How Modesty Teachings Hurt Men, Too

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Darcy’s blog Darcy’s Heart-Stirrings. It was originally published on June 26, 2013 and is modified for HA.

Someone posted this article today on Facebook, from a famous Christian author and blogger:

If Only She Knew ~ Thoughts On Modesty

I read this against my better judgment and honestly, I’m sitting here furious. I have said for years that boys in conservative Christian homes are conditioned to struggle with “modesty” and everyday normal things regarding female bodies. That they are programmed to see non-erotic body parts as erotic. This article is the perfect example of that. This poor boy, and every boy like him have been set up by their parents for a lifetime of failure and shame. Then they have the audacity to blame all the women in the world for their terrible parenting. I’m just so angry at this type of spiritual abuse and bondage!

Here’s how the article starts out:

“Avert your eyes, Son. His dad started saying it to him from the youngest age – when he was only a little boy. Might have been an alluring commercial while watching the ballgame. Or a billboard while driving down the highway. A pop-up on the computer screen. As parents, we had purposed to teach him purity from the beginning.  

Temptation can be found anywhere. Even in Target. Target? Yeah, I know. That’s what I thought too. Until one day we popped in to pick up some flip-flops for the summer and I remarked how he kept bumping into things. What is your problem, Son?? “I’m just looking down, Mom,” And with a nod, he indicated the ads placed strategically above us. Billboards for the lingerie department. Yikes. I’d not seen them. “

I’ve written about how modesty teachings enslave women, well this is the perfect example of how they enslave men too. The first few sentences infuriated and shocked me. They created their son’s struggles. They conditioned and brain-washed him to think there was something wrong with seeing females in clothing they didn’t approve of. That looking at a woman is somehow shameful. They did that to their son and they are patting themselves on the back for it. They didn’t teach him “purity”, they taught him shame and objectification of women.  They taught him that natural attraction is something to feel guilty about and be avoided at all costs. They should be ashamed of themselves. They have set their son up for failure, and now he is going to be under such a heavy burden his entire life for things that are not wrong. He’s going to struggle with “sins” that aren’t sins but that he’s been brainwashed to think are “impurity”. The sight of normal American women all around him is going to send him into such a frenzy of natural emotion and arousal that he’s not going to know how to function in the real world. This poor boy! I cannot imagine doing anything that unhealthy to my sons.

Oh, but it gets worse:

“It was a hot July day and we all packed up and headed out for fun and fellowship with a bunch of other believers. Picnic blankets, cold watermelon, and squirt guns. It was promising to be a great day. 

So I was surprised to see our oldest son hanging back from the festivities. He’s an outgoing guy and usually one of the first out there mixing it up. Except not this time. He stayed close to our small spot and played with his little brothers instead. What is your problem, Son?? 

He hesitated for a moment. Then answered, “Mom, I don’t know what to do. Dad’s taught me to ‘avert my eyes’, but there doesn’t seem anywhere I can turn here.”

Nowhere he can safely look. Because women in swimsuits and summer clothes are everywhere and he’s had it drilled into him from a tender young age that women in swimsuits are off-limits, tantalizing, and “impure”. This poor boy cannot even go swimming or play outside because of his parent’s brain-washing. How is this “purity”? It isn’t. It’s heaping guilt and legalism on a child’s head and causing untold confusion. This isn’t healthy. This is so very toxic. He’s just a little boy. Yet his innocence is being trampled into the ground.

My cousin Matt said this when he read this article:

“He [the boy in the story] wouldn’t have a problem with it if his parents didn’t make it a big deal. If they approached sexual attraction as a normal thing, and taught him how to control his actions, he wouldn’t have to live in fear of seeing bare skin. Now, it seems like he is afraid to even go out in public, because of all the eye snares around him. Its almost as if he – or his mother, at least – expect girls to cover up for her son’s sake, as if the world revolved around him. 

If he was in the real world, you know, the one that inhabits the spaces around his stifling mother and father, then he would find that real men really don’t worry about bare skin. Those of us who control our desires know it is not wrong to look or enjoy the sight of a beautiful woman. We also don’t expect them to serve us because we know they aren’t the temptresses this mother is insinuating that they are. 

What he needs is for the walls of his little world to come crashing down. People like his parents think they are helping him walk in victory, but it isn’t victory when you are afraid of the world around you. It isn’t victory when you demonize something God created: beauty in a woman. It trivializes His creation. It makes it seem as if women are there to set you up for failure. 

What’s wrong is not the world around him, but the world in which he lives. Open your eyes, son, look up. Nothing says you have to look at the lingerie ad, but you won’t go to hell for lingering a second longer on it. Look at it and move on. It is part of the world around you. Your urges are part of your world. Your desires are part of your world. They aren’t your whole world, as your mother seems to emphasize.” 

