Are You Inadvertently Raising Your Sons to Have Problems with Lust?

by | Nov 25, 2019 | Parenting Teens | 55 comments

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Every time, without fail, when I try to talk about men’s struggles with lust the conversation turns to how women, and especially teenage girls, dress.

Basically it goes something like this:

Well, of course men shouldn’t lust, but girls should also watch what they wear. I worry for our sons when girls come to church wearing really revealing clothing (or yoga pants, or spaghetti straps, or insert particular item of problematic clothing here).

This isn’t meant to be a criticism of any particular commenter, because it’s across all my posts, from so many people, both men and women. And we see it on other blogs, too.

But I am concerned that, in equating men’s struggle with lust with teenage girls’ clothing choices, we might actually be creating the conditions for boys to have a problem with lust.

So I want to deconstruct this today, and go back to first principles. And to do that, I want to start with two propositions that I hope that all of us will agree with:

  1. No matter what a women wears, a man (or boy) is still responsible for what’s going on in his heart and mind
  2. Even if we could control what women and girls wear to church (which we can’t), we certainly cannot control what women wear on the streets, in malls, in schools, and in the workplace.

I’m hoping everyone’s with me so far, but if you’re not, then I invite you to read these posts about modesty and lust first (along with this podcast about lust and yoga pants): 

Another big principle when it comes to raising teenagers, and which Rebecca definitely found in her research for her book Why I Didn’t Rebel, is this:

Teenagers tend to live up to the expectations of their parents.

Teens tend to internalize our expectations of them. Now depending on our expectations, this can be a bad thing. If we expect that they will follow in their father’s footsteps in playing football and then becoming a lawyer, for instance, and your son is more of a music guy who wants nothing more than to teach elementary school, there might always be this feeling that he’s disappointing you or that he’s a failure. 

But one of the key things that Rebecca found was that when you expect that your kids will rebel, or when you expect that they will go off the rails, that is indeed what kids tend to do. On the other hand, if you expect that your kids can make good choices, and will follow Jesus, then that is also what they tend to do. (Of course there are no guarantees! Every person has free will. But there are certain things that make it more likely that kids will go off the rails, and certain things that make it less likely). 

What if I told you that not all teenagers rebel?

And what if I told you that a lot of typical parenting advice makes rebellion more likely?

I interviewed 25 young adults, trying to figure out what made them rebel or not.

So, with that being said, what do you think your teenage boy will think if the way that you talk about lust is always equated with what girls are wearing?

For instance, on another blog I was reading recently a woman was bragging that she moved several pews up so that her boys wouldn’t have to sit directly behind some girls wearing yoga pants. But let’s think about what message you want your son to have about women. Do you want him to think:

No matter what, I will be able treat girls like whole people, respecting them and seeing them as Jesus sees them.


Depending on what a girl wears, I will have trouble not lusting after her. If she’s wearing something revealing, it’s pretty much automatic that my thoughts will go in a certain direction, and so I will have to be on guard when girls are around and watch what they wear.

I would hope that you would want him to think the first one. But here’s my question, then: 

Is the way that you talk about girls’ clothing choices and boys’ struggle with lust more likely to lead to the first outcome or the second outcome?

Because honestly, if we moms are that paranoid about what girls are wearing because of what it might do to our sons, then our sons are going to feel:

I have no control over lust, and this is something that I will struggle with.

You see, you can talk about lust in a healthy way, where you acknowledge that boys will find girls attractive, you acknowledge that they’ll be curious, you acknowledge that they’ll have sexual feelings–but you also say, “But I know that you can still treat girls with respect.” In fact, that’s the way that we framed it in The Whole Story, our puberty course for dads & sons (we also have a version for moms & daughters, of course). Yes, you’ll have sexual feelings. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t see girls as whole people.

I suspect one reason that moms are really scared of what our sons will experience is that we’re scared about our husbands lusting

When we grow up in church hearing that it’s inevitable that men will lust, and that this is every man’s battle, and that we have to be modest so that we won’t be stumbling blocks–well, many women are very nervous about our husbands’ thought life. And men who grow up in these churches, I believe, are also more likely to struggle with porn and with lust than men who grow up in other cultural enclaves. But we’re scared of what our husbands will think, and so the only way to stop lust is to police what women and girls wear. And that just plain never works.


