12 Ways to Help Christian Men Overcome Lust

by | Feb 1, 2021 | Pornography, Uncategorized | 57 comments

Help Christian Men Overcome Lust
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For twenty years now Christians have been inundated with news about “every man’s battle” and how every man struggles with lust.

But what if our approach is part of the problem?

I believe that because we talk about how all men struggle with lust, we’re creating the situation where most men struggle with lust.

It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. And that’s likely why I’ve found that men who became Christians after their teen years seem to struggle with porn and lust far less than guys who grew up in the church. They weren’t taught that lust is normal. They were taught, in general, that respecting women as whole people was normal.

That’s condition #1 that can lead to lust. Here’s condition #2:

Churches are so afraid of lust that they often do their best to separate men and women.

But men are more likely to get aroused when they focus on certain body parts rather than when they focus on the whole person. Get to know a woman in context, learn to see her as a person, and lust is far less common. What if our two solutions to lust–talking about it all the time and separating men and women–are both making lust more common?

The idea that “all men struggle with lust; it’s every man’s battle” is one of the toxic teachings that we measured in our survey of 20,000 women, the results of which are coming out in our book The Great Sex Rescue, launching March 2. Each week leading up to the launch we’re focusing on a different teaching that has messed up sex for couples, and this week it’s all about lust being every man’s battle. 

Pre-order now–and then send us your receipt to get our pre-order bonuses and an invite to our month-long launch party where you can get access to the book early!.

The Great Sex Rescue

Changing the conversation about sex & marriage in the evangelical church.

What if you’re NOT the problem with your sex life?

What if the things that you’ve been taught have messed things up–and what if there’s a way to escape these messages?

Welcome to the Great Sex Rescue.

It stands to reason, then, that if we change the expectations around lust, and if we help men and women develop relationships that are focused on seeing each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, then we can start undoing some of the serious damage this message has done.

I wrote about this a few years ago, but I’d like to rerun that post today, because it fits in so well with our podcast discussion last week on how not all men struggle with lust! Plus I’d like to expand on one of these issues in particular in tomorrow’s post!

So let’s look at 12 ways to help men overcome lust:

1. Stop talking about “every man’s battle” and start talking about Christ in you

Yes, many men struggle with lust. But not all do. And whatever we focus on expands. Are we focusing on the sin, or are we focusing on Christ? In the parable of the sower, many seeds failed to grow well because they were choked by the weeds. Instead of focusing on the sun, they looked at all the trouble around them. When we make lust sound like it’s inevitable–like it’s something that every guy will face and will never really defeat–then we lose the battle before we engage.

But if we teach people to look to the power of the Holy Spirit in all aspects of their lives, then they will feel like the battle with lust is one that they can win.

2. Treat men who don’t struggle with lust as the ideal, not as bogeymen who don’t exist

When I make a comment that I know men who can go to a beach and not lust after anyone, I am often told that I am wrong. I don’t really know those men’s hearts. I am a woman and I don’t really understand, and those men are lying to me. All guys struggle.

And I am often told this by Christian leaders. As we show in The Great Sex Rescue, our evangelical best-sellers state that all men struggle with lust, and even that your husband will lie to you about this.

Jesus did not struggle with lust. Paul did not struggle with lust. As I showed in my Every Man’s Battle series, the Bible presents a lust-free life as the normal condition for a redeemed man. So let’s start talking about real men being men who see women as whole people, not real men being men who struggle with lust.

3. Stop telling teenage boys that they will definitely struggle with lust and porn

Boys need to be equipped to deal with the pull that porn may bring, and they need to be told that they may struggle when they start to notice girls’ bodies.

But let’s not make the mistake of portraying the problem as bigger than the solution.

Yes, they may struggle–but they may not. And Jesus is bigger than any of their temptations (1 Corinthians 10:13). Warn them about the temptations, yes, but always temper that with the bigger idea that they can battle and win anything with the Holy Spirit’s help. Pair any teaching about lust with stories about guys who have victory.

​Boys need to be equipped to deal with the pull that porn may bring, and they need to be told that they may struggle when they start to notice girls’ bodies. But let’s not make the mistake of portraying the problem as bigger than the solution.

​4. Draw a distinction between lusting and noticing a woman is beautiful

Too many boys think there are only two alternatives: either you find a girl ugly, or you are lusting. But what if there’s another option? What if you simply notice a girl is attractive, and it doesn’t go any further? Let’s be careful not to confuse noticing beauty with lusting. If we make boys and men believe that if they see something beautiful they must automatically turn away because that’s just plain dangerous, then they’ll be constantly paranoid and never able to have normal conversations with women.

We also need to tell them that normal sexual desire and normal feelings are not lust. When a guy starts having sexual feelings, it does not mean he is sinning. When we heap guilt when there is no sin, we make it seem as if it’s impossible to overcome real sin.

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NOTICING is not LUSTING! “If we make boys and men believe that if they see something beautiful they must automatically turn away because they’re lusting, they’ll be paranoid and unable to have normal conversations with women. And that makes the problem worse!”

5. Stop warning women and girls not to “cause men to sin”

When my daughter Katie was 11, she was warned by a kind-hearted Sunday School teacher who meant well that now that she was developing, she was going to have to watch what she wore, because men might look down her shirt.

