Can We Respect Women, Please? A New Look at the Church’s View on Lust

by | Mar 24, 2020 | Pornography, Uncategorized | 55 comments

The problem with lust is that we're objectifying women.
Merchandise is Here!

What if the real reason that lust is bad really isn’t about sex?

i’ve talked about lust before on the blog–with the question “is lust really every man’s battle“? I’ve written that noticing is not lusting.

But my husband Keith wanted to chime in today, as he writes more for the blog, and share his perspective. And he’s got some cool insight about what the root of the real problem with lust! So here’s Keith:

Keith and Sheila in Chile

Keith and me in Chile, on our cruise a month ago, before the world changed.


I remember in university one of my professors talking about something called the “Madonna-whore complex”.

The concept is that men only see women in two ways – unapproachably pure or a tawdry tart ready for conquest. But more than pointing out that this was a restrictive view of female sexuality, I recall her strong overtones that men could only see women in sexual terms like this.

At the time, I thought this was completely ridiculous. I mean, I was a young man in my hormonal prime and I didn’t think of women like that!  Half my professors were women and I had no sexual thoughts about them. And not because I thought they were “madonnas”, but because I thought of them simply as people I needed to listen to and learn from. Similarly, half of my classmates were women. If pressed, I would have said that maybe one day I might hope to meet “the right one”, but I certainly didn’t spend my time categorizing them into whether they were possible sexual targets or too pure to even try.

Thirty more years of life experience have given me insight into why some people would believe men think this way.

There certainly seems to be an assumption in our society as a whole that it is natural and normal for men to see women purely as objects of sexual gratification. Hollywood jokes about strippers at bachelor parties as if that were no big deal. Places where women take their clothes off for men for money are called “gentlemen’s clubs” as if that pastime were something associated with refinement and nobility.  And of course, there is the multi-billion dollar pornography industry, whose whole point is to objectify women for men’s pleasure that quite tragically seems to have become mainstream.  The overall message in our culture seems to be that “men by nature want to look, so let them”. This kind of activity is portrayed as something that all men do and women just need to accept that.

Unfortunately, I think we have taken on some of this unhealthy mentality in the church with the whole “All men lust” theme that is preached from pulpits and published in Christian books.

Lust it seems is the universal sin that no man is free of. They make it sound like every man is either undressing every woman he sees in his mind or consciously battling the desire to do so with great difficulty.  But do we really think that 100% of men – Christian or not – are devoting mental energy constantly to fighting off these kinds of urges? And do we not understand what that must sound like to a woman? Let’s make sure we are not conflating normal biologic urges with sinful thought patterns. Sheila has already talked about how noticing is not lusting and I think it is so important for us to recognize the difference. The first is an automatic response, the second is what we do with our conscious brains.

Let me use as an analogy how we handle anger. If someone says something insulting about someone you care about, you will naturally feel anger.  That feeling is in itself not good or bad, what is important is how you deal with it. Do you give in to your base urges or do you do the right thing? In the same way, noticing that a woman is beautiful or has an attractive figure is an instinctual thing. It is not good or evil, it’s just biological. It happens in a part of our brains we don’t actually control.  However, once our conscious brain registers and starts to weigh in on the situation we can handle things in many different ways.  That is where morality comes into it.

And this is where I think the church is failing.  Because it seems to me that we teach the sin of lust is about a man’s eye coming in contact with a part of a woman’s anatomy rather than what is going on in the man’s heart. In my mind, lust is a sin because it diminishes and degrades women, making them objects rather than people.  If we focused on fighting that idea, I think we would have a much healthier view about lust and how to handle it than we seem to at present.  I want to give you three examples of how we currently see lust in the church and how it would be healthier to see it from this new perspective.

By teaching that lust is universal and is primarily a problem of men’s eyes coming in contact with women’s anatomy, we are teaching girls at some level that their natural female body is a source of evil.

First, Paige Patterson’s creepy comments about a 16-year old girl

Consider this video of a sermon from Paige Patterson (president of an SBC seminary at the time), where he tells a joke about a mother chastising her son and his friend for gawking at a sixteen year old girl. The punch line is when he rebukes the mother because the boys were just “being Biblicial”.  I find this video disturbing for a number of reasons. As I said above, noticing is not lusting, but we are still responsible for our thought life once the conscious part of our brain engages. In this case, the teenage boys’ conscious brains were engaged long enough that they were clearly seen to be gawking.  An appropriate response would be a gentle reminder to these fellows that they were not being respectful toward this young lady and an encouragement to a higher level of behaviour. That Reverend Patterson did not do so is concerning enough, but what is so much worse is how he states with rather disturbing relish that “she was…nice”.

