What if the “all men struggle with lust” message is coloring how we see life?
We’re in the middle of our New Research series on the Bare Marriage blog, where we talk about some interesting studies that have come out with relevance to marriage, sex, and more.
Recently I was sent an article from The Atlantic with reference to a study about primal fear.
The article is based on a new peer-reviewed study from Clifton and Meindl that just came out in the Journal of Positive Psychology. The reader who sent the Atlantic article discussing this study to me (you all send me the best stuff!) felt that the “every man’s battle” message fit in this conception of fear. Here’s how the article describes what a “primal fear” is:
The contention that the world is mostly safe or mostly dangerous is what some psychologists call a “primal world belief,” one about life’s basic essence. Specifically, it’s a negative primal in which the fundamental character of the world is assumed to be threatening. Primal beliefs are different from more specific beliefs—say, about sports or politics—insofar as they color our whole worldview. If I believe that the Red Sox are a great baseball team, it generally will not affect my unrelated attitudes and decisions. But according to Clifton and Meindl, if I believe that the world is dangerous, it will affect the way I see many other parts of my life, relationships, and work. I will be more suspicious of other people’s motives, for example, and less likely to do things that might put me or my loved ones in harm’s way, such as going out at night…..
…And to top it all off, negative primals don’t even help keep people safe. Researchers writing in the journal Psychology & Health in 2001 showed that a general state of fear can actually make a person less likely to take threats seriously (a self-defense mechanism to control our fear) and undermine precautionary behavior (by degrading the ability to address danger rationally).
The article wasn’t about lust, but rather about the danger of teaching kids that the world is unsafe.
And I love their solution! You flip the narrative, and instead teach about red flags. As Brooks says: “Instead of saying, “People will try to take advantage of you at college,” say, “If someone is trying to get you to drink too much, avoid that person.”“
This is what we’ve been arguing for two years now. We need to stop seeing lust as every man’s battle, and instead treat a man who can’t control his mind in the presence of 14-year-olds in bikinis as a threat to those 14-year-olds in bikinis. That is a red flag that something is wrong with the man, not that something is wrong with the girls.
We need to start seeing boys who push girls’ sexual boundaries (another negative belief that we measured) as a huge character red flag, not as just something girls need to put up with, because “that’s just how boys are, and boys are dangerous.”
Here’s something we wrote in our upcoming book She Deserves Better (it’s out in April, but available for pre-order now!):
Boys are not made less in the image of God than girls. They do not have less of the Holy Spirit than girls, and frankly, [the message that all boys will use girls as objects and lust after them] is denying the cross of Christ. Rather than telling girls that all men and boys will push their boundaries and won’t be able to stop themselves, why don’t we teach girls that these behaviors are red flags that the guy is dangerous and should be avoided?
Your daughter does not need to be told, “Boys can’t help themselves.” What she needs to know is that she deserves a partner who displays the fruit of the Spirit, which includes self-control. She needs to know that her no is more powerful than any boy’s sex drive—and if he continues past her no, it’s a sign that he is a predator, not just that he is male.
What if we could normalize healthy behaviour rather than red-flag behaviour?
Yes, we have a crisis in evangelicalism where far too many men objectify women and feel entitled to sex. When we ran the numbers from our survey of men, as I reported last year, only 38% of men are sexually safe (they don’t use porn; they don’t believe the obligation sex message; they don’t actively lust in any of the scenarios we give them; they do make their wife’s pleasure a priority).
But what if we started talking like all of these things are normal? What if we started teaching girls that this is what men CAN be like; this is the way GOD MADE MEN (unlike how Steve Arterburn claims in Every Man’s Battle that men were made without the Christian view of sex); that this is what men SHOULD be like, and that this is what they can EXPECT?
They say that when bank tellers are taught to recognize counterfeits, they first study the real thing. Maybe we should be teaching our girls and our boys primarily what HEALTHY sexuality looks like. We should be setting that up as the expectation, rather than constantly warning about how bad everything is.
And then, when we talk about the bad, it’s more in the context of, “okay, nobody should be doing this, there is no reason to do this, and that’s a huge red flag?”
Of course, we’d have to do this with grace, knowing that many boys (and girls) do indeed struggle with lust, and we don’t want to add shame or make it so that they can’t get help.
But as we’ve been speaking about The Great Sex Rescue and rescuing and reframing these messages, it’s possible to say,
Lust is a battle many people struggle with, often men more than women, but women as well. But it is a battle that many have fought and won, and you can get victory over it. And the victory comes from learning to see the other person as a whole person, made in the image of God.
Then people would know that if someone doesn’t treat them as a whole person, there is something wrong with that person–not that the world is a dangerous place.
The responsibility is put back on the person who is doing wrong.
When we think the world is dangerous, we put up with more red flag behaviour.
That’s what Clifton & Meindl found. Seeing the world as dangerous led to far worse outcomes; but being able to recognize danger is a good thing. And you can recognize that some things can be dangerous without feeling that danger is everywhere.
For example, if it is beneficial to recognize dangerous situations as dangerous, but seeing the world as dangerous is associated with much worse outcomes, then perhaps the world is not so dangerous.
And teaching girls the world is dangerous will likely just lead to bad outcomes overall:
As predicted, regardless of occupation, more negative primals were almost never associated with better outcomes. Instead, they predicted less success, less job and life satisfaction, worse health, dramatically less flourishing, more negative emotion, more depression, and increased suicide attempts.
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This shouldn’t be rocket science, because isn’t this what God tells us?
Take heart, for He has overcome the world. We have the Holy Spirit, and are no longer slaves to sin. We can expect those who are Christians to be good!
So let’s stop telling girls that all men and boys are dangerous, and instead teach them that men and boys can be expected to be good, since most are (and that’s factually true). Then, they’ll be able to see potential red flags more clearly.
What do you think? Let’s talk in the comments!
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