It took quite a while for her father and I to calm her down and convince her that not all adult men at our church were perverts trying to see her new training bra.

We frequently blame women’s and girl’s clothing choices for causing men to sin–even if those girls are only 13.

When we talk about women causing men to sin, we lay the blame for lust at women’s feet and make it less likely that men will feel the need to fight lust. It’s a losing battle, and only women’s actions can keep men’s thoughts from straying. As I’ve shown before, that’s entirely unbiblical. If an adult man is lusting after my 11-year-old daughter, I’m pretty sure I know who is to blame. And if a guy can’t worship God because a female seeker has come to church in a tight sundress, then the problem is not with her. We need to be very, very clear about that. The “don’t be a stumbling block” issue doesn’t mean that women bear the responsibility for men’s sin.

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When we talk about women causing men to sin, we lay the blame for lust at women’s feet and make it less likely that men will feel the need to fight lust.

6. Start talking about how all of us should respect ourselves and honour God in our clothing choices

At the same time, all of us can honour each other in how we dress. But we can do this without laying the blame for sin at women’s feet. Let’s change the conversation so that it’s no longer about “stopping a guy from stumbling” or “not causing him to sin”, and it’s instead about honouring God.

If we all asked these three questions:

  1. Who am I dressing for?
  2. What is the first impression someone looking at me will have?
  3. Am I a good ambassador for Jesus? Do I look approachable, friendly, and appropriate?,

then we wouldn’t have problems with how people dressed (see these better modesty guidelines!).

7. Make any dress code rules apply to both genders.

When we make dress codes only for women, we reinforce the idea that women are dangerous and men will lust if women don’t behave. Besides, men can make inappropriate clothing choices, too. That’s why those three questions should also apply to BOTH men and women, to BOTH girls and boys.Sure, maybe a crop top may give a bad first impression to people, but maybe slouchy jeans would as well! If we are going to make dress codes, then they should not be focused on only one gender. They should focus on how all of us can honour Christ and each other and create a welcoming environment.

8. Make sure there are strong female youth group leaders

As soon as boys enter puberty and start having sexual thoughts, it needs to be reinforced to them that females are more than just objects of sexual temptation. They are people who can lead; who can be respected; who are wise.

9. Encourage more co-ed church activities to make it easier for strong, platonic friendships to form

Too often churches gender segregate most activities, especially for adults. But the more we separate the genders, the more we define ourselves almost entirely in terms of our gender. We don’t see each other as people; we see each other as men and women. It is healthy to develop friendships with the opposite sex that are platonic.

10. Honour women for their intelligence, ideas, and creativity

Similarly, don’t relegate women to only childcare roles or roles where they serve men. Put women on some committees and listen to their ideas. Make it normal that your church sees the whole person that God created, rather than sees her simply as an appendage for men or as an object that men may use or be tempted by.

11. Do not put up obstacles to women breastfeeding in church

A side-effect of all this modesty talk is that women’s bodies are seen as sexual. No matter what. So breast-feeding in church is often off the table.

Interestingly, it is only in church today that this is the case. This gives the impression that while “the world” thinks breastfeeding is okay, we Christians know that breasts are really off-limits, because they’re absolutely and inherently sexual, all the time, even when an infant is attached to them.

It sexualizes women’s body parts all the more.

Let’s make the expectation that men can be real men and honour women, especially when they are feeding children.

12. Do not try to keep young boys from seeing our culture

No matter how many “t-shirts over bathing suits” rules you try to enforce, your sons live in the real world. They’re going to see models in lingerie stores in the mall, they’re going to grow up to work with women who wear tight or low-cut clothing, and they’re going to go to the beach where girls are running around in bikinis.

When you shelter kids from things, those things become taboo. And when something is strictly forbidden, it ironically becomes the spotlight (the “don’t think of a pink elephant” phenomenon.) If you are constantly avoiding anything that could “cause your son to lust”, or make a fuss or get offended when any girl is wearing something inappropriate, you’re doing your son a disservice. Instead, ignore it, walk by the potential distraction, and keep your conversation or activity going no matter who or what’s around. That teaches your son, “It’s OK if there are attractive girls around–they don’t need to be the focus. They have no power, you can make that decision yourself.”

I believe that if we change the expectations around lust, we can free both men and women.

I’ve talked about how the “men are visually stimulated” idea has been wrongly twisted to say that all men will inevitably lust over women they see in passing. I’ve talked about how women have the right to expect that their husbands won’t lust.

I’d like to end today’s post with an observation a male commenter left a few years ago on my post about how we’re abusing the Christian modesty message. I think it’s very insightful, and a great way to wrap all of this up:

Passion 4 Dancing

I was in my early twenties before I could look at a young woman without some sense of paranoia that I might end up stumbling. After all, I was trained all of my life that there was a fine line between finding someone to be beautiful and turning her into a sex object in your mind. In fact, it was much better that I avoid the line altogether and, somehow, refrain from allowing myself to find a girl attractive until the wedding night – at which point I was expected to go from hiding in a cave to launching into space. I was taught, like most Christian boys, that we are not really in control of our sexuality or desires. Avoidance is the only option – something that is impossible in modern times.