Clearly in this encounter, his own conscious mind was quite engaged as well. It was certainly engaged long enough that he imprinted a clear memory of the scene, yet at no point did his conscious mind seem to register that he was a sixty-year-old man and she was a sixteen-year old girl! The letters of outrage that poured in after this video went up in 2018 eventually produced an apology from Reverend Patterson for using this illustration. But the fact that he was able to use it over his career without any fallout prior to that only shows how accustomed we in the church have become to the objectification of women.  How could a pastor talk like this and have it be seen as a humourous little anecdote for so long?

If instead we all recognized that objectifying and degrading women was the real evil in the sin of lust, this illustration would have generated the outrage it deserves the first time he said it instead of the laughter it received.

Second, teaching men to “bounce your eyes” causes more harm than good

This is typified in the book Every Man’s Battle. I read the book early in our marriage as I wanted to have as pure a thought life as possible, but frankly it turned me into a nervous wreck!  The concept is if you see something you shouldn’t, then bounce your eyes somewhere else.  But as soon as you focus on NOT thinking about something, you are already doomed to failure.  If I tell you, “Don’t think about a red barn”, what do you do? You immediately start thinking about a red barn! And after that, every time I ask you, “Are you thinking about it?” it pops back into your mind even if you had somehow how managed to get it out of there!

But the worst part about this whole “treatment plan” is that it perpetuates and reinforces this idea that the only way a man can look at a woman is sexually, which is manifestly not true. I have gone to art exhibits and appreciated the sculptures and paintings of the female form by Titian and the other great masters without being aroused or harbouring any thoughts that I would consider impure. I think most men have had similar experiences.

Yet this book and other similar teachings start from the assumption that a man cannot look at a woman in a way that is not sexual.  The fact that we add a “Thou shalt not look” to the mix does not change the fact that this approach completely degrades and objectifies women, reducing them to body parts, just like our pornographic culture.  I am suggesting instead a different approach – seeing women fully as people.  Imagine how much better a thought life we men could have if instead of telling ourselves “I shouldn’t look at that” (which clearly objectifies), we asked ourselves “Is the way I am looking at this woman respectful to her?” – which acknowledges and celebrates her full personhood. It just seems intrinsically healthier to me and it is so sad that this way of thinking is not more prevalent in the church.

Men of the church, can we not have a higher view of women?
Can we not think of them as the whole people God created them to be?
Can we not try to see them the way Jesus does?

Worst of all, we are making girls ashamed of their own bodies

The church is constantly warning women about the way they dress. Since all men lust, the teaching goes, women have to be careful how they present themselves, so as not to make men stumble. I have several problems here. The first is that I don’t recall Jesus saying “If your right eye causes you to sin, make sure that everything in your environment is adjusted so that nothing that would make you stumble comes into view.” He clearly puts the onus on the one looking rather than the one being looked at, yet strangely that is hardly ever talked about in churches.

The second is to relate my shock, frustration and disgust with the way that we are hurting young girls with this message. Our daughter Katie developed rather early. I was completely dismayed to hear that one of her youth leaders took her aside when she was 11 to warn her that she “had to be careful how she presented herself now so as not to make the men in the congregation tempted to lust”. Now Katie had never dressed in any way that was inappropriate, so the sole issue was that she had a nice figure and therefore the issue was her body itself.

By teaching that lust is universal and is primarily a problem of men’s eyes coming in contact with women’s anatomy, we are teaching girls at some level that their natural female body is a source of evil.  This is simply not acceptable.  Yet somehow it has become routine to teach little girls that grown men will lust after them based on how they dress rather than to teach grown men that they shouldn’t look at little girls!

The real evil of any sin is that it mars and diminishes God’s creation and lust is no different.

God has made a world that is meant to be beautiful, glorious and life-giving, but sin makes it ugly, shameful and soul-destroying.  Clearly, the pornography industry is an example of that. But in my eyes teaching an 11-year old girl to be afraid of her own body because adult men will be unable to control their thought lives because of her is just as ugly, shameful and soul-destroying.

Men of the church, can we not have a higher view of women?  Can we not think of them as the whole people God created them to be? Can we not try to see them the way Jesus does?  Let’s take the most extreme example. Imagine a young woman is dressing in a way that is clearly meant to be sexually provocative. Why is our first response as men not to want to help her to respect herself enough to present herself to the world in a way that upholds her dignity and worth as more than just a sex object?