Okay, a few things that I’m sure will be push backs:

But how can you ignore it if a girl is wearing something super provocative?

I don’t think you have to ignore it. But if you absolutely must comment on it (and usually we really could ignore it and treat it like it’s no big deal, but if you just can’t do that), imagine how different your son’s expectations of how he should act would be if, while talking about what she’s wearing, you were to phrase it in terms of concern for her rather than concern for him? What if you could say something like:

I wish Jenny understood that with what she’s wearing she may start to get attention that she doesn’t actually want. Honey, if you’re in a group with her, and you see boys getting creepy around her, please go run interference and protect her from that, okay? Maybe if you treat her with respect you can help her see that she can respect herself.

You don’t treat her as if she’s dangerous; you just acknowledge that she might be in danger in some circumstances. In fact, that’s a great way to raise your boys! Let them know that if they’re at university parties, one of their responsibilities is to watch out for the girls around them, especially if any are drunk, to make sure they don’t get taken advantage of. Watch their drinks to see that nobody puts anything in them. Stand up for girls who are subject to leering. That’s a much better message.

But he’s a boy! He can’t help but lust!

You know what? That may very well be true to an extent. He may get some sexual thoughts he doesn’t want. He may even entertain them. But he doesn’t have to feed them, and it doesn’t have to change how he acts in a respectful way towards women. And the more that you expect him to lust, the more he’ll lust. The more you show that you expect him to interact with the girls and women around him in a respectful, friendly way, the more likely it is that he’ll do that, too.

I really wish that we could stop talking about what women and girls wear to church and start talking about how we can treat others with respect. 

Obviously I have concerns about what some teenage girls (and women) choose to wear. I’m not saying that the amount of skin that we show is A-okay. I’m just saying that it is part of our culture, and we aren’t going to change it. And we are told to live in this world. So your job as a parent is to teach your son how to live in this world, surrounded by women and girls who may have clothing choices that you disapprove of, and still act respectfully.

If you have daughters, certainly teach her to dress with care (and I have non-shaming modesty rules at the bottom of this post). That’s what I did!

But ultimately, your sons will tend to live up to your expectations. So how about we stop expecting them to struggle with lust, and we start expecting that, no matter what happens, they will treat women and girls with respect?

Are We Raising Our Sons to Objectify Girls? How to Talk Better about Modesty and Lust

Personally, I think boys and men can be much more awesome than we often give them credit for.

I think men can be gentle and strong at the same time. I think men can stand up for the ones around them who need protecting. I think men can rise above their temptations and do the right thing. I think men can be honorable, loyal, and steadfast. I think men can go against the crowd when they need to and, well, simply act like Christ.

And I think teenage boys can, too.

Men–and boys–can be wonderful. As the new grandma of a grandson, I believe that, and I’m going to act like I believe that, too.

What do you think? Is the way that we frame the modesty debate dangerous for boys? Let’s talk in the comments!

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. Jill Couch

    I agree with your perspective on this Sheila.
    I also feel there is responsibility on both sides, however, because we live in a world of extreme differences, promoting positive behaviours and attitudes will be more effective than accusatory or judgemental ones.
    I am blessed to have a daughter and son in law who promote and enforce modesty for our granddaughters. However, they’ve gotten stricter, and I use that word very lightly, because they’ve had a sexual predator caught and charged in their church!
    And that’s another subject that infuriates me!
    Males and females both have a responsibility here but the church is living in the dark ages. Time for more change.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Totally agree, Jill. And that’s super creepy about the predator in their church. What is it with our home town anyway? (and Jill and I live in the same town!). Do you remember, Jill, when we had that creepy pedophile guy living ACROSS THE FENCE from our backyard when the girls were little, and i was telling you how I was trying to get Katie to stop stripping naked in the summer (she was like 2 1/2)?

      I will say, though, that the best ways to keep predators away from your granddaughters is not about what they wear but instead about how adults seem around them. Predators will often ignore the kids whose parents seem vigilant, and who obviously talk to their kids and get down to eye level and listen to their kids. Predators tend to target the kids who look like adults don’t listen to them. I’m glad they got the guy, though!