Of course, the female body, in certain contexts, was meant to be titillating. It was also meant to be simply beautiful. When I am entranced by a sunset or left speechless by the Rockies, I am not tempted to objectify them as something I want to conquer, own, or plunder. I simply appreciate the beauty of God’s handiwork. Can I not do the same with women? Can I not see them as beautiful, appreciate that, all without objectifying or lusting after them?

Yes. Yes I can. I know because I do.

Instead of doing some odd head dance in a mall to avoid seeing anything attractive, I can look the world full in the face, appreciate its diversity, nuances, and beauty, and rejoice in the same. Victoria’s Secret stores, once seen as a black hole of evil, no longer bother me. Of course, it is certainly helpful that everywhere I go doesn’t look like the beaches of Brazil. However, unlike what I was taught, I am in control of my sexuality. I decide what to do with what I see – to be saddened, to objectify, to sexualize, or to simply see as beauty. I can pass by or interact with someone I find attractive without turning them into an object of sexual desire. I am a man redeemed by Christ. Not a boy who can’t help what he thinks about what he sees.

So, to the church, stop telling me that I’m a helpless sex fiend who’s better off with a blindfold. Teach me of beauty apart from sexuality. Teach me that my mind can be used to see women as imago Dei rather than objects of temptation. Teach me how to control what I do with my thoughts and what I see rather than sending me on a lifelong fool’s errand of avoiding all thoughts and keeping my eyes on my feet (or in space). Teach me strength and mastery rather than cowardice. Teach me these things and you might have less men who live with the idea that they are one-thought creatures, and less women who are shamed into hiding.


How to Help Men Overcome Lust: 12 ideas to help men and teenage boys not struggle so much--and they're totally NOT what you'd think! Let's build healthy churches that treat everyone like whole people.

What do you think? Would these steps make the lust problem better? Is there one you would add, or one that stands out? Let’s talk in the comments!

(Interestingly, the first time I ran this post, 80% of the comments revolved around one particular point. I’m curious to see if that happens again, because tomorrow I want to focus on that point particularly!)

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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. Meghan

    While I agree with what you said, I think we need to be careful what we say is Scripture. Unless, I’m mistaken, the Bible never says Paul never struggled with lust. It might not say that he did, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t. He was a sinful human being as well as the rest of us. Forcing Scripture to say the things we want and agree with our theological bents is misusing God’s Word. I’m not saying you’re doing this, but just as a general principle.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      True, Meghan, but we also know that he worked side-by-side women without sexualizing it, calling women his co-workers. He said to “greet one another with a holy kiss”, and that included women. He elevated women and talked about them in non-sexual terms, but rather in terms of what they do for the kingdom of God. By every measure, this was a man who saw women as being made in the image of God and reflecting God and being his co-workers. He never ONCE talked about women as temptations. Never.
      I think assuming that he struggled with lust is a big stretch from what he wrote in Scripture, because he shows the exact opposite. And as we found in our survey of 20,000 women, assuming that all men will struggle with lust is highly correlated with lots of yucky marital & sexual satisfaction outcomes for women.
      Personally, I think it’s okay to assume that a guy who treats women well; who elevates women; who respects women; and who works closely with women without ever, ever referring to them in sexual terms is an honorable person. I think the rush to assume that men have secret lust struggles is part of the problem. (not saying that that’s what you’re doing, but so much Christian literature does, and it has terribly negative outcomes).

    • Kya

      On the flip side of this, I listened to a sermon once where the pastor insisted that Paul DID struggle with lust, because he was single. (No mention was made of the fact that being a Pharisee meant he was likely married before his conversion.) It sort of made him sound like an incel. I don’t even remember the rest of the sermon, just how creepy that was. And that is certainly nowhere in scripture!

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Exactly! It isn’t. In fact, we have evidence that Paul treated women with respect, as co-workers.

  2. Elissa

    I agree with your suggestions on how to better teach men to combat lust. However, I am curious about your statement about non -Christian guys that, “They were taught, in general, that respecting women as whole people was normal.” Do you think that the world does a better job respecting women than the church? I personally have not found this to be the case… I think both the world AND the church do a bad job of it in general. The difference I see is that the church objectifies and sexualizes women under the guise of respecting them, whereas the world tends to just do it outright.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Interesting point, Elissa! I think “the world” has a bit of a split personality in this to be honest. In wider culture and dating culture and many interpersonal relationships, there’s certainly a lot of sexualization. But in the workplace and educational settings, it’s assumed that respect will be how men treat women. When I did a poll on this recently, 68% of women said they were more sexually harassed and objectified at church than at their workplace.
      Here’s how some women have explained it in other comment threads on the blog: many men will treat them so well in a work situation, but if you were to see those same men at a bar, they’d be pigs. But they’re able to dichotomize a lot easier–here’s what’s appropriate at work, and here’s what’s appropriate in a social setting.
      But they do know the respect piece. In school, they grew up with women/girls being equal and being treated with respect. Certainly that was more than the case in my secular university.
      My daughters found that the guys who became Christians later in life tended to treat them better than the guys who grew up as Christians, because those who grew up in the church were focused on lust/porn, while the guys who grew up outside the church may struggle with porn too, but they separate it from the girls in front of them. It’s interesting, and I’d love to do more research into it. But the big thing is that in the wider culture, women are not sexualized in the same way in high school/university, while in Christian culture they are. They’re seen as dangerous and as temptresses, and that’s the problem.

