Anyone who spends more than a little bit of time in a modern church has probably sat through a modesty sermon, one in which where women are warned about dressing just so as to not to cause men to lust after them, how it’s a heart issue and not wanting to cause your weaker brother to stumble, and also treating your own body as a temple – with the utmost respect as an image bearer of God as a woman (male image-bearers needn’t worry so much about that one). Or some such combination of teachings. Anyone who spent some time in the youth group during an outing probably was given a list of advice about what to wear, and the girls always seemed to have more “don’t” than “do” instruction they were required to obey.
It’s become a well-known fact that men lust more after women than women do men. Men were designed to be sexual, it’s their primary appetite. It’s the one thing that boys always want. But this wasn’t so centuries ago. There was a time where men were warned that women had insatiable sexual appetites; that however sexual men were, women were all that and then some. That women always wanted just one thing, as much as possible, all the time. This was because the ancient world saw the act of procreation as a necessary evil, losing one’s holiness in exchange for creating a life to continue the family line. It was not supposed to be a pleasurable business, but because women seemed to enjoy a part of the process, they got the reputation of being the more sexual and more sinful party of the union.
“The most difficult aspect of sex, widely acknowledged both by physicians and by priests, was its highly pleasurable nature, an aspect variously thought to indicate its inherently natural and/or sinful qualities. As a consequence of this duality, sex was most often depicted in extreme ways that ignored the well-balanced middle ground inhabited by most medieval people. Celibacy or whoredom, chastity or adultery – in literature and art there was often no middle ground, and these oppositional portrayals bled over specifically into depictions of women. Because of their manifestly “other” nature (not male, and therefore not, when specifically called “women,” able to participate in the “default” category that would allow them to exist outside of gender), women became inextricably bound up in sexuality, as a result of which all women in medieval art and literature carry some sort of sexual association – chaste and virginal or depraved and sexually voracious – to a greater or lesser degree. Female figures who participate in sexual activities are noted for their participation, and those who abstain are noted for their celibacy, but very rarely if at all is a non-allegorical woman depicted without some reference to her life or potential life as a sexual being.” (Source: https://www.library.rochester.edu/robbins/sex-society)
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” (The bolded part of the verse is the main point, the rest of it is often cut-off as being useless in any given recitation of the verse; it comes in handy as a way to blame a woman for what she was wearing, rather than the looker to have any responsibility whatsoever.)
Arguably, this verse sets the standard. The “anyone” here refers to any man, any guy, any red-blooded male; it doesn’t include women because women don’t lust after women like men do as the sexual creatures that they (the men) are. I don’t know whether or not the ancient Israelites also considered women naturally sexual creatures or men to be naturally sexual creatures, but it doesn’t matter because it applies to men either way. And given that the Bible is book written primarily by men with an audience of men in mind and women as only secondary to the text it makes one wonder: “Is it possible that because men are less sexual than women, this prohibition was written with them in mind because they have the capacity to reign in their impulses and there was no point in writing something to women who had far less control over themselves according to the cultural and historical beliefs about men and women in that day and age?” Who knows?
This teaching is founded in the idea that men and women are different. What one is, the other isn’t. Culturally speaking, where the line is drawn is all over the map. A certain degree of emotion like so is feminine, unless it’s quite masculine on the other side of the world. Even over time itself, what’s true right here isn’t so over there. This seems to betray the concept that men and women are hard-wired to be as different as can be, to be polar opposites, and yet, they exhibit the same human traits overall. If it’s the ‘nature’ argument, it’s not holding water. Only ‘nurture’ seems to push things one way or the other, but with each culture having it’s own different ideas, it seems almost impossible to create a list about all the ways that strictly masculine nature and strictly feminine nature are different that’s coherent across all cultures and all times; the so-called, ‘hard-wired’ programming of masculinity and femininity that God designed into our original prototypes we know as Adam and Eve has yet to materialize. (Go ahead, just try to make such a list; odds are it won’t be as long as it’s ‘supposed’ to.)