    • Julia

      The problem with this is that sexual predators would be sexual predators if women wore floor length potato sacks with turtle necks on.

      We treat the female body like the danger to be hidden away when the danger is men treating women like objects.

      Shame never helps anyone and modesty culture heaps the shame of female beauty and the shame of male lust onto the shoulder of teen girls who are already self conscious. It’s a recipe for men to think they absolutely cannot control themselves and that the onus isn’t on them, and it tells women they are the consistent problem no matter what they do.

      Super dangerous

      • Lea

        “The problem with this is that sexual predators would be sexual predators if women wore floor length potato sacks with turtle necks on.”

        100% this. This goes for children and teenagers alike. ‘Modesty’ whatever that means does not solve this problem because the problem has nothing to do with clothing.

    • Wifeofasexaddict

      Being stricter about the children’s modesty will not protect them from child molesters. Teaching them body autonomy and the ability to say no, even to adults, and having a zero tolerance policy for touching children are the only things that will. Because child abuse isn’t about sexuality. It’s about power and getting away with something.

  2. G

    I agree. Lust, porn, abuse- it all starts with objectifying people. The questionnaire for sex addictions from Brad Hambrick’s materials begins with treating people differently because of how they look. If every person we meet, regardless of what they are wearing or even how they are acting, is still given respect and dignity as an image bearer of God, how different our world would be. The antidote for objectifying people is honoring with dignity. (And it helps an abundance of issues- gender, ethnicity, economic divisions, religions, political differences, etc. if everyone we meet is treated with dignity, what a different world.)

  3. Jane Eyre

    Lots of thoughts.

    Kids pick up on far more than adults think they do. The way that their father treats their mother, the way their mother dresses, and the way their mother talks about their sisters’ bodies or women’s bodies are all things that set the stage for how teenage boys will feel about lust and modesty.

    You can’t be a nasty little gossip about other women’s bodies – even if it’s not necessarily sexual – and expect your son to not objectify women. If you constantly comment on weight, fine lines, plastic surgery, clothes, etc., then you are teaching your son to be critical of women and their appearance, rather than to see them as made in the image of God.

    Likewise, you teach your son how to handle lust long before puberty, because you’ve taught him to handle (or not handle) strong, negative emotions already. The way he handles anger, hurt, provocation, envy, etc., will all inform how he should handle lust. Teach him that these emotions happen, are valid but not necessarily constructive, and teach him that *he* is in charge of them.

    I dated a lot of men who let lust control them, and it was awful and frightening. For the record, I dress modestly – in fact, had people tell me to “show off” my body more – and made my views on chastity exceedingly clear. But none of that matters when a man does not think it is his responsibility to control himself.

    That’s about it from the dispatches of “dysfunctional family, dated in the modern culture for almost 20 years before meeting my husband.”

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Great thoughts, Jane! I totally agree. Also, if we want our girls to have healthy body image, then we can’t go around commenting on other women’s bodies in negative ways as well, as if that’s the main thing about them. It just isn’t healthy all round. Which means that we all really need to check our own attitudes and hearts, because kids do pick up on it!

    • Charity Boyle

      Love this, Jane! Well said. I love that this is being talked about. Love this article. It’s all true. The Bible tells us to be chaste and not foolish talkers; wise as serpents, harmless as doves. The Bible also says we are the builders of our homes.. we can choose to build them up or tear them down.

  4. Andrea

    If you think provocatively dressed women cause men to lust, read about the #MeToo movement in the Arab world. Their women are covered head-to-foot and have more instances of harassment than we do in our cleavage-bearing yoga pants-wearing culture.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      So true!

    • Bekah

      Bam!!!!! Exactly! It really has nothing to do with women and their bodies, but with a man’s view of women.
      Thank you!!

  5. A

    I recently read a book that discussed homosexuality, among other topics. The author discusses the church almost hyper focusing on teenage boys struggling with lusting for teenage girls while at the same time completely ignoring that some of these boys are not dealing with sexual attraction towards girls; these boys are dealing with sexual attraction towards other boys. In that situation, focusing on a girl’s attire is just silly.