      • Melissa W

        So I have been wondering about this myself. It seems like we are heaping a huge amount of praise on non-christian men because of how they treat women with respect but is that because they actually really respect women or just because they are better at compartmentalizing their lives. This is what I mean, non-christian men do not think that lusting, fantasizing, watching porn, masturbation and sex outside of marriage is wrong. So, they most certainly don’t have a sexual ethic that we would praise. However, since they don’t think that lusting and fantasizing is wrong are they better able, then a christian men who does think is wrong, at compartmentalizing their thought life from their real life. Can they fantasize about you and still treat you with respect and dignity because they compartmentalize those parts of their lives and don’t view the lusting and fantasizing as a sin? Just something I’ve been thinking about and not sure what the answer is but I don’t think it is because non-christian guys have this great sexual ethic that we should aspire to.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          I think this is really what it is, from talking to guys about it. They are better able to compartmentalize (that is the word I was looking for!).
          But it also does mean that they are better able to create safe spaces for women in work or educational settings, which is important. And many don’t sexualize women unless it is in a sexual setting, which is also important. So, yes, the sexual ethic may be awful, and the porn use is worse, but the ability to see women as whole people (at least in many situations) is real, and is something that is missing from much of our evangelical teachings.
          I don’t want the secular world to be our example in this. I just bemoan the fact that in some ways they’re doing it better! I think we should be INFINITELY better than the secular world, because we know that women are made in the image of God. I hope that we can get there one day, because we should be leading the way in this.

      • Nathan

        Melissa, I think that people can, and so, compartmentalize. That is, I can treat female co-workers respectfully and professionally then go to a bar afterwards and treat women like nothing more than objects.
        I’m not sure what the answer is either, other than to continue to teach that noticing and feeling sexual attraction is okay, but that lusting should be avoided.

      • Phil

        Sheila – I have no good example to go by as I was molested by a leader in my church in my early teens but I just find it really hard to believe that the church is “not as good as” the secular world at teaching men the value of being able to respect women. I would be interested in your data on that one. Not knowing and or seeing what you have I half wonder if it doesn’t have to do with the church so much as it does that only 30% of the world is Christian and we are the minority. Then you have the church’s that teach the wrong message and in the case of even my current church their message is nothing. As far as I get reports from my kids they dont talk about sexuality at all. Maybe not as bad but yet not good. I do recall however something somewhere recently within a TLHV post that said something like we should be getting the right messages from our parents…not depending on the church…something like that? My neighbors are nice people. They have nice kids – they celebrate Christmas and they would tell you they are Christian. I do not consider them Christian but thats their call not mine…their son likes my daughter but my daughter put the brakes on it but they still play games together on their phone and text and sometimes even hang out a little. I truly believe he respects her. However, my opinion in general about my neighbors is they are nice people who lack integrity. They lack Jesus. To me it is obvious. There was a post a while back about this topic if secular folks raising nice kids having good marriages – I think this heads i to Becca’s area too with her book…anyway I am rambling here – always live your insights Sheila but I am havin trouble with this one.:..

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Phil, I am so truly sorry about the molestation. So truly sorry. That is just awful.
          As for the rest, what I will say is that at church, and at the youth group my girls attended, they were taught that girls were stumbling blocks for boys, which is NOT a respectful message. At university, on the other hand, the conversation was more around how to respect one another.
          At church girls are treated like they are primarily sexual; in the workplace and at school, girls are often treated primarily for their accomplishments.
          Again, I do not believe the secular world has this right. I’m just saying that the hyper-focus on fighting lust and thus the hyper-focus on sexualizing girls in church is inherently a DISrespectful one. I don’t believe it’s true in all churches, but like I said, our poll showed that women are twice as likely to say they’ve been sexually harassed or objectified at church than at their workplace.
          We simply have to stop seeing women as sexual objects, that’s all. I don’t think that can happen until we do the things I mentioned in this post–things that most secular workplaces and educational institutions already do. I’m just so sad that they are ahead of the evangelical church on this.
          But I ALSO believe the conversation is changing, and that many, many churches are doing this well. My prayer is that as people read The Great Sex Rescue, they’ll see in our “rescuing and reframing” sections far better ways to talk about lust and respect so that we can do even better. I think the tide is turning!

      • Phil

        Im onto your prayer Sheila and I am pondering your response hard. Quite interesting – I was just thinking about workplaces and eduction institutions and how at this point they generally have zero tolerance for sexual harassment yet the church does not teach that. Whens the last time anyone at church was told we have a zero tolerance policy of sexual harassment at out church. And if you do sexually harass someone we will call you onto the carpet and expel you. One would think you dont need such policy because we are supposed to be getting the word of Jesus and further more act like him. Again rambling but processing…

      • Melissa W

        I agree with you completely Sheila that often non-christian men are better at making women feel safe in work and social situations because they are able to compartmentalize their thought life as separate from their real life and how they act. It is important to remember though that it isn’t because they don’t sexualize or objectify women but because they don’t have the Holy Spirit nudging them that it is wrong. I also agree that we have got to get better in the church on how men treat women. There is a certain amount of compartmentalizing that needs to take place while a man is working through taking his thoughts captive. When the Holy Spirit nudges a christian man that his objectifying and sexualizing of a woman is wrong, it doesn’t mean to now act that out in shunning, shaming, avoiding, etc. but to continue to act out what you know is true in that she is a beloved child of God, made in His image and worthy of being treated with respect and dignity while working on His sin at the same time. I am grateful that I have always been in church setting where this has been the case but yes, the church at larger needs to do better in this area. Keep preaching the truth!

