With Valentine's Day just a month away, I thought I should give my review of an excellent - but VERY challenging - book: Mary Beth Bonacci's "Real Love: Answers to Your Questions on Dating, Marriage and the Real Meaning of Sex".
This book, like much in Christianity, will challenge you almost to the point you think it is an impossible standard. But like Christianity, it is that exact challenge (and giving practical tips and guides along the way) that, even if you do not live up to it 100%, makes you that much better now (and better equipped later) to deal with temptations of all types.
It teaches the reasons why the Catholic Church puts so much stress on the virtue of chastity, explaining why the 6th Commandment is beyond merely adultery (i.e., not just "cheating on your spouse"), but dwelling on and acting on temptations to have sex with someone you are not married to, even before marriage, even with a fiancee. It also explains about modesty and giving offense (and committing sin) by deliberately tempting others to sexual sin by clothing (or lack thereof). It also explains the Church's authentic teachings about artificial contraception and natural family planning (and why "the rhythm method" is NOT natural family planning). Finally, it explains the connection between the culture's over-emphasis on sex and the societal consequences, as predicted by Humanae Vitae (e.g., higher crime and divorce rates, lower happiness and sense of self-esteem, degradation of women, lack of respect for life, and the breakdown of the nuclear family).
It also gives practical (though admittedly difficult) guidelines about "drawing the line somewhere... and standing 10 ft behind it", not just "you can go up to, but not over, this line". One of the biggest criticisms of teaching about sexual morality is the notion that one cannot possibly be expected to control themselves in "the heat of the moment". Among other things, this book gives the advice: "don't get yourself into 'the heat of the moment' in the first place!"
While these kinds of "don't get in hot water in the first place" bits of advice are typical for a book of this type, this book offers more than just Church talking points (which, ironically, parishes don't seem to talk about much anymore...). The book covers STDs, abortion, masturbation, and other negative topics well, but the place it shines is in giving hope about "finding Mr./Miss Right". Too often, books and teachers of morality (especially sexual morality) focus on "don't do this/don't do that". But the section about finding real love (Section 6) does a great job of dispelling romantic, Hollywood depictions of "love at first sight" or "soul mates" and turns the focus instead toward God's plan for your life (and your life with others). This includes all the things a good Father would want for their child, including keeping them safe from harm (physical or emotional) and teaching them to take a long-term view of things versus satisfying immediate urges (often mislabeled as "needs").
While it is a book about avoiding sexual sin and finding true happiness while dating, the lessons learned in youth with regard to fighting sexual temptation will pay off later in other aspects of life and other forms of temptation. For example, the 20/20 hindsight about sexual temptation and the Church's teachings about it - whether you fell to temptation or avoided it - will give credence to other teachings of the Church as well. Learning about giving glory to God through the body he gave you also helps later in life when you learn to give glory to God through other aspects of your life: work, family, politics, even leisure activities.
Highly recommended for teens and college students who already are aware of what the Church teaches - and wonders how on earth they're supposed to live up to that ideal. This is also recommended to divorcees and widows/widowers who may be re-entering the "dating marketplace", because the 6th Commandment doesn't just apply to teenagers and 20-somethings.
(BTW, I read this while I was single and actively dating - it was challenging then, but it kept me from falling several times and kept me on the straight and narrow until I married the woman God had set aside for me... who also happened to be saving herself for marriage! It is possible!)