    The church tends to put certain populations into groups or categories (stereotyping) rather than getting to know an individual and their needs and struggles. We sinners struggle with all sorts of things. By putting too much emphasis on one area of sin, we are missing other temptations in our midst.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Absolutely. Also, by constantly talking about how porn is a huge temptation that boys are virtually helpless to fight off, we often make porn more alluring than it is (I know teenage boys who have STARTED porn after hearing all about how tempting it was repeatedly in youth group situations).

  6. Arwen

    Sheila, what Rebecca wrote in her book about the expectations parents have towards their children reminds me so much of my childhood back home. Culturally It was expected of all of us not to have sex outside of marriage and as such no one did it, male or female. Familial influence was/is POWERFUL! Train up a child……….

    • Anonymous

      Its funny you say this. I sort of have the opposite experience. Our youth group when I was younger was pretty solid. And the expectation from all our parents and youth group was that you wouldn’t have sex before marriage. And yet of the core group of girls I don’t know a single one that didn’t have sex before marriage. I think all of us did. I don’t know about the boys in the youth group as we just didn’t have those conversations with them at the time. I’m not sure what or where this youth group went wrong but they definitely focused on the purity culture and the way they talked about sex with boys and girls (even when we were all together as a group) was noticeably different. I was spoken to for wearing skirts that were too short (they were above my knee and my legs are really long so they looked shorter than they were) but my attitude has always been (personally) I’m not responsible for what the boys think. I dunno. The expectation was there. The teaching was not. Or it was but it wasn’t great.

      • Bethany

        I think the issue is that regardless of how well you are taught and encouraged towards living a certain way, it’s up to you. You have to internalize the rules about sex for yourself. Cause in the moments of intimacy, where you are going Decide whether to cross lines, it’s a matter of what you want.
        My experience was growing up with a family that taught alot of expectations about how wonderful sex was inside marriage. (But not for outside of it obviously). I set rules for dating and relationships for myself, Because my family only had extremely general ones set up. (Not til 16, and use common sense) I’m very happy with how I got through dating. But I almost caved on one of my rules, I REALLY wanted to kiss before the wedding day. I know that it doesn’t have to be so monumental for everyone, but it was because of what I knew it represented. The only reason I was able to wait, was because I had made the rules from me for me.(completely on my own, my parents were very trusting of most of us)
        My sister didn’t and has kinda messed up her life. She got involved in the marital mess of a sibling, who has an abusive husband. She either slept with him, or slept with an unknown man. Unknown and probably not ever going to be clear. She lost almost all family relationships, Because of her choices. Sobering reminder for the siblings still growing up.
        Anyways my point is: no matter how much it’s spoken around you, it’s up to you how to use the information given.
        (And I’m now very happily married and kissing alot.)

  7. Chris

    I’ve noticed lately that women and girls are using the word “creepy” in a lot of interesting ways. It used to be a rather straightforward word. But i was at a social gathering not too long ago and a guy tried to chat up my wife’s younger sister. Ok, he wasn’t the best looking guy but he was polite to her. She shot him down right away and said “what a creep”. And i was stunned. Poor guy just tried to talk to her.

    • Jane Eyre

      Some women are drama queens. Other times, the issue is that the guy is ignoring signals to back off, ignores an existing relationship (I had a man proposition me when I was newly engaged), or is far too old.

      That gets tiring. Really tiring.

    • Lea

      You could ask her what she meant by ‘creepy’. Many times women are picking up on vibes that you aren’t.

      I keep hearing this complaint, but women are allowed to have a feeling that you don’t understand about the way someone is hitting on them.

  8. Sarah O

    I think this is so important, not just for girls but also for guys.

    There are really terrible women out there. Women with bad hearts who consciously and deliberately use sex to get what they want, whether it’s money, drama, a sense of power, etc. Women who may deliberately try to get pregnant to trap a guy she knows doesn’t want her. Women who will use alcohol to make a guy more compliant.

    When we allow guys to use girls’ behavior to dictate their own, not only do we give the guy license to sin, but we make him powerless in the face of women who are terrible. We just have to sit back and hope he never runs into such a woman because if she wears something revealing and crooks her finger at him, he has no hope or history of resistance.

