Wednesday, January 7, 2009

When Soft Porn is All Right

All right. I'll ask: what causes otherwise nice Christian young ladies to participate in soft pornography? I was on Myspace today (perhaps that's part of my problem), and I needed a healthy dose of the Holy Spirit to refrain me from clicking on a thumbnail picture that a friend of mine had posted. It was a picture of her and two other girls, standing on the beach in bikinis. Don't take this too far, but gazing upon such a picture would not have been good for my spirituality.

And I'm afraid that many young ladies don't understand this. It's not that all men are sexually-addicted animals. It's just that we were created to appreciate the beauty of females to a level that is not reciprocated in the female gender towards males. As Carsten Johnsen notes:
I am not saying one single disparaging word about the natural beauty in a woman's body. It certainly is not Eros who has had anything to do with creating that. The Creator's name is Jesus Christ, and He is Agape. It is not Eros who has made sex a pleasant experience, any more than he has made strawberries taste delicious. It is God, and God only, who has prepared all things that are good - really good. It is He who has invented feminine beauty (Agape and Eros, p. 40).
To put it simply: man was designed by God to be attracted to the female body when he sees it, much the same way he is supposed to be attracted to the taste of strawberries. The problem arises when he sees too much of a female's body that does not "belong" to him. And in this day and age of maximum exposure - even among those inside the church - where women leave very little to the imagination, males are being bombarded with images that he has been created to naturally respond to.

I was talking with a female church member of mine a few months ago who has a burden for this particular issue. She recalled that at a previous church she attended, there was a woman who attended who was extremely modest. She would even get embarrased if her long skirt happened to blow up a little bit because of the wind. To the utter surprise and shock of my church member and her husband, one day when they all went to the beach for a church picnic, they saw this same lady, dressed in a fairly immodest bathing suit, and on the shoulders of the head elder, playing a game of "chicken."

There seemed to be a huge disconnect. An otherwise modest Christian woman threw off all restraint, simply because she was at the beach. And many women who would not be caught dead walking around in their lingerie with other church members visiting, all of a sudden break out the bikinis when it is beach day.

Interestingly, there is a quiet "modesty revolution" that is taking place among some young ladies - even those in the secular world. I heard just such an idea on NPR last year, when they were interviewing a few people who have written books about girls who have "gone mild." Instead of exposing themselves to the world, they now understand that they do not need to flaunt their bodies to find worth in the world's eyes.

Perhaps this post seems startingling, and if you're female, maybe it makes about as much sense as claiming there are cows on the moon. But I think it would be better for everyone if we raised the necklines, covered up more when we went to the beach, and asked ourselves what our brother's thoughts are turned toward when we show a little skin. This is not legalism. It's acting within the context of love. If we are to be perfect in love, we should ask ourselves, while getting dressed in the morning, "Is this tight shirt going to keep my male coworkers or friends' minds pure, or is it going to cause them to stumble? Is this short skirt going to be a stumbling block to my boyfriend, my boss, my pastor?"

Ladies, you have a responsibility towards us, just as we have a responsibility towards you - to protect your emotional wellbeing and treat you as more than simply a pretty face. No, we are not exonerated of any responsibility, simply because we may take particular notice of a woman who walks by in a miniskirt and a tight shirt, but it would go a long way in helping us if you loosened up the tight clothes, and covered up the skin. And we're not talking about going all Muslim on us, by wearing a hijab. We're just talking about using common sense.

"Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, lest I make my brother stumble" (1 Cor 8:13). Likewise, if what you wear - or don't wear - causes your brother to stumble, maybe you should think twice about wearing it, and certainly pause before uploading a picture of it onto Myspace or Facebook.

*Update: To listen to the NPR program mentioned above, click here.

10 comments:

Charles said...

My wife and I have had this conversation multiple times over the years, mostly in response to some, both male and female, who lay sole blame on the woman's shoulder for a man's or men's problem with lust. I have even heard one woman go so far as to say that a woman who was raped brought it on by what she was wearing! (In response to that, I struggle with shouting an obscenity at such mind-numbing naivety.) But that is another story.

It's interesting you mentioned the hijab. Again, my wife and I have discussed this part of the topic with others. If my memory is correct, a documentary about the Taliban's rule in Afghanistan reported that if a woman covered in a burka (worse than hijab) showed her eyes or even her feet, she was "trying to tempt a man" and would receive a beating, or in some cases get executed. So even this "modesty" when carried over to the extreme, there is still a problem with male lust - cherishing sin in one's heart.

I am in total agreement that beach-ware is beyond the pale. As a red-blooded male, I rarely go to the beach any more, except on off-days. I find it interesting that guys wear swim trunks that go past the knees (thankfully, lol), but most women wear something that often is less modest than underwear! And yes, it seems all moral/modest inhibitions are left at the car. Even the "Adventist beach" over here is not immune, probably because of Andrews...

