Modesty, Lust, and Sanity

The church has developed a bad habit of seeing lust as all about the one “causing” the lust, while giving the man who’s lusting a pass. … Both lust and immodesty are wrong, and we need to lovingly deal with both. When either one is excluded or downplayed, things get weird or ugly.” ~ Me in a recent comment

I’ve been debating whether to discuss this topic. Every time I’ve tried doing this in the past it got ugly. I think much of that is on me, and maybe I’ve grown wise enough to do it well now. We shall see…

Modesty Loading © stringerphoto |

First, I need to confess my own past sins in this area. I developed a huge lust problem as a teen. I was free of porn, but I was always on the lookout for women showing a bit of flesh. As I lived in a liberal place with hot weather, (Austin, TX) there was always plenty to see. (Austin has a city pool that has officially allowed women to be topless since the early 70’s, and a local state park has allowed full nudity since the late 60’s. This attitude spilled over into the community as a whole and left many women less than fully covered in public – even in church.)

As I became more serious about following Jesus, I made a very poor choice in this area. Rather than dealing with my lust, I blamed all those who fed it. I became a self-appointed member of the modestly police. Part of my “job description” was looking for all infractions. In other words, I went out of my way to see as much as I could so I could be righteously indignant about the lack of modesty. I’d move to get a better view just to prove how immodest some probably clueless woman was. Yes, I was that guy. (Hanging head in shame.)

Eventually I got over it. I started applying my skills at predicting an impending flash of flesh to keep me from seeing rather than allowing me to see. I chose not to look, not to take advantage, and not to sin at every opportunity. Unfortunately, I didn’t lose the blame the women attitude immediately. I engaged in plenty of modesty arguments during the early days of The Marriage Bed message boards. “If women didn’t show their bodies, men wouldn’t lust!” Of course, my past behaviour showed the fallacy in my logic, but I wasn’t willing to see that yet. The ugly fact is blaming the lust object makes men feel less wrong or even justified in their sin.

So yeah, I was wrong, very wrong. Many men are in the same place I was for so many years. I’ve talked to men about this in the past, and will continue to do so. However, there are two sides here. Yes, some men will find a way to lust no matter how covered women are, but this doesn’t mean women can dress any way they like and blame the men if they lust. As I said at the top, both lust and immodesty are wrong, and both should be addressed. As a man, I think I should focus on talking to men about lust. I will leave it to you fine ladies to take up the immodesty issue with your friends and daughters. 

~ Paul – I’m XY, and my wife showing her sexy bits just to me makes me feel special. 

Related: How School Dress Codes Shame Girls and Perpetuate Rape Culture Seems this is a human problem, not just a chruch issue: “When a school takes the decision to police female students’ bodies while turning a blind eye to boys’ behavior, it sets up a lifelong assumption that sexual violence is inevitable and victims are partially responsible.

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25 Comments on “Modesty, Lust, and Sanity

  1. I appreciate it when men write about this topic. It is difficult for me to realize why this is even an issue, although I’m careful now, I haven’t always been. It’s one of those “trusting what you say” kind of things because I don’t get it.

  2. I would say that you still don’t have it right. Looking is not lusting. I think this is where the vast majority of the Christian community has it wrong and also where we allow the world to rule over us. Don’t get me wrong, it is certainly possible to look and lust, but it is by no means a default behavior. But the church and the world have taught us that we must look at women’s bodies as sex objects. In fact they are, but they are so much more. There are many good Christian blogs and sites that certainly spell this out much better than I can. A quick search for Christianity, modesty, and beauty and you’ll find plenty of reading. Here’s a couple of sites to get started:

    • @TWB – I agree with you, and have written on this. I still see things, but I generally do not lust. Lust need not follow seeing nudity.
      However, for many, especially younger men, it does most or all of the time. In large part this is because of how we are trained by the world.
      My other concern is some who say more or less what you said also so they can look at nudity all day without sin, and they then go out of their way to look at nudity. Relabelling lust as “appreciation the beauty God created” does not stop it from being sin. I’m not suggesting you are saying this, but I’ve heard it far too often from others.
      Sin aside, there is the issue of making nudity unique to marriage. I think it makes for a better relationship and better enjoyment of sex. It’s something I only show my wife, and something I only see in her.
      Paul Byerly recently posted…Friday Flashback: Sex – Holy, or Necessary Evil?My Profile

      • I can agree with that, especially when you said “In large part this is because of how we are trained by the world”. I think we have a huge problem with sex, nudity, lust and marriage. Sadly, the church is doing very little if anything to help. Instead, they really just make it worse by teaching our young people only the “negatives” of sexuality. Many also teach that modesty in clothing is strictly with regard to making sure all the right parts are covered up – this couldn’t be farther from the truth of the Bible. I do understand what you say about the relabelling of lust and there certainly are those who might abuse this freedom. Between the world, our culture and the church, our poor kids don’t stand much of a chance to really enjoy and live out the lives that God intended.

