One of the fun things about writing this blog over the last few years is the questions, thoughts and ideas that readers bring via comments and emails. Today I wanted to write a post in response to an email question I received a while back.
A young lady wrote in and asked:
I want to know why modesty in dress is considered so important for men’s purity of thought.
I dress modestly. I have no problem with that. Doesn’t bother me. . .
But, I don’t really believe that normal, average women are physically appealing to men when the women who men want to look at are strippers, porn stars, prostitutes and lingerie models. The women who men pay to see are surgically enhanced with silicone parts and fake hair, nails, tans, noses, breasts and eyelashes. That’s not what most average women look like. We don’t meet that physical gold standard of beauty or physical attractiveness.
So why do we have to worry about men lusting after us when we’re not the ones they want anyway? They’re looking at the iPhones, not me or other women who are around.
This email actually raises several different questions and thoughts. We are talking here about modesty of dress, men lusting, how attraction works among other things. Let me address a couple of points here that might be helpful.
First of all, at the end of the day, men are responsible for their own purity. Women are also responsible for their own purity. We all have moral agency. One of the mistakes we make is when we start blaming the opposite sex for our own failings. Some want to blame women and how they dress for men lusting. I also have seen some people blame men whenever women sleep with men as if they didn’t also sin. To me, men and women are both responsible for their own sexual sin.
However, this doesn’t mean that we can’t be considerate of each other’s typical weaknesses. So in this example, while a woman is not responsible for a man lusting because of her dress, it’s sort of counterproductive to dress in a way that says, please lust after me. I’d also say that how you dress sort of says something about your own purity – which is for you to figure out.
I think two mistakes that women tend to make here are: 1. Dress in a way that sends a message that they want every guy to lust after them and 2. Dress in a way that says I don’t care about my appearance or my femininity.
If I were advising a woman on how to dress (which is not typically my place – but because the question was sent to me) I’d advise that you can dress in a way that is attractive to men, without dressing immodestly. I think dressing in a stylish, feminine way that flatters your body type is attractive to most men. Because I think attraction matters, I’d say dressing that way is going to help men to notice you.** And for free – if you are married it will help your husband want to be with you.
This leads to a second point. There is this assumption that guys are only attracted in a lustful way to women. I think this is overblown. I’m not saying that men don’t struggle with visual lust. But I don’t think that men are constantly lusting or that they all want that kind of woman. We are not animals. We don’t have to struggle constantly with lust. It is a temptation for most men, but it doesn’t dominate us the way that it is often described in Christian circles.
I would also suggest to the ladies that if a man is doing the things that this woman is describing (looking at porn all the time, going to strip clubs, paying prostitutes), that would probably be a man whose attention you should not want to attract.
I do think that both men and women can have an attraction scale problem which I wrote about here. In other words because of things like porn, romance novels, and Hollywood ideals our attraction scales are sort of unreasonable. I’ve written before about how attracted do you need to be. Attraction can come and go, and is impacted by a lot of factors.
Most people are not “tens” on the attraction scale. However most people are not “ones” either. I do think that both men and women should work to be attractive. The idea that this doesn’t matter is ridiculous. As a culture I would suggest that we are in many ways making ourselves less attractive.
At the same time, we should understand that being perfectly attractive is not a prerequisite for marriage. If it is your prerequisite then you are going to be alone. Take a look around you at the married people you know. Are any of them perfectly attractive? Lots of average looking people get married. And this isn’t just true for physical attractiveness.
Again, that is not to say that attraction doesn’t matter. It does. But I think that we often misunderstand what is attractive to the opposite sex and therefore how to be attractive. Frankly, most people underestimate their ability to be attractive. How you view yourself is often more important than how others view you.
** By the way – how you dress as a guy also matters. As a guy, your physical condition, along with how you carry yourself matters. While women are not as visual as men that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t make a difference or that they are not visual at all.