Regardless, Solomon has a lot to say about purity, as does our Lord and Savior - and they apply to both genders. Blessed are the pure in heart - this goes both ways - the woman or man in their clothing and the woman or man in what they cherish and linger on in their thoughts.

Ultimately, the choice to look away or not click is left within our hands or rests on our shoulders. All I can say is this - thank heaven it is not yet as bad as it is in Europe. My wife spent a year there as a student missionary - even some church members go topless.

My point - I fear for my children (boy and girl). May the Lord return soon so that their innocent hearts and minds may not be assaulted by the worlds morality, er immorality.

Joelle said...

Really good post. Excellent thoughts.
Do you remember what the book was called that the people on NPR were interviewed about? (or when/what the show was so that I could listen?) I would be interested in reading it. I seem to be developing a collection of books on the topic. (I'm also in the process of starting a blog for Adventist young women on relationships/ dress and other girly topics and would be interested in reviewing the book if it's worthwhile.)

Shawn Brace said...

Charles,

Thanks for your comments. I will return to them later. But since I'm in a hurry (sermon day), I just wanted to respond quickly to Joelle.

I applaud your plans for the new blog! Here is the link to that NPR program on the topic: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=13896381

It is very fascinating. The book to which they refer is called Girls Gone Mild, by Wendy Shalit. Hope this is helpful to you!

Shawn Brace said...

Charles,

Thanks for your thoughts on this subject. It is a very sensitive one but it deserves a lot of attention. I actually posted a link to this post on my Facebook, and it received about 20 responses!

Let me try to respond to what you have said: I think it is a little absurd for anyone to say that a woman is somehow responsible for getting raped simply because of what she wears. That is ridiculous. At the same time, I can say that if a woman understands that men get so charged up when encountering such images, then it is inexcusable for her to be inconsiderate and wear such things. This does not excuse him - or us - from responding in such a way; but if we were created to respond to the body of a woman, it would seem to me that woman ought to go to great lengths to cover that body up from any male's eyes who is not her husband.

I don't think that most women fully realize just how much men respond to images, though.

I agree, also, that male lust is much of the challenge: but it should be the burden of both males and females to work together on this to help one another in righteousness. If I knew, for example, that women were created to naturally get "turned on" by being touched on the shoulder, it would not be very kind of me - or loving - to walk around and touch every woman's shoulder, and then say, "But it's their problem!"

No, the beach is not a very good place to go at all! It's kind of hard to look anywhere when you're at the beach. May God grant all of us love for one another, and ask what we can do to help each other in righteousness.

Rebecca said...

I find the idea that men were created to respond to a woman's body very funny. So men were created to be lustful? And women were created to be objects of lust. And let's be clear on this, your entire post, even with all the talk about "protecting" women, really treats women entirely as objects.

I am reminded of a book I read a while ago, Nine Parts of Desire by Geraldine Brooks. There is a part in that book that explains why Muslim women must wear burkas: men found women so desirable, they couldn't control themselves, so they made the women cover themselves. This is exactly what you're positing. You may claim that men have some responsibilty, but a throwaway sentence does not negate the substance of the rest of your post, which is: women are temptresses, and men cannot control themselves around them; after all, men were created to respond to a woman's body.

Actually, it's quite interesting: in these fundamentalist Muslim countries, or in the West's past (say, Victorian England), where women must be covered, the slightest uncovering is viewed as erotic. An ankle may not be very thrilling to us, but to a Victorian or a fundamentalist Muslim, it's very provocative. It seems that the revealing of the female body has the opposite effect: it decreases sexual response. In some ways, our short skirts and bikinis may protect us from lust.

And let's be clear about rape: men don't rape for lust. If that were so, why would elderly women be raped? Why does the highest percentage of rape happen to disabled women? These rapists get "turned on", it's true, but not by revealing clothing. Rape happens to women of all types, wearing all sorts of clothing. Rape happens because the rapist wants to have control over someone else, much the same way fundamentalist Muslim men control their women by making them cover themselves. Rape happens when men stop being responsible for their desires.

Confessions of a New England Pastor's Wife said...

Rebecca, wow. Thank you for your words. I think everyone's comments and the post are heartfelt and well meaning, but you've really cut to the heart of the matter, as far as I'm concerned.

Charles said...

Rebecca, I agree totally with what you said. There is nothing in my comments that would suggest that rape is a woman's fault or primarily a sexual act, or that the wearing of the hijab or burka is appropriate. I am against those things as it is a result of man's lust, and in the case of rape, its often misogyny, hate, control and anger, rarely lust.

Now, I do take some concern with a few things you said. God made man to be attracted to woman. Its there in the beginning and all throughout scripture. Read Song of Songs, for heaven's sake. There is quite a bit of physical attraction between both man and woman there, and some of it is rather erotic. In the healthy case of marriage, this is completely appropriate and ordained by the Almighty.