  3. Nathan

    There’s likely a difference between struggling with lust and lusting once in a while. Maybe Paul did lust sometimes, but it was probably not very often

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, indeed! And I do think the example of how he treated women is an important and encouraging one.

  4. Jane Eyre

    As Christians, we are all called to focus on the person inside the body. We aren’t supposed to treat young women like pieces of meat, successful men like ATMs, beautiful people as objects of lust or jealousy, intellectually slow people as objects of ridicule, or the sick as people to be avoided.
    We are, however, called upon to care for others: feed, clothe, shelter those in need, love and care for infants and children, be compassionate with the elderly, and tend to the sick. Christ makes it quite clear that if we forgo our obligations to the bodies of others, we do not belong in the Kingdom of Heaven.
    Considering that, our discussions to young men should be about their obligations to women: to reserve sex for marriage, delight in the wives of their youth, protect women and children from predators, care for widows, and do what they can to ensure a just world for pregnant women. “Bouncing eyes” and “every man’s battle” aren’t included in that list.
    A lot of men talk about how they would love to ne the objects of such strong desire. But I wonder of we actually talk to them about how bad it can be to be a kid while adults stare at your developing body, be a teenager or young woman and get cat-called incessantly, be groped by men twice your age, or be constantly pressured for sex. Is that what God wants for women? When you lust, you are appropriating her body, treating the only place she has to live and exist as your own object. That’s not okay.

    • Bill Davis

      Jane Eyre, I think a lot of guys are jealous of what most women have – a lot of expressed desire from the opposite sex. I’m one of those guys. We know about those things you mention (staring, catcalling, groping, etc.), but we don’t see how those negative things could compare to all the attention women get. Can you understand how the desire for attention makes us guys so jealous, and sad?

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Actually, this is a big problem–that guys think this is a positive thing. Women tend to experience it as a very dangerous and threatening thing, as well as an objectifying thing. The fact that some men want to be objectified is part of the problem, I think.

      • Bill Davis

        Sheila, I want expressed desire from women out in public. Every guy I know wants the same thing! It doesn’t have to be in the form of a woman calling out a particular body part – it can just be a woman expressing that she finds a man physically attractive. I feel that most guys are starved for attention. This makes us feel jealous of women, and feel little sympathy for even the unwanted attention they get. It’s like a starving man hearing a millionaire complain that they only like some forms of caviar and that the others taste gross to him. Do you understand better now men’s frustration?

      • Meghan

        I can count on one hand the number of men who have expressed desire for me, and yet I still endure the consequences of the objectification of women. I am extremely aware of where any person is within a 100 ft radius. I don’t run in the dark unless I’m with a group. I carry my super sharp trekking poles on every solo hike even if the terrain doesn’t call for it. I never go anywhere without my phone just in case I need to make an emergency call.
        Trust me, you don’t want this.

      • Jane Eyre

        Attention from predators is terrifying. The implication is not that they want to get to know me better; it is a desire to use and discard. It is not about the taste of caviar; imagine people force-feeding you poisoned caviar… when you’re a vegetarian.
        Before telling women that we should accept gross attention (I had a man ask me for sex shortly after I got engaged, and several men have assaulted me), maybe ask yourself why you need attention from random women. How would that make your life better?
        A very successful friend of mine is very sardonic about the attention he received from women when he hit the big leagues. He was ignored for his teens and in university, and when women threw themselves at him in his 30s, said he knew it wasn’t about him. People don’t like attention when it’s obvious that the attention is pure self interest.

      • Melissa W

        As a woman whose husband has been sexually harassed at work (butt slapped while under a desk installing a computer and nipple grabbed and twisted) and whose teenage son has been yelled at across the parking lot by teenage girls (and while he was with his parents), no, most men do not want to be treated the way women are often treated. My husband was at a loss and didn’t know what to do and my son was mortified. I get wanting to know you are desired and attractive and have a woman pay attention to you but no, you do not want to be sexually harassed. It is demeaning and dehumanizing no matter if you are a woman or a man.

      • Phil

        Bill – greetings it is nice to meet you. Now that we have met you can now say that every man you know does not want expressed desire from women in public. I think maybe you need to make some new friends? The only desire I want is from my wife. Sorry that you have such beliefs and I truly hope this conversation has helped you see differently.