In essence, these parents are crippling their son. There’s no way around that. And this mother is encouraging other mothers to cripple their son and to see all women as objects of temptation.  Not to mention using emotionalism and spiritual-sounding language to urge all women to cater to her dysfunction. This is a glaring example of spiritual and psychological abuse.

I’m not going to post the rest. It’s an appeal to emotion that ends up blaming all the women in the world for this boy’s and every good boy’s “struggles”; blaming women for toxic, spiritually abusive parenting they have inflicted on their son. You can read it but be warned, it’s painful.

This is a real, serious problem, but I’ve never seen it outlined so perfectly as this post does. Making normal, non-erotic body parts erotic does a grave disservice to boys and men. And this is a wide-spread problem among conservative Christians and homeschoolers.

Here’s what my friend Katie had to say in a conversation we were having on this topic:

I believe the ultra conservative teaching many of us grew up under modesty-wise, has hurt men as well as women. Men who grow up so sheltered that they find a cap sleeve enticing and whose moms cover their eyes if a woman with cleavage walks past, never learn how to deal with normal American dress. It is no wonder they experience such trouble at a beach or a pool. Regardless of how you personally believe God would have you to dress, you have no right to control the rest of culture. Your husbands, brothers, sons, etc. will be exposed to cleavage, shorts, bikini’s, mini skirts, etc. We do boys no favors when we raise them so strictly that such normal clothing is hyper erotic to them. Instead of sheltering them we end up hyper sexualizing them. I feel sorry for guys raised that way that struggle thru normal daily life like going to the grocery store.

I hope our generation will do better than our parents at teaching our children (boys and girls alike) how to view the opposite sex. Lust is not a sin that only effects men. Women can struggle with it as well. Part of the problem is that we call sin things that are not sin thereby heaping guilt on men and women for simple biological hormonal reactions.

It is not sin to find a person attractive. It is not even sin to feel turned on by them as they walk past you. That is just a basic function of biology and hormones. It is a sin, to dwell there and savor the moment, to go back to it time and again, or continue to fantasize about that other person (ie undressing them in your mind or worse). We need to teach our children the difference between a hormonal reaction that is biological, and choosing to expand or camp in that reaction and indulge in lust. We need to practice personal responsibility in our handling of situations that are struggles for us personally, and we need to teach our children personal responsibility for their own reactions to others around them. Men and women alike need to dress in ways that do not violate their conscience, but they also need to realize that they can never control anyone but themselves and master their own thought lives.”

Fear, shame, guilt, rules, “temptation is everywhere”….a little boy whose innocence was taken by the very people supposed to protect him. And all in the name of “purity”. My heart is breaking. I may be a woman, and I experienced these lies from a woman’s perspective, but I saw what they did to the men in my life. To the boys programmed with shame. I continue to see the effects of such teachings as the boys I grew up with are now men. An entire generation of men who were raised with shame and fear, like this little boy, have grown up and their stories are enough to keep the tears flowing and the hearts breaking. I have two little boys of my own. And I cannot imagine raising them to fear the world, women, and themselves as the parents of  the boy in this story are doing. I hope they see what they are doing to their son before it is too late to undo it

(Warning: I would suggest that if the above sickens or triggers you, don’t read the comments on the post I linked. Some of them are worse by far than anything in the post and completely disgusting.)

Something Is Wrong With Me: Jane’s Story

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HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Jane” is a pseudonym.

I grew up with the Pearl books surrounding me.

My dad had cases of their “To Train up a Child.” The church moms and young married women were constantly talking about Debi’s book “Created to be his Help Meet.” This book was given to every young lady either getting married or recently married. However, in my teenage years my mom thought that the book was not age appropriate to me (I might start asking what sex was!), so I was not allowed to read it.

Despite not being allowed to read it, I picked up on many of the themes in the book from listening to the other ladies in the church talking about it. I remember many times hearing the women talking about what “type” of husband they had. I heard enough of that that I could even figure out what “type” my father and brothers were and especially what type I wanted my husband to be (or not to be – my dad was a “steady” and honestly I couldn’t stand his methodic ways most of the time).

Despite not being allowed to read many books when I was a teenager, I was great at reading books on the sly. When I was 16, I managed to pick up “Created to be his Help Meet” for a few minutes while visiting my recently married sister. Of all the pages to open up to, my highly hormonal, sexually awakening yet so innocent teenage self opened the book to the “Bad Bob” story. I found the story on another website (which also has a great commentary on this story), and reprinted it here (trigger warning for misogynistic language):

*****

Bad Bob

In the following story, the characters, Bob and Lydia, are composites drawn from counseling sessions of two different couples. We have heard the same basic story many times over while ministering to countless married people. 