If it’s one thing I’ve learned, that popular thought can be changed at any time, sooner or later, teachings on modesty won’t be about women helping their weaker brother not to lust by how they dress, it’ll be on women being instructed not to give into their sexual natures and tempt men into sinning mentally by dressing modestly.
16 thoughts on “Sexualized”
Very interesting post. It’s almost like people want things to be “black and white” or “100% male and 100% female” without any gray areas. I don’t believe things have ever been that way! As I think you said, we’ve never been like that, no matter how much we may want to be like that. Am I understanding you correctly?
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Yes. And there’s also a burden when you’ve been sexualized. People expect your sole focus to be on that one thing and you can’t have any decent friendships because of it. People expect the worst of you and are shocked when it doesn’t happen. People expect you to think about it and sin in your heart because they haven’t been taught to think better. It was true of women centuries ago and it’s true of men now; even though it’s been true of all humanity all along. I’ve heard about how men and women are different, polar opposites, Mars and Venus, Waffles and Spaghetti, but men and women aren’t that different; men and women are more alike than unalike.
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I agree, not that different. I guess when you think about it, differences divide, and that never was part of God’s design (no matter how one chooses to believe humans got started). Differences divide, and then divisions rank. (Who’s got more power? More wealth? More weight in decision-making?) Plus differences sell books! (Like your reference to Mars and Venus!)
Since you left a comment on my last post I felt I should at least return the favor (you could have just read it and left, or never clicked on it at all). And, whatever the case, leaving a comment here and there can’t hurt one’s stats, right?
I always try to be as honest as I can, at least in such a way that I don’t offend or hurt someone’s feelings unnecessarily, so I’m going to try to be as careful as I can. As I read your above post the very first thing that came to mind was, “Angry, are we?” That led me to wonder what it was that happened to personally offend you when it comes to this issue. I mean, it is clear by the way you wrote that you take this subject personally. That seems to also emanate from the above reply to the first comment. Just wondering.
Of course the other question that your post is begging is whether or not you personally feel there is any need for modesty and/or how that should be defined (at least suggested) in a particular context. How should I talk with my daughters about what they wear in public? Being that I am a man with more than a few decades of experience with hormones, should I avoid telling my girls what I know to be true about boys, or should I assume my knowledge and experience is purely anecdotal and I should leave it all to them to figure things out?
Last, I wonder if you have come to any conclusion on what God DID design? Is the Bible really that ambiguous with regard to male and female differences? Is everything up to interpretation, or is it possible, with a proper hermeneutical approach, to distinguish between improper cultural extremes and what is a healthy, biblical approach to human sexuality?
I am not trolling or looking for heated debate. All I did was feel grateful for you comment which led me to stumble upon your last post.
Perhaps the better question is: “Given that according to Genesis 2, woman comes from man, that woman has ten fingers and ten toes and two arms and two legs just like men, is it that much of a stretch to believe that their impulses and natures isn’t also just like a man’s or remarkably similar to a man’s?” If man is the template for woman; then there must be more similarities than differences. Otherwise you end up with a scenario where God designed men to be sexual and women to be non-sexual and God said that it was good. No, they both must be to a similar degree equally sexual; the difference is that society pressures women via modesty to behave in certain ways that men are not expected to behave because they believe that it’s not a problem women have to the same degree that men do. There’s far more problems with believing in differences between men and women than there is similarities because you have to decide just what the differences are and how men lost them when women were created; how if God made Adam completely perfect, the creation of Eve represents Adam losing aspects of his perfection or of himself in her.