    Please note that I am not saying any woman that dresses provocatively is a terrible person, nor am I trying to minimize what girls go through with the ever moving modesty mark, just trying to point out that learning sexual self-control does not just benefit women.

    I really want my sons to make beautiful relationships based on character and compatibility, not end up with some weak story about “well she took her top off at a house party and one thing led to another so then we had to date and now we’re unhappily married with kids involved and I never really liked her that much but whatchagunnado?”

    I want them to be empowered to make good decisions about respecting women and also make good decisions about their future too. I want them to not be afraid of women because they have a strong “no”.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s so, so true, Sarah! And I agree with you–there are women who are terrible. And there are women who are not. And there are men who are terrible, and men who are not. Sin doesn’t have a gender.

      But we do want to equip BOTH our boys and girls to avoid the bad ones.

      Boys need to be taught that they do have the power to resist lust, and that they can find someone with good character. And girls need to be taught that it is super creepy and wrong for boys to blame huge lust problems on girls. When girls grow up hearing how all guys lust, I think it makes them more inclined to ignore red flags when dating, because they don’t realize that guys exist who will not blame them for their own sin.

      • Chris

        “And girls need to be taught that it is super creepy and wrong for boys to blame huge lust problems on girls.“

        Sheila, its wrong for boys to blame their lust problem on girls……because it’s misplaced blame. They need to own their own sin. It is not however “super creepy” . This word keeps getting misused.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          I don’t know, Chris. As a woman, I’m very creeped out if a man looks at me, lusts, and then blames me for it. When men leer at you, it is creepy. When they start picking apart what you’re wearing and the effect it has on them, it is really creepy. At least, that’s pretty much the definition of the word where I’m from. Is that a Canadian thing? I’d love for people to chime in here!

        • Joyce

          If someone finds a person or situation to be “creepy” by their definition, IT IS creepy. For them. You don’t get to define creepy for them. Red flags are being raised in their subconscious, they are responding to a gut feeling, and to keep themselves safe they must honour that feeling.

        • A

          Creepiness can come in various levels and varieties. For example, my abusive ex-husband is a creep because he charms and manipulates women only to use and abuse them. My sister’s father-in-law is also a creep, but that’s because he thinks it’s totally ok to hit on his daughter-in-law’s little sister (the fact that he was hitting on anyone at a funeral, let alone someone younger than two of his children, AND his daughter-in-law’s sister only added to the creep factor).

          My point is, there are some behaviors that are obviously inappropriate and creepy is just a convenient word to use to label this general category of inappropriate behaviors.

          • Lea

            creepy IS a feeling (causing an unpleasant feeling of fear or unease.) You can’t define and dictate how other people feel.

        • Blessed Wife

          Visibly, noticeably lusting on girls or women is pretty much the definition of creepy. Lusting on a girl and then blaming her for it is creepy and something else- dishonest? Bullying? Controlling? I’m struggling a bit for the perfect adjective here, but “creepy” is a slam dunk if he makes his lust her problem in ANY way.

          That said, I see your point about overuse of the word creepy. I hear it applied to guys of whom the woman or girl can’t identify a single objectionable thing about him except that she doesn’t find him attractive and he indicated a very polite and respectful interest.

          Please note, there can be just a weird feeling that you can’t pin down that tells you to avoid a guy, but I would encourage any woman or girl who finds herself calling a guy a “creep” to seriously examine and try to articulate why she feels that word applies. If it’s because he knows things about her that he shouldn’t, or he’s leering, handsy, or whatever, well, she’s learned to analyse and articulate something that’s bothering her, and that may help her get help if she needs it, or spot the same warning sign in a handsome, charismatic man later.

          And if it turns out that her calling him that originates in nothing more sinister than her own shallowness, well, maybe that will be helpful to her in a different way.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            GREAT thoughts! I completely agree. I think this encapsulates likely what Chris was getting at, but also what the women were reacting to. Excellent.

      • Ashley

        “When girls grow up hearing how all guys lust, I think it makes them more inclined to ignore red flags when dating, because they don’t realize that guys exist who will not blame them for their own sin.”

        Oh. My. Goodness. Thank you for saying this. I wish I had really seen the red flags.