Bob had an upset stomach and was not hungry, so his family dropped him off at the motel where they would be staying, and then they went to get something to eat. His dad never let them watch the motel TV, but Bob knew they would be gone for at least an hour, and he was bored. The first scene that he saw held him riveted. The music was sensual. Bob stared, trapped in his own shocked silence. There before him in slow motion was a woman walking up steps. All he could see was the woman’s behind encased in a short leather skirt that was slit up the backside. The camera slowly shifted down her long slender thighs until he could see the backless high heels. Then it traveled slowly up her long legs focusing on the open slit as she climbed. He watched as she reached the top of the stairs and stepped into a room; still the camera stayed on her legs. Bob’s heart pounded in anticipation. The soft music began to swell as the camera climbed. A sound on the outside of the motel door jerked Bob back to the present. He hit the off button with such force as to crack the remote and then flung it across the room as if it were a poisonous spider. False alarm, no one was there, but after only two minutes of a mere introduction to soft porn, Bob would never be the same. That day was the first day that Bob masturbated. He was 13 years old.

Two years later, Bob was sitting in church when Lydia, the youth director’s wife, stood up directly in front of him to take her youngest child to the bathroom. His mouth got terribly dry as he stared at her round behind encased in a tight leather skirt with a slit up the back. It is true that Lydia’s skirt was several inches longer than the one that was no part of his daydreams, but when Lydia bent over to pick up the child, several of the young men sitting behind her slowly covered their laps with their songbooks. Bob almost hated Lydia after that day. She was responsible for his torment and temptation. The force of those few seconds of soft porn 2 years earlier, along with the stretched material pulled dangerously high as Lydia leaned over, caused him to empty his semen into his pants, right there in church, resulting in a large wet spot. He found a use for his Bible that day after church. It covered his shame as he rushed out to the van to take the back seat. A week later Bob dropped out of the youth group. His sudden departure puzzled and saddened the earnest youth director. He went to Bob to ask him if there was anything Bob wanted to talk about. Bitter bile filled Bob’s mouth at the memory of the youth director’s wife slowly walking up the church steps with her tight skirt and high-heeled shoes, just like the woman on the TV. Lydia, with her sanctimonious smile, did not deceive him; how could she be so dumb as to not know exactly what she was doing to him? No, he had nothing to talk about, he told Lydia’s stupid husband.

Lydia never knew she had shamed her husband, hurt his ministry, and caused a young man to smolder with bitter hatred and almost falter on the edge of quitting the faith. She would not have believed me (or perhaps she would have been secretly pleased at what she thought was her beauty) if I had pulled her aside and explained how the young men at church were reacting to her and why several treated her with such distain. She would have explained to me that her style was just “her style,” and they needed to get a grip. I know this because I have talked to many Lydias.

Bob had not looked at porn since that first night, but his mind was in a constant struggle, and his battle with masturbation was never-ending. Opened or low-cut shirts were a misery to him. Bare midriffs were bad too, but a girl who had long slender thighs coming to the meetings in mid-length shorts or skirts made him miserable beyond belief.

When Bob was 22 years old, he met a sweet, little peach of a girl with soft, warm eyes and a good, clean heart. They married, and Bob was relieved that his miseries were finally over. For the first three years she was sexually exciting, and he was able to fully enjoy what before had shamed and frustrated him in his youth. He known knew blessed relief from his old enemy, lust, which was finally brought under control in his pure marriage relationship.

Life never seems to roll out easy, and after Bob’s wife had her second child, she stopped being so responsive to Bob in the bedroom. Her excuses were exhaustion, sickness, didn’t want to get pregnant, didn’t feel like it, it hurt because “something seems wrong inside me now,” etc. She knew she had to give him sex once a week, but she came to him half-heartedly, which caused him to never really get total satisfaction. The women at work always dressed sexy and had tried to provoke Bob, but he saw them as a bunch of diseased animals, so although they provoked him, he resented it.

Church was different. Church ladies seemed clean and wholesome. At 25 years old, Bob was in his prime, and he needed his woman. God had designed his body with a sensitive trigger that needed release at least 2 or 3 times a week. He had developed certain habits in order to avoid unexpected temptations. His wife had no idea why he had such strange habits, like picking the spot where they would sit in the church, but she just sat where he led her. Lydia was not a problem anymore. Thankfully, the few years that had passed had played havoc on her beautiful behind and thighs. Bob smiled and said “hi” when he saw her walk by. She still tried to pull on that stupid “what did I do” look, like she really didn’t know why he had always disliked her. It was true, he still did not like her and found a certain sense of gratification at the demise of her beauty. Seeing her made Bob remember when her husband, the youth director, was teaching a small group meeting of young married men, explaining to them that all women go through times of total disinterest in sex, including his own wife, and how important it was to be vigilant against lust during those times. He had felt sorry for him at the time, but now Bob’s own little honey had turned off her water spigot of sweet loving.

