Dawn Eden, an editor at the New York Daily News and blogger with an eclectic background, is author of a new book published by Thomas Nelson called The Thrill of the Chaste: Finding Fulfillment While Keeping Your Clothes On. Eden’s tried it both ways, and in the book describes the life-changing experience that came with her decision to stop having lots of sex in the city.
On the eve of publication day, Eden took some questions from NRO Editor Kathryn Lopez.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: When did you first get into writing?
Dawn Eden: A long time ago! I started writing for Jersey Beat, a local alternative-music fanzine in 1985, when I was 16. By the time I was 18, I was the youngest-ever writer for Goldmine, a magazine catering to collectors of oldies rock. That eventually led to regular assignments from New York Press, Mojo, and other magazines, as well as a slew of liner notes for CD reissues — about 80 in all, including releases by Harry Nilsson, Lesley Gore, and the Hollies.
It’s only been within the past few years, with my blog, The Dawn Patrol, that I’ve shifted my focus away from oldies music, to things like faith, pro-life issues, and chastity.
Lopez: Did you ever imagine you would wind up writing about something so personal?
Eden: I was afraid to write about personal issues in the past, not because I didn’t want to share about my life — I’ve got just a tad of the exhibitionist in me — but because I was under the misconception that my experiences were unique. Once I started to write on my blog about the experience of going from unchastity to chastity, I found that some female readers, people I had never even met, could relate — and that they were heartened to see that they weren’t alone.
Lopez: Do you have any regrets that there are any too-much-information-moments in the book? Or does it all serve a purpose?
Eden: I think it all serves a purpose. I thought very hard about each detail that I included, being careful that my motivations were to reach readers emotionally rather than to titillate them. All the personal information that’s there is there for a reason — because I believe it adds depth and makes my story more credible.
Lopez: What was it that made you go chaste?
Eden: I had an intense faith experience when I was 31 that transformed me from an agnostic Reform Jew to a believing Christian. Until that point, I had bought completely into the culture’s message that the way to make a man fall in love with you is to have sex with him.
I knew that my unchaste lifestyle was incompatible with my faith. More than that, in the light of faith, I realized something I’d tried to deny to myself for years — that all the sex I’d ever experienced hadn’t brought me any closer to marriage. In fact, engaging in premarital sex had actually prevented me from gaining the emotional maturity necessary to sustain a marriage.
Lopez: What is your practical definition of chastity?
Eden: Chastity is a state of mind. It’s placing sex within its proper context of married love. What it isn’t is objectification — viewing another human being as a means to sexual gratification.
Lopez: Who is this book for?
Eden: The Thrill of the Chaste is for women in their 20s and older who have gained the awareness that premarital sex is not making them happy. It’s especially intended to help them get off the serial-dating merry-go-round — which I describe as more like a drug habit than a romantic paradigm — and show them that they will be happier being chaste than having sex with men who are unwilling to marry them.
Lopez: Libertarians and the left often accuse conservatives of being anti-sex. While there is a difference between chastity and celibacy, do you in fact not want unmarried adults to have sex? Isn’t that a tad unrealistic?
Eden: It’s not unrealistic, it’s countercultural — that’s why it’s exciting! Remember, the people who are going to pick up The Thrill of the Chaste are women who find that premarital sex is not making them happy. If they’re able to admit to themselves that they’re not attaining what they want to attain, then they’re likely to be willing to take a risk in pursuit of their greater goal.
Lopez: What’s your realistic message to young people?
Eden: I don’t recommend my book to teenagers — it’s too mature for them. Besides, there are countless books for them on abstinence, while there is only one for women in their 20s and 30s — mine. But if I had to give them a message, I would tell teenage girls that holding onto their virginity is really holding on to their hope, their optimism, and their wonder. Having premarital sex makes you cynical really quick — and then you find that the kind of man who would make a great husband isn’t attracted to a woman whose sexual experiences have given her a hard shell.
Lopez: You write, “If you come away from this book with only one message, let it be this: ‘Through chastity — and only through chastity — can all the graces that are part of being a woman come to full flower in you’” What do you mean by this?
Eden: I was thinking of Mary when I wrote that — Our Lady of Grace, as she appears on the Miraculous Medal. She is able to shed her spiritual gifts upon us — gifts of love, peace, charity, wisdom, patience — because she sees us as we are and loves us as we are. Chastity takes the veil off your eyes so that you begin to delight in others not for what they can do for you, but simply because they are delightful.
Lopez: You talk a lot about God, the Bible, theologians. Do you have to be religious to get your book?
Eden: No, but it helps. Rachel Kramer Bussel, the Village Voice’s “Lusty Lady” sex columnist, gave my book a great endorsement (which you can see on the Press page of www.thrillofthechaste.com), and she is not particularly religious, as far as I know. If you can stand some God talk, I think there’s plenty in The Thrill of the Chaste that holds up regardless of one’s level of faith.
Lopez: How did Star Trek make its way into your book?
Eden: As a teenager, I loved the original series. (I haven’t watched it much since, as I haven’t owned a TV since leaving home at 17.) When I was writing my book and trying to think of a way to describe a woman who has no life except to find a boyfriend, I thought of the singlemindedness of Star Trek fanboys.
Lopez: Should we provide an e-mail address for male Star Trek geeks reading who now want to e-mail you?
Eden: Only if they have outside interests a la Jonah Goldberg — and if, unlike him, they are single. They can find my address on the left-hand side of The Dawn Patrol.
Lopez: Speaking of: What do you think of online dating? It seems quite mainstream. Do you blame the life you left behind? Or is it a good thing?
Eden: As I write in The Thrill of the Chaste, I believe that online dating commoditizes romance, encouraging participants to objectify themselves or others. Anytime you’re shopping for a date like you would shop for a car, there’s something wrong. That said, I do have a membership at one dating site — but, in keeping with the advice I give in my book, the site is specifically for people who share my faith and who are seeking a spouse, not swingers seeking “activity pals.”
Lopez: You have a Bob Dylan-inspired YouTube. But do you worry your subtitle is a little more Jermaine Stewart?
Eden: Who is Jermaine Stewart? Under the rules of my “Stump Dawn” game, I am not legally bound to know any song recorded after 1969.
Lopez: Well, suffice it to say, Jermaine Stewart — who sang “We Don’t Have to Take Our Clothes Off” — would appreciate your book, if still alive. R.I.P.
Moving onto TV: Would your version of Sex and the City be sorta boring?
Eden: The real Sex and the City is vomitizing, so I think boring would be an improvement. Mad TV’s Sluts and the City parody was right on the money — “four smart single women in charge of their own lives,” indeed!
Lopez: The Thrill of the Chaste would make a bit of an awkward Christmas gift, wouldn’t it?
Eden: I don’t recommend giving it to Mom or Dad.
<title>The Thrill of the Chaste, by Dawn Eden</title>