  3. It’s interesting to hear your perspective, Paul. As a woman, it feels like the wind has shifted drastically the other direction – that men are constantly being told how wrong they are for “being visual” and for, basically, trying to navigate through a world of Victoria’s Secret catalogs and flesh everywhere you look, but women are being told (by the world anyhow) that it is our right to show as much of our bodies as we want. {Obviously, I have a slightly different opinion. ;-) }

    I was optimistic several years ago when a friend worked at a Christian camp for the summer. The boy counselors were very open about sharing with the girl counselors, “Hey – I know the girls think they look “cute” but the outfits this camper is wearing is driving the boy campers (and us) a little bit nuts. Could you talk to her?” Sometimes we (women) truly don’t know how the way we’re dressing makes it hard for men to concentrate on spiritual things. Not saying of course that women are “at fault” but it is a dynamic problem that will only improve with open communication and no shaming in either direction.

    Of course, people will be people {that’s my profound statement of the day!} and the same counselors that where “Modest is Hottest” t-shirts one day at camp the next wear mini skirts that make even me blush. These open communications (and websites like yours!)- where men can say, “Looking at bits of flesh all day makes me nuts” and women can say, “I don’t mean to be a temptation but it makes me feel good when men look at me (and makes me feel bad when they don’t) and I’m not sure how to handle that” – and neither are shamed for biology that is guiding their behavior but both trying to figure it out together — This is all good stuff! Thanks so much for the work you do, Paul.
    Kendra Burrows recently posted…There’s Poop on the BanisterMy Profile

    • @Kendra Burrows I certainly see what you are saying. Men are told they are wrong for reacting to nudity the way God created us to react. The world seems to be all about women running around as naked as possible (#FreeTheNipple for example). Pour gasoline on it, light a match, then act confused about the destruction. Sigh.
      I agree we need more open communication about this. We each need to understand the reality and issue the other faces.
      Paul Byerly recently posted…Friday Flashback: Sex – Holy, or Necessary Evil?My Profile

  4. It definitely goes both ways. Neither the woman who dresses provocatively nor the man who lust after her are innocent. Just like not all men who look at a woman who is not dressed modestly lust after that woman, not all woman who dress that was are doing so to get the attention of men. But it’s kind of like putting a plate of cookies out and telling an overweight person not to eat any. You shouldn’t have baked the cookies to begin with, but once baked you shouldn’t expect someone who loves cookies not to want to eat one.

    My husband and I are currently working through recovery from him having an affair. While he is the one who cheated, once I stepped back and really looked at things I had to admit that we didn’t have a good marriage at all and some of that was my fault. Don’t misunderstand and think that I am excusing his behavior because I am in no way doing that. But I see that I did play a role in not keeping a strong marriage. I also blame the other woman and have told her so. It took two people to have the affair. She knew he was married yet she still allowed the affair to happen. She even tried to convince him that she was doing things to help him fix his marriage all while inviting him back to her bed over and over. So just like the modest dress and lust issue, pretty much everything can come down to both sides playing a role. No one person can truly take blame for all of it.

    • @anon I am impressed at your willingness to look at where you have been imperfect in your marriage. It does not give him a pass, but it’s a part of the whole. Too often the one who has sinned becomes the only focus, and this can never bring true restoration much less growth.
      Paul Byerly recently posted…An Attitude of GratitudeMy Profile

  5. Remembering my high school and college days, I knew I wanted the attention of young men, and I knew dressing provocatively would achieve that. I did not fully understand their physiological response to visual stimuli. I wish I had understood and had been more respectful toward them and myself.

    Based on what I have read and learned, it seems there is a spectrum: a man can see a scantily-clad woman and lust or not lust; likewise he can see an attractive, modestly-dressed woman and either lust or not lust. I agree that the responsibility is shared: men should learn to move beyond the initial impulse and think of the woman as a sister in Christ, and women should respect God’s design of men, and avoid dressing provocatively. I also understand that nurturing sexual intimacy with our spouses makes it easier to resist lusting.

    I chuckle when I hear someone say men appreciate beautiful women the way they appreciate a lovely piece of art or a delicate butterfly. Apples and oranges there, since artwork (unless it is of a nude or nearly nude woman) and butterflies do not cause erections and the accompanying release of dopamine and adrenaline! :-)

    Somewhere I read a comment about us having this backwards: provocative dress and promiscuity before marriage – granny panties, full-coverage nightgowns and no sex after marriage. It should be the other way around.

