Committing pornography with your life {how modesty rules hurt women AND men}

“When you dress and behave in a way that is designed primarily to arouse
sexual desire in men, you are committing pornography with your life.”
–Joshua Harris, Sex is Not the Problem (Lust Is)

I was sitting on the couch wearing a long, loose, modest dress. It was the end of a long day of church meetings and we were gathered at my parents’ home for a fellowship. I was exhausted. I yawned and leaned back a little on the cushions, resting my back.

Several church members sat in other seats, talking. Suddenly, a middle-aged man sitting across the room stood up and stalked out of the room, clearly agitated. I saw him leave but had no idea what had just happened.

A moment later, someone tapped me on the shoulder and told me to sit upright. I straightened up, confused.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“You’re leaning against the couch cushions in a suggestive manner. Brother So-and-So thinks you’re intentionally trying to seduce him and he refuses to come back into the room until you’re sitting completely upright.”

“What?! I’m not trying to seduce anyone, I’m just sitting here trying to rest!”

I received no answer. I was simply expected to comply.

I felt a rush of shame spread over my entire body. I started shaking. I was mortified that anyone–much less a man twice my age!–would think I was intentionally trying to seduce him by…resting my back against the couch cushions. How was that even possible?

It was possible because women were held responsible for the sexual thought lives of men. If a man was aroused–no matter how ridiculous or far-fetched the perceived “immodesty”–women were blamed.

I fled the room and could never look at that older man in the eyes again. I felt violated, somehow.

It was disconcerting and sickening to feel like no matter how modestly I dressed, every inch of my being from how I sat, to how I walked, to how I wore my purse (never across the chest! only over the shoulder!), to how I spoke to how I moved–every bit of me was scrutinized for ANY POSSIBLE indication of being sexually suggestive.

This kind of thing doesn’t just happen in very conservative, fundamentalist churches. This goes on in mainline, popular, evangelical churches, too.

For example, last week I received an email from a reader named Julia:

One day at college youth group, I left in the middle of the sermon to visit the restroom.  The closest one was occupied so I went across the church (a mega church in Portland, Oregon… so it was far) to the other bathrooms.  A man followed me and sexually assaulted me by knife point. When I was talking with my pastor about it (which took a long time, and I was basically blackmailed into telling him as I was on speaker phone talking about it and he was there listening in)  the first thing he said was “Well, why were you over there?”

That one line affected me so deeply, on a spiritual and emotional level.  He was a father figure to me, and he blamed me for what happened.

Why were you over there? THAT was the question Julia was asked. It was a question that perniciously assigned blame to the victim. It was a question that added insult to injury. It was a question that devastated Julia’s emotional and spiritual life.

I know my story and Julia’s story are not the only ones. I know there are women reading these words right now who have their own similar stories. I agree with Dianna Anderson that we, as a church, need to change the conversation:

We need to first teach men that blaming women for boners is not a healthy way to go through life, and that sexual attraction and not feeling sexual attraction are natural and acceptable identities. We need to broaden the conversation to talk about control and objectification rather than how one person is sinful for having a perfectly normal sexual reaction to attractiveness. We need to talk about how this thinking fuels a culture of rape.

Because, here’s the thing: modesty rules hurt women AND men. It is harmful to shame women for arousing sexual desire in men and it is harmful to shame men for experiencing normal, sexual attraction. 

Worst of all, by trying to control and codify modesty, we unwittingly fuel a culture of rape in our churches. What? Yes. A culture of rape. Libby Anne explains that rape culture is:

The idea that a woman who is raped must have been asking for it, that women who dress scantily are asking for it, that somehow, when a woman is raped,it’s her own fault. This idea that men can’t control themselves, that they can’t help it, that they are innocent victims of seductress females. The idea that when men express their sexuality inappropriately it must have been some woman’s fault for leading him on with her revealing clothing or demeanor.

We must find a way to change this. I’m raising daughters. I’m raising sons. I want both my sons AND daughters to embrace their sexuality free from shame, free from blame and free from this pernicious culture of rape that only grows when we refuse to talk about it.

Have you experienced anything similar? (Anon. comments OK)
How can we change this?


  • jen

    I was subjected to groping and sexual harassment in high school and the father of my harasser told the school that his son had done nothing wrong.

    I have PTSD and my relationship with my husband is awkward at times because I don’t want to be touched and this man says that his son did nothing wrong???

    • Hannah Thomas

      I’m so sorry Jen. That’s awful.