      • Phil

        Hey Bill – there is no irony here at all….after I got done typing my reply to you, my wife came into the office and gave me a dialogue question for us to write on. She had zero knowledge of my comment. The question was this: How do you feel when you kiss me in public? Man I love it when God speaks to me like that…

      • Amy

        I understand your perspective, because I had a similar conversation with my husband and he also shared similar thoughts as yours. I believe that this is because although we grow up in the same world, growing up male vs. female is a completely different experience
        Here is a thought that helped my husband understand why cat calls and attention from men is unwanted to males. My husband asked me shouldn’t it make females feel good when men give them attention by yelling at them on the street, or in high school ranking women as “best rack/Butt” etc? It’s actually complimenting the female, is it not?
        But in these scenarios, the man’a purpose is not to make a woman feel good about herself. No, their purpose is to feed their own male ego and be “one of the guys” and laugh and make jokes when they cat call toward a woman. It’s never to uplift a woman. If a man’s intent is to TRULY compliment a woman, it would not be to yell at her “nice butt” across the street.

  5. Chris

    Hi Sheila! I love this!
    I listened to your most recent podcast where you went through some of the results of the survey that you did with a bunch of men. I found that fascinating but sobering because I’m keenly aware that I am a product of the Purity Culture. I was quite involved with Promise Keepers at one time and I read through the book “Every Young Mans Battle” which I ended up throwing away years ago because I came to the realization as a young man that it only made my struggle worse – it wasn’t helping.
    One of the things that I often lament over is that I was never taught how to have a healthy relationship with the opposite sex. I was always terrified of lusting over them and I couldn’t seem to have a natural conversation. It wasn’t at all that I was lusting and objectifying them as I talked to them (not at all), but the fear of doing that paralyzed me and prevented me from truly treating them as sisters in Christ. My wife and I have been married for 9 years now (just celebrated our anniversary last week!) and we have a beautiful and healthy relationship, and we have 3 amazing children ages 2-7.
    The fear that I described is something that I wish I still didn’t have, because I can’t seem to just have a healthy relationship with my sisters in Christ. It irritates me so much. Why is it that evangelicalism has taught us that you cannot have healthy and holistic relationships with people of the opposite sex outside of marriage?
    A book that I’ve started to read is by Aimee Byrd called “Why Can’t we be Friends?” which I’m truly excited to eventually get through. She has her finger on exactly the thing I’ve wrestled with for years now.
    Thank you again for this Sheila! 🙂

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thanks, Chris! I really respect Aimee, but I haven’t read that yet. I’ll put it on my list!

    • G. S.

      Here’s one thing we can do right now in our churches to help. Stop separating the boys and the girls for every activity! They are being taught the same curriculum, so why separate them? I didn’t realize how weird this was until my children were in high school and college. The church we attended separated boys from girls for Sunday school classes starting in 1st grade. (When we asked why they said it was due to class size. As I got to thinking years later—Why not separate the 1st and 2nd grade from each other rather than the boys from the girls? (They put 1st and 2nd grade boys together and 1st and 2nd grade girls together and this continued until college.)) The only time they had interaction at scheduled activities/classes was during game time in youth group in high school. When the students got to the Sunday school college class they would sit boys on one side and girls on the other–even though no one said they had to!! My son would sit on the “girls side” as a way to “rebel” and would sometimes get teased about it. To make matters worse, many of the students were homeschooled (not bashing homeschooling) so contact with other females would be limited. How did they expect their sons and daughters to know how to interact with the opposite sex if they were never allowed to? Add the purity culture or some version of that–modesty message, every man’s/boy’s battle—to the mix and it’s a terrible storm. I wish we had seen the signs and left the church sooner than we did. Thank you Sheila for your work! Keep standing strong! We need to hear these messages.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Yes! That’s so odd. I also find it in adult ministries. Many adult ministries are segregated, and it’s really aggravating.

  6. Nathan

    These are the points that I get from what Sheila is saying…
    1. Many churches often treat girls and women as if they are nothing other than sexual temptations and stumbling blocks for boys, and that hiding out and blindfolding ourselves is the best solution.
    2. The “real world” often treats women based on merit and accomplishments
    3. Neither one of these approaches is absolutely perfect, and both sides of our world can do much better at treating all people as people.
    4. By hyper-sexualizing so many things, the church often creates or exacerbates the very problem that it claims to be fighting against.

  7. Anon

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    I think this list is really great. I dont always get the knowing a “whole person thing”. I dont struggle as much with lust as I used to think before I started reading this blog but I rarely have listed after a certain persons body part. I know there is one woman that I have struggled lusting after. But it was rarely about her body because it was honestly nothing out of the ordinary but it was something about her that made her very tempting and I sadly did fantasize about her and struggled with stopping that. I was even close to cross lines that I shouldn’t have but thankfully stopped and then kept away from her. Maybe this was an exception or maybe I don’t get the real definition of lust but that was tough and I am happy that I am not around her anymore.
    I am trying now to not make a big deal of seeing an attractive woman but the shame and guilt is difficult to get rid off. Like when I scroll through facebook and suddenly a picture of a very attractive woman is there and at first there is a reaction a feeling and then comes the guilt and shame. “You thought she was sexy, attractive, you listed and objectified her!” And then bam the guilt and shame. I am trying to think that it’s ok to think she is attractive and I didn’t have any sexual thoughts about her and then move on but it’s not easy. The lingering feeling of guilt and shame hangs on.
    It was the same when I went to the store. I just enter and I haven’t even gotten in when I instantly see a woman with a pretty big behind. And I don’t know why but my eyes goes there automatic at least that’s how it feels. I was just entering. And then bam! The guilt and shame. “You lusted. You thought her butt looked good!” And then I feel bad and then I start to avoid other women in the store and then of course there is a half naked woman on a magazine which makes the guilt and shame worse.
    It takes a lot of mental training to remind myself that I didn’t lust after the woman. She looked good from what I saw but I didn’t fantasize about her, I didn’t lust after the other women there not the woman on the magazine. I saw them yes they looked good but I honestly don’t want them.
    It’s not easy to get rid of the shame and guilt that is so connected with this so I understand all the men who struggle with overcoming. The shame and guilt. It will take a long time to get over that after all the teachings we have heard but also our own ideas about purity and our definitions of lust.