“Vigilant, I must be vigilant.” Bob was scanning the church building looking for a safe place to sit when he felt his wife pulling on his arm. “I want to sit over behind the Chandler family.” Bob’s alarm went off. Three tall, long-legged, beautiful teenage girls, who liked tighter, shorter skirts, were members of the Chandler family. He groaned with irritation. His wife caught the groan and took offense. He wished he could explain all this complicated mess to his wife, but she would only get jealous and spend the rest of his life watching where and who he was looking at…. He allowed her to lead him into the row of temptation. If anyone could see his mind while he sat behind the Chandler girls, they would have had him arrested. He knew he was Bad Bob, full of lust, anger, frustration, and defeat. Somehow he always thought bitterly of Lydia when he was feeling defeated: “What a fat cow, no, not a cow, she’s a pig.”

*****

I know this story has so many things wrong with it on so many levels, but I will leave that to others to discuss.

Today I want to talk about what that story did to me and my idea of sexuality. You could probably say I grew up without sex education. My mom went to great extent to not discuss sex with me. In fact, at the age of 16, I was still terrified to sleep in the same bed that my brothers had slept in without changing the sheets because I thought I would get pregnant by my brothers – and that would be the ultimate sin and shame!

When I read Debi’s story, I thought I was given a great secret into the mind of a man.

Between this story and also sneak reading “For Women Only” by Shaunti Feldhahn, I formed the idea that men were sex robots that could be completely turned on and ready to hammer me from just glancing at my butt in tight jeans. Despite rejecting many of the teachings of my fundamental upbringing, I didn’t realize these views on men’s sexuality were so wrong. I hadn’t connected these ideas to the religion because I had never been exposed to how men really were (after all, I could never openly talk about this!). I found these teachings haunted my sexual life years after I had left everything resembling fundamentalism behind. Here I was, thinking that it was a fact of life that men could ejaculate in their pants by just seeing my butt through a tight skirt.

When I became sexually active and eventually married, I thought there was something wrong, ugly, and not womanly about me. Why? Because these men were not aroused the way Debi said they would be by my body. My husband can see me butt naked and may not necessarily be aroused just by the fact that he can see my naked body. This was extremely hurtful for me when all my life I had been taught that the slightest peek of my body could have a man ready to tear my clothes off.

I thought something was extremely wrong with me.

After time and time again of not seeing men aroused the way I was taught they should be by my body, I started to get obsessed with it. I think somewhere deep inside I knew that I wasn’t a defective woman and I wanted to prove that to myself. I turned to man after man to see if I could find one man that reacted to me the way Debi said they should. After all, I thought something was wrong with me, not Debi’s idea of men. I wreaked havoc on my young life with this obsession and felt an immense amount of shame for the extent I went to try to prove that I was actually womanly the way Debi said I should be.

Thankfully, I met my wonderful husband and slowly healed. It wasn’t easy, but over time I think I have gained a more healthy view of men’s sexuality. Or at least realized that I am a normal woman and my husband is a normal man. There’s nothing wrong with either of us, even though he does not react the way Debi says he should. On a side note, he doesn’t even need that release 2 to 3 times a week just to remain faithful to me. I am grateful to say there’s so much more to him than that.

I think one thing Debi (and many other fundamental Christian authors) has done is she writes thinking that the younger, homeschooled, sheltered generation will have many the same experiences as she has. After all, most parents first got a healthy view on men’s sexuality before they are exposed to radical ideas such as Debi’s. By having some exposure to the real world, the parents are able to balance it out more than the sheltered kids are.

I don’t think Debi realizes how much these young, innocent girls truly believe her.

After all, she’s married and she knows what a man is actually like. She knows that her story isn’t entirely the real world. But these sheltered girls don’t know. These sheltered girls spend their entire lives making sure to not have men ejaculating in their pants only to reach the marriage bed and be extremely disappointed when they meet a real man. No one ever told them that sometimes they might be met with a soft dong. If no one ever told them that, they will think something is wrong with them. I don’t know how many of these disappointed young girls took the same route as me.

I don’t know how many of these poor girls may have destructively turned from man to man just trying to prove they are as womanly as Debi says they are.