My problem with Western Civilization is that by and large, the media, fashion and entertainment industries have objectified woman such that to be valued, many (NOT ALL) feel like they need to show a little (or a lot of) flesh to be valued by one and all. Beach wear is just one example. For example, at the Olympics in China - why did all the men where Bermuda-type shorts and muscle shirts whilst the women wore barely nothing? Ironically, all the photos coming out of the olympics focused on the woman's posterior...

My point - the women chose to wear that clothing, and in many cases, some have even posed with less in print. What's the purpose? To entice? For many, most likely not, but they have bought into the idea that showing all that skin is acceptable, and that men should just get over it.

WRONG! This is not how we men were created by God - we are designed to be attracted to the female body - and in the case with all that skin, within the bounds of marriage. Again, I am not promoting that woman go around in gunny sacks and wear full body clothing at the beach. That's preposterous and leads to the way of the burka.

I will give ground to say that SIN has marred the male mind in insidious ways, and we are not without fault. Men after all have and continue to control major media, entertainment, print and fashion industries, and are the main culprits of guilt promoting objectification of woman.

And as I stated earlier, we men have the choice to NOT click and look away lest we allow lust to control our minds. Yet, I will agree with Shawn that there is some burden to be held on the shoulder's of the fairer sex. Where that lies and what that is has to be, in large measure, rests between the individual and God.

God bless you sister. I hope you understand where I am coming from with my comments. As a husband of one wife and a father of both a boy and a girl, I pray for God's wisdom to ingrain His morality within the heart of my children as we live in this corrupted culture...

Rebecca said...

Charles, I was responding mainly to the OP with my first comment, and certainly did not mean to suggest that you thought rape was the woman's fault.

Now let me respond briefly to your second post.

I think you and Shawn are reading quite a bit into the Bible to say that men were created to respond to women's bodies. I think God intended for men and women to respond to the body of the one they love, not bodies in general. If this were true, then every father would look at his daughter or every brother would look at his sister in a swinsuit and think, "Wow, that's hot!" That doesn't happen because men DON'T respond indiscriminately to female bodies. To claim that you can't help your feeling because God made you that way is to strip yourselves of any responsibility.

Am I saying that women are not objectified in the media? No. Am I saying that it's not damaging for women to use their bodies erotically? No. But I think the damage is done to young girls and their self-esteem and body image more than to those hapless men who see those women and "can't control" their erotic responses.

Charles said...

Hi Rebecca, again I agree with you. In fact, I think we both have chartered similar courses of thought. I had said in my post:

"This is not how we men were created by God - we are designed to be attracted to the female body - and in the case with all that skin, within the bounds of marriage."

Yes, God designed us to be physically attracted to our wives. But it would be naive not to admit that physical attraction to one's spouse also begins outside the bounds of marriage. Ultimately, the initial attraction is, from a man's perspective, and forgive me for overly simplifying it, "Wow, she's beautiful!" or some similar thought, with some perhaps being a little than less respectful. The initial attraction, by and large, is physical. Its only after one spends measurable time with someone does the emotion and intellect get involved.

I also stated the following:

"I will give ground to say that SIN has marred the male mind in insidious ways, and we are not without fault. Men after all have and continue to control major media, entertainment, print and fashion industries, and are the main culprits of guilt promoting objectification of woman."

So, in short - yes! Men should, especially Christian men, should control themselves, or perhaps, allow God to control their eyes and thoughts. Again, I did say the following:

"...we men have the choice to NOT click and look away lest we allow lust to control our minds."

I should have also added that we men have within our power the ability to end the objectification of women. What am I doing about this? Part of that is to realize my sinful nature, be aware of my weakness and admit that I struggle with lust. After all, I have inherited thousands and thousands of years of sinful human nature! Is that an excuse? NO WAY!!! Its a call for me to live above the fray. Paul stated in 1 Corinthians 6:

"18 Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body. 19 Don't you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, 20 for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body."

So again, that requires that I look away, not click, and to remember that each woman is God's precious daughter. That means I don't watch TV shows or movies that provide temptation to my sinful human nature. That means if what's "left over" from a bikini is tempting, I look away, and if I continue to not look away, I then don't go to the beach. I do this to honor God, honor my vows to my wife, honor my daughter and honor the person that captured my attention, and ultimately the Holy Spirit who resides in me.

I still assert that women have a part to play in this culture concerning this battle. And as I stated earlier, that part to play has to be honestly and prayerfully determined between the individual and God, as modesty standards differ between individuals, communities, regions and cultures.

Khawar Nehal said...

4:23 for details on which females a male shall not react to.

Forbidden to you are your mothers and your daughters and your sisters and your paternal aunts and your maternal aunts and brothers' daughters and sisters' daughters and your mothers that have suckled you and your foster-sisters and mothers of your wives and your step-daughters who are in your guardianship, (born) of your wives to whom you have gone in, but if you have not gone in to them, there is no blame on you (in marrying them), and the wives of your sons who are of your own loins and that you should have two sisters together, except what has already passed; surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.

The females generally who are around since childhood are not attractive and also not allowed to be married.

God's strict orders in black and white.