    • Nathan

      Yes, that is difficult, since we’re often taught in church that ANY sexual stirring or even noticing is lusting and sinful. I notice women, I notice that they’re attractive, I feel sexual attraction to them, but I lust only very rarely, and I work hard to stop it once it starts. Another issue is that so many often act as if even the tiniest act of sexual immorality is orders of magnitude worse than any other form of sin.

      • Anon dude

        As a man who has felt this tension between seeing and appreciating beauty vs lust, a wise mentor once told me that a bird can fly over your head but you don’t have to let it nest there.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, Anon, I’m so glad that you’re having some of this freedom, even if it’s a long haul! You really can get there.
      The woman that you’re attracted to–and that’s what it sounds like, because you know her personally–that is a different category, and it would likely be best to try to back off a bit (not ignore her, but avoid long conversations, etc.) because I know you’re struggling in your marriage. It sounds like you think she’s attractive because of her personality and character as much as her looks, which is completely natural and normal, but that can be dangerous. But for the rest–it really does sound like you could get some real freedom.
      I’m so, so sorry for all the guilt and shame you’ve had about so many things. I know from other comments that you are seeing a therapist. Have you shared this insight? It may help!

  8. Nathan

    From above…
    > > Actually, this is a big problem–that guys think this is a positive thing.
    Part of this may be a purely physical thing. If a six foot tall man is staring at a five foot tall woman and making obscene comments, she may well be fearful.
    If a six foot six man is being objectified by a five foot tall woman, though, he may find it inconvenient, but he would likely not feel physically threatened.
    Also, it may be the nature of what he THINKS it is. Men may fantasize about being “harassed” or objectified by a young, beautiful woman, but would a 16 year old boy like it if a 50 year old woman followed him around, stared at him, made disgusting comments about his body parts, etc?

  9. M

    boys who do get this kind of attention from adult females and are very uncomfortable feel like something is wrong with them for not liking it. Boys do not always like this weird sexual inappropriate attention from females and are made to feel like something is wrong with them because they don’t like it. It is harmful message to say boys would like this. -even more so if it happened in church.
    In addition My husband had a woman flirt with him and act seductive to try to get him to pick up the workload… he did not enjoy it! If a woman acts creepy to a man, he won’t like it.

  10. Active Mom

    I don’t think the secular world is perfect. But at the same time they don’t allow men to hide behind wrong teaching on scripture. I have never heard someone who wasn’t a Christian make the argument that rape in marriage is not a real thing because “her body belongs to him.” Or comments that she needs to dress modestly to “not cause a brother to sin”. In the secular world those entitlements aren’t taught. Not to say that things aren’t taught incorrectly and that sin is not present but I have heard a lot of “it’s my right as her husband” nonsense in the church. I have never heard that mindset outside of it. It’s true that porn is a major problem in the secular world but it is also a major problem in the church as well. The one difference that I have seen? The secular friends if he develops a porn or other sexual sin habit feels zero guilt about divorce. My Christian friends stay even when there is no repentance etc because she has to.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, I would agree with all of this.
      I will say, though, that in the secular world, women whose husbands watch porn are often at even more of a loss. At least Christians do tend to believe it’s wrong, even if the husband (or wife) won’t stop watching. But in the secular world, many think it’s perfectly fine, and then their spouses are at a loss as to what to do.

  11. Nathan

    Some comments from above…
    > > Sheila, I want expressed desire from women out in public. Every guy I know wants the same thing!
    > > still endure the consequences of the objectification of women.
    Before I met and married Mrs. Nathan, I felt this way, too. I DESPERATELY wanted women’s attention. However, there is a HUGE difference between somebody noticing and desiring you and objectification/harassment.
    Neither extreme is a good thing.

  12. Manon

    Not sure about all of these ideas. Some make sense, but some are not factual. Paul was pretty open about his struggles and failures. He felt pretty wretched. Also, at what point does temptation enter the picture? I believe every man is tempted. Jesus was. It’s what you do with that that becomes the problem.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, Paul was open about his temptations. But he never mentioned being tempted towards lust. And his interactions with women (which were frequent) were marked with friendship, where he considered them co-workers and worked alongside them with no trouble. Let’s not assume he lusts just because he’s a man when every marker of his life shows that he didn’t.