      My daughter was harassed at school as well, and the school personnel were dragging their feet over it. I called the Chief of Police in our town, and asked legally what could I do about this! He told me my options, and then asked my permission to call the school. Funny how within 1/2 hour I had 3 staff members from the high school were calling me back in a panic.

      I took the middle ground that I’m sure some would not agree with, but I felt led to it. The boy was 14, and his behavior was beyond bizarre. I told them if they didn’t find a way to get his child help? I would press charges, and if I heard about how he did this to others? I would press charges. I didn’t want a child of 14 to have the stigma of a sexual predator at such a young age. Something was going on in his life, and he need help NOW! If his family refused, or the school didn’t cooperate I would be forced to go ahead. I was already told how long I had before I could do this – proceed with legal action. If I saw no progress? All Hell would break loose on their lifes.

      It sounds like I opened a can of worms in his life, and they are under a microscope now. He is in a special school, the family is getting help, and I pray they turn their lifes around. I’m still watching.

      From what I have learned? They knew he was in trouble, and his family was ignoring it. I just hope it wasn’t too late, and he gets his life back. I pray all the time that I made the right decision. I just didn’t wish this young man to have to live this label for the rest of his life.

      I discussed this with my child. I also told her that I was proud of the way she handled this, and how she came to me. I didn’t wish for my actions to make her feel bad, or dismissed. This was NOT her fault! She did nothing, but I wanted him to get more than sent to children’s jail. If he screwed up in anyway? We will move forward, and she was actually okay with it. I told her how I wanted to balance what she needed, because it was the most important to me (due to her being MINE! lol) – and making sure he had a chance before throwing his life away.

      She told me she feels better now, because she knows what avenue to go to if it happens again with someone else. That she actually had some options, and she was able to discern what to do then. I guess it gave her some control – or feeling of control…which is good. This type of thing wasn’t an option for me when I was her age (she is 19), and she tells me she feels empowered. That did my heart good, and I pray you find that feeling in time as well. You deserve it. We all do when it comes to this.

    • Julia

      Indeed. I, too, have issues that pop up from PTSD with my husband (and otherwise.) I’m so thankful that my husband is understanding when those moments pop up. Hang in there!

    • Guest

      Men are never guilty in their eyes. Women must be punished for men’s sin. THat is how they look at it. And according to them, Adam was innocent in the Garden. It’s all Eve’s fault.

      • R

        Adam was not innocent. God created Adam first, and told him not to eat the fruit. Eve was created second, to be his “helper”, nowhere in scripture does it say that God repeated the commandment to Eve. Eve was deceived, yes, but when she gave the fruit to Adam, he willingly ate it even thought God had spoken the rules directly to him about what he may and may not eat. Adam was given ultimate responsibility in the garden, as Eve was given to Adam so that he would not be alone, but he listened to Eve rather that God, then, Adam tried to blame both God and Eve for his sin by saying to God,”it was the woman that you gave to me, she made me do it.” That was the first sin, Adam’s disobedience, not Eve’s deception. Adam should have stopped Eve, the Bible says he was with her the whole time. We’ve all grown up thinking that it was “all Eve’s fault”, in my mind, until I studied the Bible really long and hard, I always believed that Eve was off on her own when the Serpent tricked her, then she deliberately brought it back to wherever Adam was and tricked him, in turn…turns out, not so much, Adam knew what he was doing. But, alas, we(women) must be taught that ‘it’ is (and always has been) all our fault.

  • Danny Klopovic

    I disagreed with my father about many things, especially his sexist views about women. However I remember one day when I was a child at a large party where quite a lot of men were discussing how “women who dress like sluts get what is coming anyway” – and he stood up and roared at the top of his voice and said “No woman on this earth deserves to be harassed, molested or raped because of what she looks like or how she dresses – even if she dresses like or is a prostitute!” The women looked surprised but pleased and the men looked shame-faced as well they should have. That is one memory I have never forgotten.

    • Mistie Holler

      That’s awesome! If only more men were willing to speak up like that!

    • Kyra Gelyastanova


  • HeathersHodgepodge

    This is so true and sad. I was repeatedly sexually assaulted for 5 years by an older student at my private, fundy school. When I finally did get up the courage to tell, I was made to feel like a guilty party because I didn’t “cry out” when the assaults were happening. My initial silence was taken as complicity. No one believed my reason for not crying out was that I didn’t know what was happening and when I did figure out what had happened, I was too ashamed. Thanks to the purity culture that surrounded my school/church, I was considered ruined, impure, and unfit for the upstanding sons of the congregation. It’s been 17 years now, and I still have a hard time attending church. I shudder at the thought of my daughter being fed the same lines of crap.