I truly believe we can think about lust differently. And it starts with refusing to buy the lie that it is okay to objectify women.  All of us, both men and women, are designed to reflect our Creator.  Let’s see lust for what it is – the objectifying and degrading a woman who was created in the image of God and for whom Christ died. If we do, maybe we can prove my English teacher was wrong about men after all – at least about those men who have learned to see women through the eyes of Jesus.

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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55 Comments

  1. Becky

    I love that you heard what was.aaid to you daughter for what it was. So many christian fathers would have just agreed.

    Reply
    • Phil

      You know what is just as big? Katie brought the conversation to her parents. That tells the story that she was raised to be able to talk to her parents. To me that is big. I cant imagine my daughter coming home from Youth and telling me such a thing. But you can be absolutely sure I would want her too.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        That’s very true, Phil! But she didn’t actually tell us, I don’t think, until a few years later when we were talking about the modesty message so often given, and then she told us that story. It was around the same time that the girls were on a praise team and had a female church leader lecturing them on what they could and couldn’t wear on stage in case men in the front rows would look up their skirts. Incidentally, that first youth leader when she was 11 was female, too. Often these messages are passed on, woman to girl, because we hear the message that all men lust.

        Reply
        • Phil

          Well I was wondering about that….because I also thought most girls would tuck that conversation away regardless if they talked open to their parents or not. I could see my daughter taking in that message and then stuffing it….but at least at some point Katie was able to tell the story and see/feel (maybe even with some help) something is wrong. And to the end of it is what we really want…

          Reply
          • Keith R Gregoire

            That’s why it is so important for us as dads to talk to our daughters about these issues – – as uncomfortable as we may be sometimes!

  2. Katie

    Great points! Sharing on Facebook now

    Reply
    • Keith R Gregoire

      Thanks, Katie!

      Reply
  3. Anonymous

    Thank you for posting this! As someone who developed early, I got a similar talk to your daughter. Then I got it when I was teaching at a Christian High School! The principal offered me safety pins to pin my blouse up to just under my collar bone so I didn’t tempt the male students.
    I still struggle with viewing my body as something sinful.
    I would be curious as to your opinion on more than just pornography. I think it could be argued with TV shows and movies like The Wire, Game of Thrones and Jack Ryan that porn has crept into mainstream media as well. If men continue to watch these kinds of shows, isn’t that still degrading to women? Yet I know of several men (my husband included) that would argue they’re not interested in the sex and nudity, but surely they are since there’s other shows without the gratuity? I would love your opinion on this.

    Reply
    • Andrea

      Absolutely porn has crept into the mainstream. Secular psychologists, feminists, etc. have been warning about that for a while now. But, I think the #MeToo movement might put an end to it or at least put a huge dent into it. PornHub is in legal trouble, Game of Thrones actresses spoke up about being uncomfortable in their scenes and the show changed, and it is only because of the #MeToo movement that Patterson’s old video all of a sudden got him ousted. So, yes, porn has gone mainstream, but it’s wreaked such havoc that the tide is turning in a huge way. Same thing with the bad marriage books that objectify women — they’ve been around for years, but it is only in the last couple of years that people have been comfortable speaking out against them.
      (Here is a link to the Game of Thrones #MeToo moment: http://www.mtv.com/news/3130262/game-of-thrones-carise-van-houten-nudity-me-too/)

      Reply
    • Keith R Gregoire

      I think the key thing we need to be focusing on is the portrayal of women in all the media we watch. As pornography becomes more mainstream, we are seeing acceptance of its values in our programming all the time. The terrifying reality, however, is that the pornography industry has been on its own trajectory with themes that are increasingly more violent and outright hateful toward women. I think we should be talking about how these dark messages that are infiltrating mainstream media. Many shows like the ones you mention are not only sexual in content, but the sexuality is paired with violence. When rape is shown to titillate rather than to shock and horrify we have started down a very terrible path indeed.

      Reply
      • H.

        I agree. As I see more and more popular shows (Game of Thrones, Vikings, Outlander, etc.) show rape as ‘no big deal’ I am truly disturbed. I cannot watch these things, I cannot see this kind of violence. It happens to women every day and the fact that our media makes light of that is horrific.
        The mass objectification of women and girls is beyond upsetting. We are human beings.
        Growing up I hated being a girl and I only realized over the last few years that the reason for that is because I didn’t feel safe. I didn’t feel respected as a whole human being. And I felt as though whatever I had to offer was worth significantly less since I was a girl.
        I wish I could give little me a hug and tell her it wasn’t her fault.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          I’ve thought of that so much, too–I wish I could go back in time and give little me a hug.

