If you read the last two posts here on the blog, you know that we’ve been talking about modesty culture and lust. We're going to talk about this one more time, and I think today is one of the most important!
This is another "Christian-y" post, although it's really about humanity in general, so everyone can glean from this one!
This is also another scary one for me to talk about, because I have seen people ripped to shreds (figuratively speaking) over this subject. It's a touchy one!
But I am very passionate about these issues, and they need to be addressed!
In brief recap, the first of these posts went over the basic structure of strict modesty culture, and discussed why the overarching messages being sent in this culture are twisted and harmful to both men and women.
And in our most recent post we talked about good news that women can only understand when they break free from those twisted messages!
We talked about how a woman can finally start to realize that:
Her body shape is not a problem, it’s good!
If someone finds her body attractive, that’s totally fine!
Her clothes, and people’s opinions about them, literally cannot change her worth (she is not “cheapening” herself by wearing certain clothes) because her worth is found in who she is!
She can stop being anxious about “attracting the wrong type of guy”, because clothes aren’t a reliable filter of someone’s character or interest in her, and attracting an "unsavory character" doesn’t necessarily mean she needs to change anything!
Now, I know some of you will find all of those things completely obvious. So did my husband, who did not grow up in this "modesty culture." Quite frankly, he has been quite shocked by most of the messages I have been unpacking here.
But, you should know that there are many, many people who have never understood these truths! So many people have been carrying tremendous shame in this area, and been trapped in a mindset that refuses to allow proper respect for everyone.
And now, today, I want to address the top objections that come up in strict modesty culture when you suggest that modesty is not the answer to lust.
If you didn't grow up in this culture, you may or may not have heard these thunderous outcries, but those of us who have been surrounded by it have heard them all many times:
"This is heartless towards men who are struggling with lustful thoughts! How could women be so selfish? Shouldn’t we try to help these men?"
"Surely we shouldn’t disregard people's struggles!"
"Men are already bombarded with temptation 'in the world', so can't their Christian 'sisters' give them reprieve?!"
"What about 'becoming a stumbling block to the weak'? We have a duty to not lead people towards sin!" (1 Corinthians 8:9 is the common reference)
Here is my answer!
We should absolutely help anyone who is struggling! But we need to make sure that what we are doing is actually helping. Let’s use wisdom when we are deciding how to help each other, and let’s be sure that we’re not one-sided when we ask each other for support. That’s a recipe for disaster!
So let’s talk about some ways we can make wise decisions in this area!
How can we help men who are struggling with lust?
Here are some very practical ways to do this, that will actually help!
1. Help them find a good mentor or counselor.
He should not have to struggle alone! Every man who feels that he cannot combat his temptation to lust needs qualified assistance - someone who can help guide him on his path to growth. (Remember, growth is the goal!)
If his struggle is mild, a mentor, pastor, or accountability partner might be enough! If it’s a more serious issue, such as an addiction or continuous, extreme disrespect to women by constant objectification, he needs professional help. That’s not a job for an accountability partner alone, or even a pastor. A certified counselor who knows how to work with these types of issues is important. (And yes, you can find Christian counselors who are certified!)
2. Pray for them.
Don’t discount this, please! Lust is a heart issue, and you cannot change someone’s heart. If you continually try to take responsibility for someone else’s heart you are doing both yourself and them a disservice, and you will be continually ineffective. Only God has the power to change someone’s heart. So pray for them!
3. Do not be an enabler.
You enable lust by allowing people to get away with it, telling them it's "just the way they're made", and not holding them to a high enough standard. That is enabling lust.
Did you know that many churches are teaching teaching that “men are more visual” and tend to see “individual parts” instead of a whole. What they're describing here, though, is objectification - seeing an object, or objects, when they look at a woman, instead of seeing a whole person. And they teach that this is a natural part of how God made them, and we must accept it! So women need to be careful, because men shouldn't lust, but God made men to be this way, and their natural objectification can't really be helped.
I’ve heard this many, many times.....
That is enabling lust.
These teachings are not helping anyone, and ultimately they are not true!
We don’t allow people to continually be rude or selfish without calling out on them to STOP and treat people better, especially the people in our churches! We expect kids to learn to obey their parents, even though they disobey naturally.
It doesn’t matter that people “naturally” slip into poor behaviors - we allow for grace, but then require better! And we help them learn to be better. We hold people to a high standard, because we care about them, and we think it’s important to help people break free from a destructive pattern!
Lust should not be different. We should apply this same expectation towards someone who has no control over their sexual appetite.
So, if you see someone objectifying another person (or objectifying you) speak up and tell them it’s not okay!
It’s not healthy or acceptable to be unable to see the entire person of a woman because she has body parts. It's not healthy or acceptable to be unable to come into contact with the female figure without losing all control of your sexual appetite.
Someone who is being lustful needs the same standard of accountability as someone who is being rude, selfish, deceitful, greedy, or condescending. It shouldn’t inherently be more, or less!
