By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
SOLON — Recent college graduate Lauren Benzing is passionate about helping teenagers experience chastity and healthy relationships. On Aug. 16, 2017, she returned to her home parish of St. Mary’s to give a talk alongside her boyfriend, Connor Sabatka.
The couple candidly broke down misconceptions about chastity and explained that it doesn’t have to be a killjoy in a relationship. They talked about the challenges modern society and technology present – both in general and in their own experiences.
It wasn’t the first time Lauren and Connor had given a talk together; they met through Benedictine College’s One Love ministry, which focuses on giving talks on love, chastity and sexuality to high school and middle school students. Lauren graduated from the Kansas-based college in the spring, while Connor just started his senior year.
Connor prefaced the talk at St. Mary’s by explaining that the talk would get “heavy” at times, but it wasn’t meant to make anyone squirm in their seats. “There’s this idea that sex shouldn’t be talked about, but that’s not the case. … Imagine, who made sex? Lady Gaga? Chuck Norris? You think God looked down on Adam and Eve and said, ‘oh my goodness, what are they doing?’ No, God made it,” he said as the group of teenagers laughed with him.
“It’s a beautiful, physical expression of marriage vows,” Lauren said.
They identified the difference between virginity and chastity — virginity is about one’s past decisions and chastity is about one’s current decisions. Chastity encompasses a wide range of self-sacrificing decisions and behaviors aimed at respecting members of the opposite sex and God’s plan for human sexuality, they said.
“It’s a challenge because we have desires, but there is beauty in sacrifice,” Lauren said.
Addressing the misconception that dating without sex can’t be fun, they said there are plenty of exciting activities that couples can engage in that don’t involve sex or physical intimacy.
Getting personal about their experiences, Connor revealed a past struggle with pornography. He told the youths that he began to feel depressed by his guilt and began to lose his will to live. “I thought I was going to hell,” he said. Seeing a Christian counselor helped him understand and embrace God’s mercy. Connor told the youths, “I think if God were to come into the room (where someone is viewing pornography), he would turn off the computer, turn toward you and say, ‘I’m sorry this happened to you. You were made for more than this. I love you.’” A support group of other students helps keep him accountable.
Lauren expressed the importance of having good communication in a world filled with social media platforms. In a past relationship, she mainly talked to her boyfriend through Snapchat – which turned out to be a mistake since its brief bursts of pre-recorded communication can’t replace full conversations.“I thought I was getting to know him and I started to idealize him, but I became disillusioned when I was with him. I think that cycle happens a lot.”
Connor chimed in, “You can make yourself into someone you’re not behind a smokescreen” and filter out the parts of yourself that you’re less comfortable with.
They urged the youths not to try to push the physical boundaries of a relationship too far or take the “everything but” mentality, especially because behaviors such as making out and heavy petting prepare the body for sex and can tease couples who are waiting for marriage. “Are you holding them as close to the cliff as you can, or are you pulling them back toward Christ?” Connor said.
They said having a healthy relationship involves looking out for the well-being of the other person and mutually trying to grow into better people through the relationship. Relationships are enhanced through this philosophy, and even if a relationship doesn’t work out, it can aid in the healing process. Connor said, “If Christ is at the center of your relationship, it will never fail, even if you break up. Maybe it will make you more ready for your future spouse. People I have dated made me a better person.”
Connor and Lauren presented youths with several guides for forming healthy relationships and how to look out for red flags. They also spoke about God’s plan for sex within marriage.
Nathan Kabat, 19, attended the talk alongside his brother Noah, 16. A member of St. Wenceslaus Parish in Iowa City, Nathan said Connor and Lauren’s message was an important one, “since our culture will tell people nothing about what chastity or real love is. It’s very counter-cultural, and to me that’s pretty exciting!”
Q&A with the youths
Following their chastity talk, Connor and Lauren split the group by gender and answered questions. These are some of the questions and answers presented.
Q: How long does it take to overcome an addiction to pornography?
A: (Connor): It’s as addictive as cocaine. Some people are able to quit cold turkey; for others, it takes many months or even years to stop completely, even with the help of an accountability network. Either way, the wounds can remain for a long time and this is why it is so important to look for continued healing through friends, family and counseling services.
Q: How do you break up with someone?
A: (Connor): Quick and clean. It should be clear, without mind games (avoid calling and texting).
Q: What kinds of physical affection are okay in a dating relationship?
A: (Lauren): It’s best to keep things simple: holding hands, a hug, a simple kiss, an arm around his shoulder — can all express “I care about you, I appreciate you, I accept you, I love you.” … It’s important to discuss these boundaries with the person you are dating, so that you can also help each other avoid temptation and be free to love virtuously.\
Update on Connor and Lauren
Connor and Lauren married each other in December, 2018, and are currently expecting their first child.