          Reply
          • Andrea

            You can actually do that! In your imagination, of course, but it’s been a popular tool used by therapists. Imagine yourself as a little girl – look at an old photo if that helps – and tell her all the things you’ve always wanted to say or, even better, write her a letter.

        • Keith R Gregoire

          Thanks for sharing that, H. I have been thinking a lot about how unsafe women often feel. I never really “got” that until recently (sorry to admit).
          Maybe I’ll write a post about that some time. I think men would benefit from thinking about how that must feel.

          Reply
  4. clb

    This is classic John Paul II Theology of the Body. In those talks, he talked about the dignity of every human being, man or woman, because they are made in the image and likeness of God. He described the opposite of ‘love’ not as ‘hatred’, but as ‘use’. When we use someone, we’re treating them as things. Lust is a classic case of use – we’re seeing women (or men) as a collection of body parts rather than people. That’s why it’s such a horrible sin – God made us to love and be loved, not to use and be used.
    Of course JPII says it a lot better than this, and goes into a lot more detail.

    Reply
  5. Susanna Musser

    Thank you so much for everything both of you are doing to correct this entrenched but wrong-headed perspective. I could not agree more. I am not one to flaunt my body, and I feel just as objectified by churchy men bouncing their eyes off me as I do by men who openly check me out.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      YES! I totally agree. The ‘bouncing your eyes’ says to me, “you’re not a person; you’re a body.”

      Reply
  6. H.

    Keith this article is such a blessing – I wish I could share it with my entire church somehow.
    As someone who developed early as well, and whose friends did not, I developed intense body shame. The way I innocently worshipped the Lord at 10 and 11 was interrupted multiple times by teachers who told me not to be ‘provocative’ just because I was happy and dancing around. Several of my peers were doing the same and weren’t chastised….but I was. I didn’t even understand…all I understand is that I was the problem. That my body was bad.
    I have struggled in churches every time jokes and crude things about women are said. I loathe how most churches, including my own, teach about lust – there is so little responsibility taken by men in the church for their actions and thought lives. It has broken my heart on so many occasions.
    It has made me a christian feminist – I admire Sheila’s work so much and want to do what I can to speak truth on this matter into the world, too. 💙
    The blaming of CHILDREN and GIRLS for a MAN’s choices will never be okay…yet I am constantly astonished at how few people truly understand or agree with this.
    It took me years to see myself the way JESUS sees me, and realize that even though my ex-husband couldn’t see women as anything more than a sexual object…couldn’t have a tv, or even listen to songs like Fight Song by Rachel Platten without sexualizing it….I am not an object. I am a child of God, created intentionally by God, and I deserve respect.
    Women are children of God, and I truly believe that God’s heart is so broken for His daughters. The violence, degradation, and objectification of His girls will be avenged. We are valuable, and we should not have live ashamed of how we were created because some men don’t have self-control or morality.
    I pray more men will begin to think like this – I truly believe the men of the church would be a force to be reckoned with if they respected and honoured God’s girls as much as God intended.
    I know I would feel safer in church if I knew my brothers in Christ were seeing me as a human being before anything else.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, H, I hope you will find a church like that! Believe me, as wonderful as my husband is (and he is wonderful), he is not the only man I know who thinks this way. I would say that the majority of men in Rebecca’s church especially think this way. The majority of men they went to university with think this way. I think millennials get it. My generation grew up with very wrong headed teaching, but I do believe that millennials will show us the way to Jesus’ heart here!

      Reply
    • Keith R Gregoire

      Well now I REALLY have to write that post! 🙂
      Thanks for opening your heart.
      I pray you find a community of faith where you feel safe and valued. Keep searching!

      Reply
  7. Anon

    I remember reading an article on challenges that pastors face which stated single Christian women were a ‘threat’ to a pastor’s marriage. I commented back that single women were not the threat – the pastor’s attitude toward them might be, but he is the one responsible for his attitudes.
    It made me so angry. Basically saying that if a pastor has an issue with lusting after single girls in his congregation, then it’s automatically the girls’ fault!!!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yep. Yep.

      Reply
    • Keith R Gregoire

      Ah, yes, those threatening women look at them intentionally being single and then going to a church where there is a pastor.
      Sorry, maybe I shouldn’t be so sarcastic, but that must be how single women feel when they hear things like that!