        • Lea

          And, related but something I realized too late, teaching girls that all men will ‘push’ you for sex or sexual activity makes you tacitly accept that you are always going to have to be pushing men away and it so shocking when you meet one who DOESN’T and realize it really didn’t have to be that way. And you could just set a boundary and ditch guys who push too hard.

  9. Annon

    I love this so much! I was raised in church to dress modestly… the whole stumbling block thing. My ex-husband was a porn addict and believed whole-heartedly in the Every Man’s Battle stuff. No surprise, our son has had a problem with porn his entire teenage life. Despite filters and limited access he has always found a way to find stuff. I wish I could have read this 10 years ago. My son has a protective nature and I think this could have gone a long way to help him. Instead of being spoon-fed into this “struggle” we could have equipped him to deal with what he faced as someone with at least chance of victory. I think that’s the main problem with the “every man’s battle” philosophy. There will always be a battle and the man will loose often and, then have to keep fighting. There’s never just victory. So… why try so hard to just keep loosing? What’s the point? Is it even worth it? We’ve got to change and equip our boys differently or we are just feeding the cycle.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      SO TRUE! This is what I’ve been saying for years about the whole idea of “Every man’s battle“: If every man has this battle, then it’s a battle that no man can win. Even more than that, though, if you’re a guy and you DON’T have this battle, then you’re not a real man. That latter message is what made several young men I know indulge in porn. They felt like they weren’t real men since they didn’t have a problem with lust, so they had to check it out to see if it would have an effect on them. The Bible does not teach things as if they are insurmountable. The Bible teaches that His grace is sufficient, that we have the Holy Spirit, and that we can live sanctified lives.

      • Andrea

        Yes! I’ve mentioned this in the comments before — Christian men feel emasculated in a society that defines masculinity by how many women they sleep with, so they compensate for the fact that they’re only allowed to sleep with one woman their whole life by exaggerating the lust problem in order to prove their manhood. Yet if you think of Jesus as the model, the only traditionally masculine thing he ever did was to chase the merchants out of the temple; otherwise it’s all traditionally feminine virtues of forgiveness, humility… when Peter cuts off a Roman guard’s ear to try to protect Jesus from arrest and crucifixion, Jesus heals it! He hangs out with prostitutes, yet doesn’t lust after them. Could we please please please use Him as a model of masculinity?

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Love this, Andrea! I’m going to have to think on this. Maybe I’ll put it in the Guy’s Guide to Great Sex!

          Christian men feel emasculated in a society that defines masculinity by how many women they sleep with, so they compensate for the fact that they’re only allowed to sleep with one woman their whole life by exaggerating the lust problem in order to prove their manhood.

      • Doug

        This might just be a case of semantics, but I really disagree with your statement about if it is a battle, that you have no chance of winning.

        I have heard(read) the opposite here an other blogs. A woman might say something to the effect that her husband doesn’t struggle, so nobody should.

        Here is the truth. For some it is a genuine struggle. It doesn’t mean they give in to it, or that they automatically lose. It is no different tham any other struggle, whether it is overeating or alcohol, or anger issues. The struggle does not define you.

        I struggle with anger. I usually win that struggle, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t struggle. In the past, I never struggled with it. I gave in to it at every offense or disapointment. The struggle is not a bad thing. It means you are in the fight.

        I think lust is a struggle that some men will just have to deal with. The guidelines and advice you set out in this post will certainly help equip young men to win that struggle, but that doesn’t mean they won’t struggle.

        None of that is to excuse bad behavior or improper thoughts. At the same time, I think there is a danger of shaming those who struggle, even successfully, if you make the struggle the issue instead of the behavior.

        Again, it may just be semantics, but it is worth mentioning.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Doug, I actually agree with you here. I think you’re missing my point (perhaps I didn’t state it properly)?

          You said this:

          I think lust is a struggle that some men will just have to deal with.

          Absolutely. No doubt about it. Agree with you 100%.

          But the word that is different in what you wrote and what I wrote is the word “SOME”. When we say that it’s a battle that EVERY man battles, all the time, then we say that it’s unwinnable. When we say that it’s a battle that some men will have to fight, I have no problem at all.

          It’s like saying that all people will always battle greed. If all of us always battle it, then there is no winning that battle. And God does lead us in sanctification.