The Genesis account of the creation of Eve from Adam’s rib does not imply that Adam lost any aspects of his perfection to her; in fact, the only thing God had declared “not good” in His creation was Adam’s loneliness and Eve was His perfect solution to that, rather implying that her creation brought about the pinnacle of perfection for the creation of humanity as a whole: the masculine and the feminine, alike in so many ways yet different. Sadly, the etymology of the Hebrew words used for “man” (“ish”) and “woman” (“ishshah”), which are not actually etymologically related at all but only sound like they should be, have been misunderstood since the church father Jerome and onward throughout history. This led to all kinds of confusion in the Medieval world, believing that woman was simply a derivative from, or perhaps even a deformed version of, man–a “womb-man,” therefore defining her primarily by her reproductive abilities. (I learned about this primarily from the book “Feminine by Design: The God-Fashioned Woman” by Dr. John D Garr). This was not at all the intention of God or of Moses, as inspired by the Spirit, when writing the creation account. Women have been horribly sexualized throughout history, and indeed still are today in the porn industry and many forms of media, but not because this was the intention of God or the Biblical authors, but because humanity is fallen and sinful. Men and women both were endowed with sexual desires and I praise God that He has given us the outlet of marriage in which we can fulfill these desires in a healthy, fulfilling, and loving way. The sexual act, in its proper place, is even extolled in the Song of Solomon. But as with anything good, it has been twisted by sin in a million directions, not the least of which is the vilification of women. We were even warned from the beginning that women in particular would be under attack from the enemy as God declared “I will put enmity between you [the serpent] and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head and you will strike his heel” (Gen. 3: 15). In this one verse, Satan learned that his ultimate demise would come from the offspring of the woman and he has had a grudge out for us ever since. And what better way to get at us than by using the very act that creates offspring against us?
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And that makes it all the more sad that Men are the implement that he uses to do that. Whether or not women are sexualized as they were in the past, or de-sexualized as they are now; either way, the doctrine of male headship has created a second-place status for women in the Church seemingly with God’s approval, but only because of a misinterpretation of God’s word.
Very interesting post. Modesty, lust, sexualization, and sin in general really aren’t one-way streets. While I will acknowledge that, perhaps, there are certain tendencies amongst the sexes, as you said, we really aren’t as polar opposite as we may think.
Which makes the tendency for modesty being a list of rules women must obey for the sake of men extremely lopsided; men aren’t given a similar list about things they shouldn’t wear for the sake of women.
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I feel this so, so much.
I grew up with most of the standard super-Christian modesty teachings, and you know what I got from them?? SERIOUS body-image issues and a general inability to have male friends. (Turned out later I also have a tendency to fall in love with people I’m friends with, but that’s a separate animal.) The people who go all COVER EEEEEVERYTHING!! fail to realize the psychological damage they cause.
(And for the record, I’m a woman with a vocal sex drive, and purity culture also gave me a *thing* about men in suits. So there.)
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I remember reading one woman’s testimony that she was so worried her natural feminine curves were causing her weaker brothers to lust, she developed an eating disorder in order to stay as thin and curve-less as possible. That’s when I realized that this teaching is – in a word: destructive.
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I’ve read a couple stories of people doing things like that, and I’d bet it’s more common than most people would expect. Tragic, really.
Wow, I swear I didn’t plagiarize your intro in my last post! But I’m not sure I understand the gist of your post. Are you saying that women ARE insatiably sexual creatures? Or that we shouldn’t reduce women to being only viewed by their relation to sex? Or something else?
I wasn’t worried; there are only so many ways to start a blog topic on modesty and odds are a lot of them are more alike than they are different. Both of our posts end up looking at different aspects anyway.
The ancient world thought that women are insatiably sexual creatures, but that’s not how most think of women today; men have that reputation moreso than women. The truth is in the middle; men and women are not that different, nor are their natures that different. What is different is that women are pressured to reign in the men by making themselves a supposedly less tempting target. Men and women are more alike than unalike and it’s a disservice to treat men and women as if they’re completely different because it marginalizes a lot of people.
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Gotcha! I agree – responsibility on both sides!
Ah yes, the good double standards Christianity has… Women are to present themselves so that they won’t cause men to lust, but there’s no teachings in church on how men should present themselves to women – to me that speaks for itself really :p
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