      Reply
      • Sarah O

        This is especially delicate theology in denominations that don’t allow women pastors. So what are single women to do? Not go to church? How is that advancing the Great Commission?

        Reply
      • Anon

        Believe me, you’re not being half as sarcastic as I am quite often (fortunately, not usually out loud in church though!)

        Reply
    • Arwen

      Anon, and then you wonder why singles are vacant from the Church. It seems like the Church finds us more of a burden than a use. Well that Pastor just gave singles one more reason to avoid his Church.

      Reply
  8. msl

    Keith has it right and says it well, in both the main article and additional comment/s made. Thank you, Keith. Hearing this from a man helps – not only in the public arena (we pray) but also to us women as individuals.
    Often times we women think the thoughts you expressed and then we wonder if we are the only ones who see the situation clearly.
    Or we may also be brainwashed to some degree and wonder if we are being too “serious” … or perhaps we are just old nags, envious of the beauty of the actresses. Our minds and self images become scrambled. Women become ashamed of our bodies because they aren’t hollywood perfect. Men can develop very unrealistic expectations. God’s beautiful and perfect plan for intimacy in marriage, (and therefore marriages and the basis for a stable society), is under serious attack.
    Keep going, Gregories. Your message is so important.

    Reply
  9. EOF

    This is a message that needs to be spread far and wide. It’s certainly harmful to girls growing up. And it’s downright wrong for someone to tell a child she’s going to make men lust! Horrible! What a burden to place on a child.
    We should focus on the scripture that teaches men to look at young women as sisters and older women as mothers. That’s exactly in line with Keith is saying here – women are people to be CHERISHED.
    I’ve been studying Jesus’s interactions with women, and I have to tell you, it literally brought me to tears. People all around him were busy trying to put them in their place, but he took such gentle care of them.
    Porn needs to be taken out of common culture. (It should be done away with, period.) I work in the arts industry, and it’s sickening to see women defending porn as a right and something part of normal life. How can a self-respecting woman approve of something so degrading?
    But what’s worse is its acceptance in Christendom. I hear Christian personalities laughing about episodes of GOT (or similar shows). How can someone claiming to follow Christ think it’s okay to watch that sort of thing? How? It’s in marriages. I hate that my husband always wants to watch these types of shows and says there isn’t anything wrong with them. When I refuse, he has accused me of being “holier than thou” and judging him. I hate that this stuff is so easily accessible. I creeps into the bedroom, a place where I certainly don’t feel cherished. Early in our marriage, secretly referred to myself as the sex receptacle.
    And none of this is addressed from the pulpit.

    Reply
    • Lindsey

      I’m so sorry that you struggle with this in your marriage. I struggle myself with comparing my body to others, but my husband has shown me such unconditional love. I am so sorry that you don’t have his strength and support behind you as this society waged war on your self-respect.

      Reply
      • Lindsey

        *your husband’s strength and support.

        Reply
    • Sarah O

      I am so sorry EOF. That is so painful. And frustrating. It should really matter when you say something hurts or offends you.

      Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, EOF. That’s so sad. I’m so saddened by porn/GOT, too. And I know that God never intended for any woman to feel like a receptacle. What a tragedy that so many do!

      Reply
    • Arwen

      EOF, to be honest with you about women being ok with porn. Often women give in to the bullying of men. In addition many women are desperate to be in a relationship, to be loved by a man, they fear singleness, and will often exchange depravity if she can have a man by her side. Culture teaches us that one of the worse things that can happen to a women is to not be desired by a man. That’s why we have things like, you’re getting to old to get married no man will want you, your eggs are drying up, the clock is ticking, etc. constant fear mongering regarding her lack of having a man in her life. Other women become suspicious of her as if she’s going to sleep with the husband. Single women are seen as a threat in many cultures including the West.
      So then what happens to a single women that hears all of this? If she’s not a strong women confident in her self, she capitulates, and takes whatever loser of a male she can find just to say she has a man. Remember when Chris Rock said, most people get married to have a partner to go to the movies and dinners with. Every time there is a discussion about porn women flood the comment section co-signing their boyfriends/husband’s porn use. You can smell the desperation from Argentina!
      I once told a girlfriend of mine i’ll never marry a man who was porn sick and she said, good luck you’ll die single then. As if singleness is the worst thing that can happen to a woman. Being with a porn sick male is far worse than being single. If you know what Reddit is, you can read on there in the relationship section which has over 26 million users the amount of women who are fine with their bf/husband’s porn use, and call women who are not stuck up and “no wonder you’re still single.”
      As a society we need to teach women it’s completely ok to be single. And in the Church the Bible tells us it’s eve BETTER to be single than to be married. There is no marriage in heaven! Some women are slowly waking up to that fact but unfortunately not many and not fast enough. And some wake up to late evident by the fact that women initiate 70% of the divorces in USA. Eventually they realize being single is not bad after all. Unfortunately they should have realized that before they had kids though.
      So why do women co-sign their man’s porn use: desperation, cultural pressures, and fear of being alone (not lonely. None of which are good reason to get married.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        This is so true, Arwen! Thank you. I do think that we get married often to “loser men” because we’re scared of being alone. And I think the church sets the bar so low for women (all men lust; all men watch porn) that we don’t know how to identify red flags. And we don’t realize what those red flags will do!
        It’s really sad.