          Besides, it’s statistically untrue that this is every man’s battle.

          (And perhaps that is semantics, too, but I do think it’s important. ) 🙂

          • BoundByLove

            As someone who has dealt with this about half their life, I can say it is a battle. Every man’s? I think that’s a bad representation. It has been uphill struggle. A struggle forever? I’d like to think not. But each time slowly getting better. And going to acknowledge the fact I’m the one responsible when I mess up, and the one who’s responsibility it is to change. And I can change. Sometimes it’s two steps forward one step back, but it is going forward.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            That’s wonderful!

  10. Lea

    “I wish Jenny understood”

    I don’t think what people wear makes that much difference practically in the amount of attention they get…I was a teenager in the 90’s and we were wearing grunge and flannels and it didn’t really make a difference.

    I will say… a lot of people act as if teenage girls aren’t still just very young people trying to figure things out along the way, and that includes things like makeup, styling, and their own bodies (as they are throughout puberty potentially changing on them). People treat girls as if they are 40 year old women making choices about everything they wear, when really they are trying desperately to figure things out, to be accepted among their peers and that includes teenagers of both sexes. Adolescence is complicated. Adults should treat kids with grace as they are learning, instead of as threats.

    • Sarah O

      Great point Lea. Yes teenagers are on their way to becoming adults, but can we make a little room for them to make mistakes and learn? And can we give both girls and guys the same amount of space?

  11. MrShorty

    Not sure if this will contribute anything, but your essay reminded me of an exchange I saw between a man (good Christian man, I think) and woman early in the MeToo movement. The man said something to the effect of, “If you only knew what goes through our (men’s) minds [so he included himself], you would be scared.” The woman’s response has stuck with me, “I’m not scared of what a man THINKS”. During the same time frame, a secular commentator wrote something to the effect of, “With all due respect to Jesus, there is a real, practical difference between what a man thinks and what a man does. A man who thinks about groping or kissing or having sex with a woman but does not do any of those things is very different from the man who actually does those deeds without consent.”

    I guess my reaction to your essay here, Sheila, is that it seems to me that we as Christians can be so hyperfocused on — maybe even outright scared of — what boys/men might think that we fail to even talk about behavior. I sometimes wonder if we put more emphasis on behavior (especially with young people who are new to their developing sexuality and new to developing impulse and thought control) — how should you behave when you want to ___ — would we do better.

    • Lea

      “The woman’s response has stuck with me, “I’m not scared of what a man THINKS”.”

      This is valid, 100%.

      That said, actions proceed from thoughts as well. I think what Sheila is trying to do is fix the wrong thinking that leads to bad actions.

      Individuals can control their actions and are responsible for them alone.

  12. Esther

    I can’t get the whole story link to work, even when I googled it. Is it still available?

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m so sorry! It’s right here. I’ll fix the link!

  13. AspenP

    The thing that sticks out to me as well in the teenage girl dressing provocatively scenario is that there is a very real young woman there who is either adapting to a rapidly changing body where a shirt that was fine last season is now revealing growing cleavage—or she could be insecure and looking for affirmation from peers and boys. The latter really needs a female adult who loves her and has relationship with her to acknowledge her beauty, her worth, and her value. She doesn’t NEED to dress to impress—she is impressive no matter what she wears because of WHOSE she is. That goes so far for a young girl. This generation especially is struggling so hard to understand their identity and find acceptance.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire


    • Lea

      “adapting to a rapidly changing body where a shirt that was fine last season is now revealing growing cleavage”

      I had a boy in 7th grade tell me I was trying to be sexy wearing tight jeans when all that happened is that I hit puberty and grew hips but my parents had not bought me new clothes.

      So yes.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Yep. I think many of us could tell that story!

