odds, hopelessly … hopeful.”

As she counsels female readers who are newly embracing purity, Eden reminisces about her past relationships and one-night stands, while describing their associated lessons. Not long after her conversion was underway, Eden learned of the death of a former lover who had not been a believer. “The thought of Jack unrepentant on his deathbed haunted me. For the first time, I started to wonder what effect my own actions when I was unchaste had on the men with whom I’d had sex. I might be forgiven – but what about them?”

While Eden is targeting women who are moving from unchastity to chastity, the book will also be of interest to a broader group of readers. It may even be of interest to single men who wonder why their dates seem hard-edged or who themselves feel pressured by contemporary women into illicit sexual activity. “The concept of deferring pleasure makes no sense in a consumer society where we are told we must take something when it’s offered or risk its going off the market. Men come and go like buses, we’re told – but we’re warned that the next one may not be such a good ride.”

Readers do not need the personal experience of promiscuity to be bolstered by Eden’s words; for “there but for the grace of God go I.” Her description of crying after declining a sexual invitation is just as poignant to those who have remained virgins despite such opportunities: “Turning down intimacy – even the wrong kind – can hit hard when you’re coming home to an empty place.”

Likewise, Eden’s emphasis on hope rings true for marriage-minded singles regardless of their history. “A woman with the courage to step out into the unknown, risking temporary loneliness for a shot at lasting joy, is more than a ‘single.’ She’s singular. Instead of defining herself by what she lacks – a relationship with a man – she defines herself by what she has: a relationship with God.”

Nevertheless, parents and grandparents who might consider this book as a gift for a young person need to be aware that the content assumes a certain loss of innocence in the reader, that she has already “realized … that (she) could separate sexual sensation from love.” Eden shares more specific personal details at the beginning and especially at the end of the book than what a student might typically hear from a pro-life conference chastity speaker. While the book is not suitable for adolescents, it may be helpful to mature young adults who are resisting the secular concepts of “hooking up” and “friends with benefits.”

Readers not previously familiar with Eden will benefit from an introduction through the New York Observer article, “Eden in Exile” (Google it). Eden is profiled just after her firing as a copy editor from the New York Post, where she admittedly went overboard in expressing her pro-life convictions, yet had been an award-winning headline writer. (She has since gone professionally to a better position as an assistant news editor at the New York Daily News, and personally to better support-seeking within the Christian community.) As a result of this profile, Eden was offered the book deal.

A significant flaw of the book is that it was written when she needed the job, rather than at the moment when her conversion process most warranted the testimony. Occasionally, there are suggestions that Eden is, quite humanly, still attached to some of the sin of which she writes. In a genre for which St. Augustine’s Confessions sets the standard, readers are prepared for a description of hard-won and non-linear change; but such testimony is more effective when the author has many years’ distance from grave spiritual danger. This is particularly true in the case of Eden, whose own growth was interacting with the writing process.

It is arguably a mistake for Eden to omit both a “prequel” and “epilogue” to the book, which are available at her website, the Dawn Patrol ( Existing fans will recognize the content of many book chapters as having originated in her online posts. Other readers may wish to supplement the book’s contents by searching her blog for the 24-part series of posts derivatively entitled, “How I Became the Catholic I Wuz,” which can be read successively by using a drop-down menu.

Eden began the segments prior to signing her book deal, and then was interrupted as she shifted to writing for print. The book does not include some of the most compelling online material about her ongoing conversion. Eden’s complex journey through Reform Judaism, interest in the occult, agnosticism, suicidal depression and the world of rock has been redeemed since she became a Christian in 1999. Thus, the book emerged from the dynamism of the blog and is best appreciated along with that context.

Theresa Smyth is the family and society reporter for The Interim.