4. Teach them well.
Let’s start teaching people how they can actually break free from lust, just like any other sin!
Let's teach people the true nature of lust. Let’s teach about healthy sexuality. Let’s teach men that women’s bodies aren’t dangerous for them, that God designed their bodies the way they are on purpose, and the female shape is not inherently a stumbling block!
Let's teach people how to find someone attractive without dwelling on their bodies in an inappropriate way.
Let’s teach men how to see a woman as an entire person, not just body parts (in other words, how not to objectify her).
We’ve taught too many boys that there’s something dangerous about women’s bodies. We’ve taught too many boys that the only way to not objectify a woman is if he can’t see her shape. These things are not true, and they certainly don’t line up with the way God talks about women, or their bodies, and they don’t line up with the way God talks about breaking free from sin either!
Let’s start teaching men more helpful things! Truer things!
And now, what about women? Do their clothes matter? Do their motives matter?
Let's talk about this a little bit!
1. You should not be lustful either.
First of all, did you know that you can lust? I'm worried that some of you don't, because many churches don't address this at all!
Women can absolutely lust!!! In fact, some women have higher sex drives than men. Sex isn't mostly a guy thing - it's just a people thing!
Personally, I thought about sex a lot as soon as puberty hit. . And I lusted too! In fact, it was one of my fiercest struggles throughout my teen and young adult years.
And you know what? That is no more serious, and no less serious, than a boy or man who is being lustful! Lust is not healthy for me, and it’s disrespectful for me to objectify a person by thinking about him only as body parts to be used for my pleasure, instead of considering his entire person.
Nobody blamed the boys around me for being a stumbling block, even when they were literally half naked in front of me at the swimming pool. And I'm so glad! I'm so glad no one placed that shame on their shoulders! Because they didn't deserve it, and I don't think any of them were really trying to be a stumbling block.
No one taught me that I was always going to struggle with lust, so I never questioned that it was something I just needed to sort through, and there was victory in store for me!
No one taught me that seeing a man's body was making me sin, so men's bodies were never dangerous in my mind. I knew that the only problem was my lack of self-control over my sexual desire.
Women, you are accountable for your own thoughts and attitudes.
2. Know where your values are.
Do you think your value is found in your sexuality alone? Or found in someone else’s opinion of you? Do you feel like you need attention that you can only get by intentionally being sexually provocative? If so, then you need to work on this. Misplacing your value can be very destructive!
If you are intentionally trying to seduce or provoke someone to sexual sin, you are held accountable for your ill intent. You are still not responsible for his response, but you are responsible for yourself.
Very important note: There are many who will try to tell you that if you’re not intentionally covering up enough of your body, then you’re automatically intentionally trying to lead people astray! That is not true. It is not actually that easy to discern someone else's intention! They do not know what’s in your heart - only you and God know that - and this accusation is based on the idea that your body is inherently dangerous or seductive, which is simply not Scriptural. I talked about that more in the last post.
You have your own journey to go on to learn where your true value is found, what healthy sexuality looks like, and what God thinks about your body. You need to develop wisdom, discernment, confidence, and maturity in this area. That will help you battle the anxiety, shame and confusion that will manifest in your life when people accuse you of sin that you did not commit.
Be convinced in your own mind about where your heart is, and where your values are rested, and then be at peace.
3. Use Discernment and Common Sense
Remember, you have the capacity to use discernment. If you don’t want people to think of a hooker when they see you, but you look exactly like the hooker across the street, you’re just going to have to grab a different outfit next time!
In the end, you don’t actually get to choose the way people see you, so it's a very bad idea to let other people's opinions control your decisions. But you can use common sense to help you guess what people might see when they look at you, and make a decision accordingly.
Be smart. Be reasonable. Your clothes can actually be a really great opportunity to let the outside of you reflect who you are on the inside!
But I highly suggest you remember these 4 things:
1. Being attractive is NOT BAD.
2. You are not necessarily being godly by covering up more, or by covering up less.
3. You are not necessarily "letting the inside shine brighter" by hiding your body. That's just not the way it works. Even modest clothes can distract from who you are on the inside.
4. Your comfort matters. If certain clothes are restricting or are make your life much more difficult or uncomfortable, you don't have to wear them. And you can cover up if that's comfortable too! Some people love wearing loose, flowing, full coverage clothes!
I hope these ideas are helpful to you! It is so incredibly important to understand the true nature of lust, and the true responsibilities that are given to each of us. Otherwise, we will continue to see inappropriate shame, inappropriate excuses , and little improvement in character.
Men and women are supposed to work together, and we’ve turned this area into a battle against the sexes! Making lust more about women’s bodies than about an unhealthy heart condition has made men and women out to be dangerous to each other! And that makes it almost impossible to relate to one another properly. We need to fix that! Because that is not the way God designed things to be.
We can do better.
Did you find any of these ideas helpful? Do you think I left something out? Let’s talk in the comments!