        Reply
    • unmowngrass

      A lot of my secular left-wing feminist friends argue “sex work is work and should be treated as such”. They include porn in that. Obviously trafficking and forced slavery etc are problems that they also despise, but that’s not all the industry. “Feminism is about women’s choices”, etc. And I can understand the goal, to be inclusive towards sex workers, to see them as people not reduce them to only their profession, to not treat them as pariahs. There’s also an acknowledgement that even though that choice is often made against an unfair background — perhaps in fact even because of that — that that’s no reason to vilify the person in front of you who’s doing it. Kind of how being against the tips system is not a reason to not tip the waitstaff in front of you who are in that system and depend on those tips…
      And also, building off what Chris has said below… 4th wave feminism was about exactly that. About seizing the only form of power women have over men. The only real form of power women have at all.

      Reply
  10. NJW

    Thank you for writing this article, I believe it took courage and vulnerability to do it and I, as a woman who inherently, apparently, is an object of this objectification, appreciate it. It continually saddens me, especially in Christian communities in 2020, that these types of articles are still needed.
    Giving input is always risky, but I would like point out a place or two where objectifying wording can easily be over looked, and I believe is. When presenting women or writing about women, society (including ‘the church’) has a tendency of objectifying them by putting them in classes or categories.
    These two statements:” In the same way, noticing that a woman IS beautiful or HAS an attractive figure is an instinctual thing.” And (speaking of your daughter) “She had a nice figure (for an 11 year old)”, are in and of themselves sexist and/or objectifying.
    A woman is a woman. She is what she is (biologically a woman). One woman is no “more beautiful “than another. One women is not more (stereotypically )shapely that another, as all people have shape and beauty doesn’t exist on its own but is created by observers
    If we are going to discuss not blaming the woman than let us not blame the woman….
    Categorizing or classifying a woman as beautiful or shapely or nice, takes away her individually, dignity, and personhood.
    These categories and classes are culturally made and given to bias. It is not inherently “in” the woman; it is how someone sees the woman. So a better way of saying this, for the sake of over explaining, would be:
    “In the same way, if a man sees a woman that he believes to be beautiful, to him, or he sees her figure as attractive, to him, it is an instinctual thing?”
    Or about your daughter“sole issue was that from this man sexualized observation, of your daughter, she had a nice figure”
    If we write it that way, I believe we can see it clearer, where the ownership is on the beholder and not the one being observed; as beauty doesn’t exist on its own but is created by observers, then we can go back and ask,
    Is it instinctual to observe women as beautiful or shapely or nice first? Or might we be better to see them as image bearers of God. Might we first see them as whole person not the some of their parts. And if we profess the same Christ, might we not see her as a sister in Christ. When I see a butterfly, a sunset, a flower, etc and I exclaim ‘how beautiful’, do I instinctively(without conscious thought) only pick out parts of the whole or do I have to then make the conscious decision to observe or focus my thought on one part of it? After seeing it as a whole do I not then not make the conscious decision to observe it in parts.
    Am I suggesting if we see women as sexual (or men as sexual) we are lusting? Apparently we think it is just instinctual but is it? I think it is definitely something to pondering and searching our hearts.

    Reply
  11. Lindsey

    I’m just here to say: that was the single best, most Christian definition of lust that I have ever read. Maybe people wouldn’t think that Christians had hangups about sex if this was our definition of lust!
    I mentioned before that I recently downloaded the app “The Chosen” and began watching it with my family. One thing that stood out so strongly to me is how well they showed the honor, compassion, and respect that Christ showed to women. Some of the gospel stories, which I had previously heard preached in a way that showed a mild disdain for women (such as Mary pushing Christ to turn water into wine, and the woman at the well), were handled completely differently, and it made me love my Savior, and feel His love for me, so much more deeply. This article reminded me of that.
    Thank you.