      • M

        I just feel that something is missing in what you are communicating here. You say repeatedly that instead of expecting our sons to lust, we can teach them to interact respectfully. “And the more that you expect him to lust, the more he’ll lust. The more you show that you expect him to interact with the girls and women around him in a respectful, friendly way, the more likely it is that he’ll do that, too.” Are you saying that friendly interactions are mutually exclusive to lustful desires? You seem to be equating internal desires with outward actions, and that is dangerous. So many parents think that because their children exhibit model behavior that there is nothing destructive brewing internally that needs to be addressed, talked about, or guarded against! I feel you have the right idea- that we shouldn’t teach boys to be defensive (as in girls are dangerous) or overly conscious of what women wear (if they are looking to avoid the sight of bare skin then they’re looking, so it’s self-defeating), but I think we should do more than guide or modify behavior in this regard. How do you talk to your sons about this in a way that puts the responsibility on them, but also let’s them help themselves in avoiding temptation and recognizing their own weaknesses? There is no reason to assign the problem to any one gender, but it seems to be women’s clothing and style trends that tend to land on the provocative side most often, and no we can’t control that, but if it’s a reality then shouldn’t we be realistic? The antidote to inadvertently promoting lustfulness in the youth surely can’t be to pretend it won’t happen, or that respectful interaction is the cure.

  14. Grace

    I wanted to comment on Facebook but too many people from my church might see. I grew up in a wonderful church that I loved very much. When we entered into the youth group there was a lot of emphasis put on modesty. I am tall with very long legs and I’m naturally curvy. Trying to find shorts that were long enough was almost impossible because of my legs. I was a small but was made to wear large shirts to hide my curves. I am naturally the type who wants to please people and do the right thing and I tried so hard but I realize now it took a toll on me. I ended up becoming anorexic and bulimic because I was so ashamed of my curves. I know some of that is my own sin and I can’t totally blame others for that, but I do think the extreme modesty culture allowed me to feel bad about myself. The men leaders were actually fine and respectful, never gave me creepy vibes or anything. It was the women leaders who would make me feel like I was sinning…oh, that’s too form hugging, that shirt shows the curve of your breasts, you’re exposing your legs too much, etc. My own mother gave me a minimize bra when I was 17 because I had size D breasts and it was too sexual. I was 100 pounds…how can I help the size of my breasts? Maybe it’s women who are actually causing the real problems. Maybe we are so afraid our men will lust that we try to control other women who are “pretty.” I get that there are sinful, lustful men out there, I think we’ve all experienced them, but there are women that are problems too. Just like in the comments of your Facebook posts. A lot of women are out for blood.

    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      Grace, I’m so sorry you went through that. And you are not alone in your story. I know of many people who went through this as well, in varying forms. This demonizing of women’s God-given bodies is anathema to the gospel that calls girls precious daughters of the king and has no place in any church that aims to be a safe place for women and men alike.

      I hope you are in recovery for your eating disorders, and please do not carry guilt or shame for developing disordered eating patterns! And I hope the church you’re from has stopped promoting that damaging message. Girls like you deserve to know that they are precious, that they have immense value just as they are, and that their God-given beauty is not a threat to men but a gift.

      And women, let’s do better and use our influence to build up young women around us, not tear them down or cause them to feel unnecessary and damaging shame.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, Grace, I’m so sorry! And you’re saying part of that was your own sin–can I push back a little? Maybe it was also you acting out of trauma.

      You’re right that women are often the worst at this. I’m hoping that with all of these Facebook conversations we can start helping women see that this is actually quite harmful!

  15. Lauren

    I’m trying to instill in my daughters that God didn’t make a mistake when He made their bodies. He knew that they would have curves, and yet, he made them that way! I want them to dress in a way that makes them feel good about themselves, while respecting their own body. My son is learning to respect young ladies. He is NOT an animal that is incapable of controlling himself.

  16. Suzanne

    Yes I know this is an old post but, this message of girls show how they respect themselves by being modest, is still wrong. Clothing does not show how much a person respects or doesn’t respect herself. If the hypothetical Jenny is wearing clothing that is not “modest” she doesn’t need some boy to teach her how to respect herself, because her clothing doesn’t show if she has self respect or not. Jenny may just like the newest fashions, she may feel great about herself. She also may want the attention, nothing is wrong with seeking attention from a boy, attention doesn’t equal assault.

    “I wish Jenny understood that with what she’s wearing she may start to get attention that she doesn’t actually want. Honey, if you’re in a group with her, and you see boys getting creepy around her, please go run interference and protect her from that, okay? Maybe if you treat her with respect you can help her see that she can respect herself.”


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