    • @IntimacySeeker I can’t imagine the struggle young women have on this. If some girls dress very provocatively, they raise the bar for all the other girls. If the majority are immodest, it makes it very difficult for the rest.

      Your second paragraph is dead on, and much of it does come down to a man’s choice. That said, the more immodest a woman is, the more difficult it is for men to make the right choice. I think women need to aim for what would not be a problem for reasonable men. There will always be unreasonable men, and allowing them to control what we do seems wrong.

      As to art, I do find paintings very different than photos. Even when I was younger I found painting did not grab me the same way. I could certainly lust to them, but it was not as automatic.

      Your final paragraph is exactly right. May more women teach their daughters this wisdom!
      Paul Byerly recently posted…Friday Flashback: Sex – Holy, or Necessary Evil?My Profile

  6. My wife works in a bridal store – yes it is run by non-Christians. Fortunatly my wife does not work on the sales floor but she often makes comments about the lack of cloth – putting it mildly – on many of the dresses.

    I get that many women may not understand how this effects men, but it blows me away that the fathers allow their daughters to go out at night in something a bit more than a “nightie” to a prom or other social event.

    So yes it is on both parties to think of how they are being seen. A suggestion we make for thos ewe can influence, is to have a couple of full length mirrors installed in the home. Then a woman can see what they look like to the world around them.

    Lust is the attraction plus the desire to act upon that attraction. To see is not lust. But to take a second look is treading onto dangerous ground.

    Thanks Paul for providing enlightening and challenging posts.
    Jerry Stumpf recently posted…Boost Your Marriage Intimacy: 5 painless habits to help your wife feel safe in her marriageMy Profile

    • @Jerry Stumpf – I have on occasion been a bit shocked by how little a bride was wearing as she came down the isle. A century ago many grooms didn’t see that much the wedding night!
      As to fathers, I think it’s the lack of moral authority issue. He does not want his daughter to do go dressed as she is, but he knows he would lust after any woman other than his daughter dressed the same way. I’ve also known mothers to take their daughter’s side and call dad a pervert for trying to help her.
      Paul Byerly recently posted…Friday Flashback: Sex – Holy, or Necessary Evil?My Profile

  7. I work at a high/elementary school. I can’t say that most of the girls there try to dress modestly. From some parents and teachers I’ve normally heard the “it’s all that you can buy in the store” reason, which is, for the most part, correct. I don’t buy my (4 year old) daughter things from Walmart for the most part because of the lack of modesty of what they sell. I’m not sure if Walmart sells non-foam pushup bras for teens any more. :? Really, I don’t, those are the ones I always see when I walk by.

    I want to say most of the girls know what they’re doing but, honestly, I don’t believe most do. It’s how they are raised, they think it’s ok, and if they attract unwanted attention it’s because the other person was in the wrong, the message they send has nothing to do with it. It’s almost a rite of passage: the sexier you dress the more mature and older you seem.

    I remember when I was in gradeschool (a Catholic one). A 8 grade boy touched (pinched?) a 7th grade girls butt and he got punched. And suspended. That was decades ago, now I see an older boy touch a younger girls butt and it’s laughed off.

    • @Stephen Howe Teen age girls are totally clueless about this. Even those who think they get it underestimate a great deal. They have bought into a lie and they live it to the max.
      Sad how they think showing boys everything the boys want to see is a sign of freedom and empowerment.
      Paul Byerly recently posted…Does She know? Will She Tell?My Profile

  8. There’s a lot going on here. First of all, there is a double standard. Men can pretty much wear what they want. A man mowing his lawn shirtless doesn’t get a second thought (usually). It is so common and even expected. Hey, middle aged spread is getting a good tan, good for him! A woman mows the lawn in her bathing suit and guys are practically crashing their cars and women feel defensive and jealous. And heaven forbid she has a few extra pounds and dates to show herself in public.

    Growing up and even into my adult life, driving with a man guaranteed, if it is a man with a mower, IF a comment is made at all, it is about the mower. If it was a woman with a mower, she would be sexually evaluated.

    “Not sure that mower can handle that heifer ”
    “Woo! She looks GOOD in that bikini!”
    “Wow, nice body for an older gal ”
    “Granny’s gotta put some more clothes on….my eyes!”

    There are hot summer days I would love nothing more than to be able to mow in a bathing suit, or lay out in my yard and sunbathe in my bikini, but I am always wondering if it’s too provokative, will attract unwanted attention or judgement, or be a problem for the neighbors. Hubby, on the other hand, can go outside shirtless and no one bats an eye.

    I believe in modesty. I hate that my husband and sons are assaulted by lewdness every day. I told hubby I would have to get a lifetime subscription to Playgirl to equal out how many naked women he’s seen….and he’s not a porn user!

    But at the same time, it would be nice to have a the freedom men take for granted.