    Reply
  12. Arwen

    I REALLY love this statement you made, Keith, “…….it seems to me that we teach the sin of lust is about a man’s eye coming in contact with a part of a woman’s anatomy rather than what is going on in the man’s heart.” Precisely! It’s exactly what Christ taught, “lust’s after her in his HEART.”
    The whole bounce your eyes instruction reminds me of Islam which teaches men to, lower their gaze so as to avoid lusting. But like your article stated beautifully that still doesn’t solve the heart issue. It doesn’t get to the root of the problem. And Jesus always got to the root of every problem. If the root (foundation) is built on sand the house is standing temporarily before it falls yet again. So something needs to be done to preventing the house from ever falling again. And i think you have given us a few good solutions. Thank you!

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  13. Sarah O

    Great article, thank you Keith. It’s really helpful to have guys like you pitching in so that it’s an issue of Christian behavior vs. non-Christian behavior. Too often when any kind of injustice against women is brought up it feels like a men vs. women conversation. Your voice is very encouraging to those of us who sometimes wonder if asking to be treated decently is unrealistic, Polly-Anna type idealism.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      It totally shouldn’t be, Sarah! Great guys are out there. Maybe there be more of them!

      Reply
  14. Jim Lyons

    Just started reading article and it occurred to me that younger readers may not discern much of a contrast between “Madonna” and whore, not realizing that it’s the mother of Christ not the singer.

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  15. Chris

    The MeToo movement got me thinking about a lot of stuff. So many women coming forward with their stories of harassment (or worse) and objectification, its insane that its all still going on. Boys need to learn self control and to see women as people for a lot of reasons…..some have nothing to do with women at all. I have my own private thoughts on that.
    However, one of the older Sheila posts linked here talks about “How can we talk about mens sexual needs?” If you go back to that post you will see that the initial question of “How can we talk about mens sexual needs?” never actually got answered. It did talk about men as rapists, or atleast implied it by the fact that women have to hold their car keys a certain way to protect themselves. But it never actually answered the question. And I pointed this out at the time in the comments back then.
    On a separate note. Society and women use mens bodies all the time. It just uses them differently. And are blissfully unaware of it. Perversely, we are not seen as gentleman unless we let women use our bodies.
    Thinking about metoo and how frightened women are just going through life was eye opening for me. A lot of that fear i am sure is very real. And tragic. And as men we need to improve. But some of it may be an over reaction.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Actually, Chris, in that post in italics I presented what I felt was a healthy way to talk about men’s sexuality and women’s sexuality. Talk about relationship, intimacy, and drive, and encourage both to strive towards prioriizing real oneness in the marriage. That’s the message that we should have. And I think if boys grew up with that message, too, there would be a healthier way of understanding their own sexuality and their wives’.

      Reply
      • Chris

        Sheila, I just reread that post again. Are you talking about the part in italics that was intended as advice for what a pastor should say? In context thats a pep talk about what to say to women about why sex is important in marriage, which is great but that doesn’t talk about mens sexual needs at all.
        I guess we will have to agree to disagree on that one.
        My concern with the “every mans battle” message is that it portrays men as out of control. If little boys grow up hearing this message, then they stop seeing women as sisters in christ and start seeing them as sex objects. This creates tons of problems for women and marriages, but no one ever talks about how it creates problems for men. Lets take two polar opposite examples. Lets say your a boy/young man who grew up basically being told not to ogle women because its rude and disrespectful, but at the same time you’re told its everymans battle and that all men struggle with it. Right off the bat you are in effect told that by virtue of being born male, you are defective. That there is something inherently wrong with you because you were made this way and sexual attraction and lust is something you just have to learn to deal with. So you come to believe that by actually having sex this birth defect you have will finally go away. So you come to see women as sex objects and pray that one of them will choose to marry you so that you can finally have sex. So you end up married to the first woman who will have you….because sex. Thats where this all leads. He feels powerless. Hes at her mercy…..because sex. Take man number 2. He grew up being very attracted to girls to but he was taught that he could/was expected to control himself and that he could do all things in christ including conquering temptation. He sees women as sisters and as a result he doesn’t put them on a sexual pedestal. As a result, one night he goes out on a date and immediately sees this is not the girl for him and it ends up being a one date thing and everyone goes their separate ways. Guy number 1 would have pursued her……because sex.
        Immense harm comes to women from being treated as sex objects. But what no one talks about, is that by seeing women as sisters and whole people, we get to see their inner beauty and strengths…. but as men, we also get to see their faults. I think that men can conquer lust. And by doing so it gives them the freedom to say “no” to women. Rather than having to say “yes”……because sex.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          This is so insightful, Chris! I completely agree. I think there is tremendous harm being done to men by the idea that “lusting is maleness”, which is what Every Man’s Battle talks about. We’ll be dealing with this a lot in The Great Sex Rescue, and in our upcoming book The Guy’s Guide to Great Sex!