  13. Bill Davis

    Jane Eyre, no one likes to feel unimportant to the opposite sex. That’s what most single men feel like because the average guy doesn’t get much attention from women. A guy has to usually make himself known. He has to pursue. He has to say “look at me!” He has to stick his neck out.
    Sure, most women get unwanted attention occasionally. But for most women, for every guy that does something terrible or scary, she has several other guys who just say hello, or compliment her in a non-rude way. Most guys don’t get this. We get ignored. I feel the average woman has it better than the average guy, and I feel that women who don’t think so just have no idea what it’s like to be ignored in general by the opposite sex, which is the sad lot of most men on earth.

    • Active Mom

      I have to teach my daughters to never go running at dusk or later by themselves, when walking in a parking garage during the day they know to have their keys out between their fingers, they know to never sit in a car in a parking lot on their phone unless the doors are locked, never open our front door if they are home alone, if older and at a bar never accept a drink even water that you didn’t see poured, if you have to leave to go to the bathroom throw it away and order a new one. This is just every day safety. There is a lot more rules depending on the situation. Cat calls can be terrifying especially when it comes from a group. I’m sorry but the attitude that men can’t have compassion because they would like the same attention from women is part of the reason women still aren’t safe in places like church.

      • Bill Davis

        [Editor’s note: Bill, on this site we do not downplay sexual assault or rape. In your comments, you are beginning to say that rape is not as bad as other forms of threat that men and women both experience. Rape is bad, sexual assault is bad, and neither should ever be downplayed.]

  14. Bill Davis

    Meghan, then you have the worst of both worlds. I’m sorry. For me, an average guy (little unsolicited attention from women, but almost no harassment from women), I would easily trade with an average woman (quite a bit of unsolicited attention from men, some harassment from men).

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Do you have any idea how offensive that is? I’m not sure if you have a lot of female friends, or if you have success with women or if you’re married, but expressing this kind of sentiment is the sort of thing that will make women think you are supremely creepy. Just being honest.
      It might be good to think about what you’re actually saying, when every woman here says that what you’re saying is highly problematic.

    • Anon

      “But for most women, for every guy that does something terrible or scary, she has several other guys who just say hello, or compliment her in a non-rude way. ” To be blunt, this just demonstrates that you have absolutely no idea of what women have to deal with on a daily basis.
      I have hardly EVER had a compliment from a guy that I don’t know which hasn’t been a precursor to some other kind of unwanted attention. Like, maybe twice in my whole life, a strange guy has said something complimentary to me and walked on. And that’s compared to hundreds of times when he’s said something and then proceeded to follow, pester, harass or physically assault me.
      (And saying ‘hello’ to someone is totally different from complimenting them – where I come from, it’s polite to greet everyone you walk past, whether you know them or not.)

    • Meghan

      Well I talked to my husband and he said a woman gave him unwanted attention (including caressing his goatee without permission) in college and it was one of the worst things he’s ever experienced, so no the average guy doesn’t want that.
      And I don’t care if the rest of the world finds me desirable. My body is an instrument, not an ornament. I don’t exist to be viewed by other people.

  15. Anon

    Bill sounds like an incel.

  16. Benjamin

    Interesting article! I really needed this. I hate this concept of the red blooded male. A pastor once implied that any man not struggling with lust is abnormal. Why I didn’t like everyman’s battle is that its paints attractive women as enemies when the real enemy is lust. We should all flee from temptation whether the temption is attractive or unattractive, a woman or not a woman. Sexual desire that is not for ones spouse is called lust not sexual attraction. There’s also a difference between lusting and being tempted to lust.

  17. Derrick Johnson, LMFT (NV lic#: 01260)

    I am a licensed marriage and family therapist in practice for 12 years…
    I love what you have to say about sex and putting sex in relation to marriage in a Biblical perspective that is free from the multitude of Christian misconceptions that hurt a woman’s sexuality and debase men as purely physical being who need a physical release.
    When I listened to your podcast about the book Love and Respect with my wife, I found myself echoing what you had to say to my wife – you affirmed my observations both in Christian marriages and in non-Christian marriages.
    On the issue of pornography, I have come to conclude that parental wounds in childhood, along with any exposure in childhood to any level of pornography, plays an overwhelming role in setting boys up to become enmeshed in pornography…
    This is especially true of the father wound.
    I can provide more insight if you’d like.

  18. C

    Hi Sheila, I am in need of some advice. After reading what you wrote, I have some questions of my own:
    My husband uses Instagram a lot and he is into japanese anime and cosplayers – they generally can get quite slutty/explicit. We had a conversation about looking before because I actually discovered he sometimes searches for them or when he comes across their profiles, he will click on links in their profiles which brings him to these instagrammers’ external websites which contain even more explicit stuff ie photographs, only fans etc.
    He doesn’t see it as a problem because according to him he doesn’t do it often. How should I go about dealing with this? I feel very miserable and as if my marriage is a lie

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      If you’re feeling miserable, that matters. If he won’t listen to you about it, it’s okay to set up boundaries (“I don’t feel comfortable being intimate with you when I know that you’ve looked at this stuff when you know I feel hurt by that.”) And then I’d insist on talking it through with a counselor. Because the question really is: why does it not bother him that you are hurt? And I am so sorry that you’re this hurt. I really am. That must be so painful.


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