    • @libl There certainly is a double standard here. The fact women are less visual is the excuse for this, but less visual does not mean unaffected.
      As far as mowing uncovered, having spent fifteen years making a living doing landscaping and irrigation I always wonder about the sanity of those who don’t protect their bodies. Lawn mowers can do rude things!
      Paul Byerly recently posted…Does She know? Will She Tell?My Profile

      • It was just an example. It could be sitting in your yard enjoying the day, swimming, Sun bathing, gardening…..I am a pretty visual woman but I also know people are people and deserve respect, privacy, and to not be objectified. If a man’s (or even a woman’s) body draws too much attention, I simply turn away. If they are talking with me, I look them in the eyes and see their humanity and adjust my own inner attitude.

        This society bases so much on sex appeal. I am in a way glad I am aging and turning more into a human and less into a sex object. I find more self worth and empowerment in hard work than the leer of a guy and cute clothes.

  9. I can admit skin showing in a woman will attract my eyes quickly. Not that it means I will think of going afer her its an automatic thing that happens, yes men are visual. Just as women are just as visual to a guy say in tight jeans boots and tshirt. Just look at the following say Luke Bryan has. He dresses modestly but the visual appearance is there. It does go both ways and it is is not a matter of what is shown, it how it is presented.

    As far say high schoolers go I heard a someone at a VFW meeting talk of a program to talk with the students about there time in the service and what they went through. Now this guy is upper 60’s and talked about there was plenty of eye candy there and that the girls also didn`t hold back in the flirting department. Now I know this man isn`t going to follow some 16yr old but the point above on girls think its OK to do this as they grow up.

    • Immodesty and flirting are so ubiquitous I doubt most girls really think about it. Most of the voices against it go too far and make it easy to dismiss them as whackos.
      Paul Byerly recently posted…An Attitude of GratitudeMy Profile

  10. I think you handled this really well. Like most things, the blame for the problem is not placed squarely on one party’s shoulders. I think another problem is that we don’t have a good definition of modesty. What is modest to me may be considered completely immodest to another or vise versa. With this, too, I think there is a fine line to walk. If you teach modesty too aggressively, you run the risk of teaching a young girl to be ashamed of her body & possibly having inappropriate ideas about sex even after marriage. Don’t teach it aggressively enough & you run into a host of other problems. As a parent to a very young daughter, it’s something that I am constantly seeking wisdom about.

    • J – As a guy it’s easy to draw the line. Does how a woman looks grab my eyes or does it grab more than my eyes? Of course women can’t look in the mirror and tell. Blessed if the woman who has a man who loves her enough to tell her how her appearance will affect men. Not dictate what she wears, but give her an understanding.

      The line between shame and not enough is certainly tricky. I suspect it comes down to the larger relationship with the person trying to help a young lady with this. Does she see that person as having her best interests at heart?
      Paul Byerly recently posted…An Attitude of GratitudeMy Profile

      • I guess what I meant is that it’s hard to define that in a way to teach our young girls. . For example, is knee length okay? Above the knee? How many inches? Shirts: crew neck only or are some v necks okay? How fitted is too fitted? Don’t even get me started on bathing suits. I know what I AM comfortable with (and I honestly feel like I’m conservative without going overboard) but it’s hard to teach that without hard and fast rules. Then again…maybe I’m way over-thinking it. ☺️

        • @J Rules – now there’s a mess. Body type enters into it, which makes it even more difficult. Then there is how the woman moves. The colour and style of the fabric can also be a factor. Imagine the impact of putting a bull’s eye design on a t-shirt – one over each breast!
          Things beyond what is shown matter. A short skirt is less modest than a pair of shorts even shorter because the skirt is open – aside from the possibility of flashing something there is the way it draws a man’s mind in.
          Any man could rate any outfit on a modesty scale in half a second, but it would take far longer to explain why we rate it as we do. Actually coming up with a set of rules would be impossible.
          Another factor is what each man likes. A “leg man” is less affected by a low cut blouse than a short skirt for example.
          So yeah, it’s confusing and unfair.
          Paul Byerly recently posted…Marriages are Destroyed for Lack of KnowledgeMy Profile

  11. This brings back a wonderful memory of my mother. When I was in ninth grade, we purchased patterns and fabric to have our cheerleading uniforms made for basketball season. The pattern was for a one-piece shorts and top garment, a jumpsuit of sorts. The shorts weren’t as short as anything you might see these days, but they were plenty short from a modesty perspective and the fabric was knit and the garments fit snugly.

    We were to wear our uniforms on game days and my mom wouldn’t let me go to school dressed that way. (I was secretly proud of her at the time.) Best part was that the next year there was money in the athletic department budget to purchase cheerleading uniforms–pleated skirts (nearly knee length) and short-sleeved sweaters.

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