          Reply
        • Wifeofasexaddict

          My husband was Guy 1. It is the exact reason he married me. Meanwhile, I believed the churchy lie that any 2 Christian people can have a good marriage. So I ignored the red flags, including the fact that we didn’t have anything in common except faith, and married him. Both of us could not have been more wrong.
          It really gets me fired up.

          Reply
  16. Laura

    There was a third option you missed that I think you need to know about. A lot of conservative churches will subtly teach that all men either struggle with lust or if they don’t, they’re probably secretly gay, which in their eyes is so much worse. I hate to even say that this is taught, but it is culturally if not from the pulpit. This leaves young men with no choice- in order to not be seen as “gay” they have to struggle with lust. It perpetuates the problem and adds another layer of being mistrusting and hurtful to anyone who is actually gay. I can’t begin to emphasize how trapped men must feel if these are their only options. It’s all a part of toxic masculinity.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      This is really true. One young man I know heard it so much from his youth group that he was afraid he was gay because he wasn’t tempted by porn–so he started watching porn and got caught up in it for a time (he eventually quit on his own). But we do normalize lust far too much.

      Reply
  17. Jane Eyre

    Thank you, Dr. Gregoire, for writing this.
    There are a lot of interpersonal situations in which people think the solution is to berate the more reasonable person, because it’s easier to get the reasonable person to fall in line than to get an unreasonable person to behave. Young women tend to be very compliant (I’m honestly convinced that it’s an evolutionary function designed to get us to acquiesce to the misery of pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding), and men who leer at young women aren’t exactly known for their desire to do the right thing. From a certain, twisted perspective, it’s easier to tell young women to dress appropriately than it is to tell gross old men to cut the (expletive). It’s easier to tell them to cover up than it is to kick out the lustful men who have shown that they do not have a desire to act respectfully.

    Reply
    • Wifeofasexaddict

      Plus we need all the men we can get because they have to have all the leadership positions. So we can’t have the men getting offended orbeing run off. /sarcasm

      Reply
      • Heather

        Is it possible for men to watch all the popular shows and movies with nudity and sex or scenes that objectify naked or scantily dressed women and not lust? Should we even be watching this And supporting hollywood objectifying women and tossing them aside for the next big thing?

        Reply
  18. Jenn

    That Patterson story is SOOO creepy! I find it so appalling that he shared it SO MANY times…the next video that popped up after the one you linked to was yet another case of him telling the same story. And he acts so coy about saying that the young girl was attractive…”how shall I say this……” as if he’s somehow embarrassed to admit that he noticed her beauty. But he’s not embarrassed at all! It’s an act. It comes across as quite pervy when you realize how scripted the story is…not just something he told spontaneously from memory.
    In you last segment you say that older men should be taught not to look at young girls. I think what you really mean is that older men should not look at young girls as sex objects?

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, I definitely meant that they shouldn’t see them as sex objects! Sorry about that.

      Reply
  19. Patrick

    The problem with this post is the conflation between the first part of the argument (the EMB teachings on lust) and the second. I did not find any reference to the second part of the argument in the EMB book. There may have been some individual people quoted in the EMB book that believed the second part, but that does not mean that is the EMB teaching.
    Ultimately you are making out the EMB books to be more controversial than they deserve. I am certain many men have found freedom through EMB and similar books.

    Reply
  20. Randall

    I had never heard of the term bouncing one’s eyes or that that would present a problem for women …I guess I had always assumed that it would be better to look away than stare in the wrong places ….obviously the absolute best is to look at each person in the eyes and disregard clothing and so forth…… having said that I wonder if women would be bouncing their eyes if some men in the church were wearing extremely tight pants and had their shirt unbuttoned to their navel…. If clothing is irrelevant then it’s irrelevant for all.

    Reply

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