    • Julia

      I am SO sorry you went though that. If you’d like to talk more, please drop me a line. I know what you are going through!


  • Elizabeth Erazo

    Off the top of my head, I can think of two things we can do. First, change the way we view sin. A baby crying is a biologically healthy occurrence that allows the child to communicate his or her needs in his or her most vulnerable time of life. It is not an indicator of selfishness or “sinful nature”. In the same way, sexual attraction is a natural, healthy biological way our bodies recognize other humans. Sexual attraction does not equal lust and does not deserve shame.

    Second, we must change the way we view women, and teach men to view women. I’m thinking of blog posts like Luke Harms “On Modesty and Male Privilege” and The Phoenix and the Olive Branch “Modesty, Body Policing, and Rape Culture: Connecting the Dots”.

  • Anisa Willis

    This makes me want to cry. Our son’s (second grade) basketball was practicing next to a volleyball game of two fundamentalist school teams. The girls wore these long, ridiculously baggy split skirts made to look like basketball shorts and long baggy shirts. The women in the stands were straining to ensure no one looked up their long denim skirts. It was painful to me, the kind of shame they held in their bodies and how they were transmitting this to the girls.

  • JessieLeigh

    Thank you, truly, for shedding light on such and important topic and opening this space for people to share their own experiences. I can honestly say that I happily wore short skirts and regular bathing suits and polished my nails vivid colors… all without ever being made to feel shame. Neither the men in my family nor the men in my church ever seemed to view as anything but a child/young woman wearing current fashion.

    It wasn’t until I was almost 30 that I realized how fortunate I had been. And that devastates me, to be honest.

    Thank you for being brave enough to address this– and to acknowledge how it hurts men, as well. My husband has often said the same– that it’s utterly ridiculous and insulting to insinuate that he is merely a pawn of what’s put into his visual field.

  • Anonymous

    This reminds me of the “machismo” in Latin American cultures. In that context, it greatly affects the relationships between women. Where I grew up, women never made eye contact with men or women in public. If I looked at man walking next to a woman, I would get a snarl from her with the assumption that I was out to get her man. One of my relatives, who was a DA, never wanted women on his juries for rape cases. He said that even if the accused was guilty, most women would side against the victim because they believed it was her fault. This problem is not unique to religion. It is a problem within any patriarchal culture.

    There is something else that bothers me about this. While I believe that anyone can be forgiven, I think too many sexual predators are forgiven without having to take responsibility. Girls (and boys) are pressured to share fellowship with their abusers and act like nothing happened. The damage that has been done to their hearts is completely ignored. If victims ever dare to show discomfort or (heaven forbid) bring up the past, they are accused of being unmerciful and unchristian. Personally, I think all abusers need to pay the consequences, legal and spiritual. If an abuser paid the consequences (whatever it may be), taken responsibility, shown remorse and received forgiveness, I *still* think they should be removed from the victim’s life until (if ever) the victim is ready to restore the relationship. He (or she) does not need to be shunned, but lovingly told that they need to find a different place to worship and be rehabilitated. I also think victims need to be given access to every avenue of healing and that this needs to be given freely by the religious establishment.

    When it comes to the way we dress, I believe it is a heart issue on both sides. Most women do not dress to please men. We dress to impress other women. Sometimes we dress for ourselves. Women pretty much set the standards for each other within their own circles. Men (who think otherwise) need to recognize that and stop thinking the world revolves around them. As has already been stated, we also need to recognize that we are sexual beings. If we allowed ourselves to be controlled by the Spirit rather than each other, we’d be a much happier group of people.

  • Margaret_at_FeliceMiFa

    This is great. I am always amazed by stories of people (usually men) who will not take any responsibility for their feelings of attraction. Accept it, own it, and move on.

  • Ron Kerns

    my wife was sexually assaulted by someone in her adult singles group not long before we initially met….she had nightmares about it for years after we got married. She never told anyone…not even her parents…knowing that they, and everyone else, would put the blame on her.

    • Julia

      It is a sad reality, and one of the reasons that the current “1 in 4 women are sexuality assaulted” is woefully inaccurate.

  • Jessica Anne

    I was once told that if you left a laptop in the front seat of a car then it was your fault if it got stolen. This was supposed to be a metaphor for sexual assault.

    • Helen Davis

      I was raped. I turned to the church for help, since they had helped me my whole life. Instead I WAS BLAMED AND TOLD THE POST TRAUMATIC STRESS I WAS SUFFERING WAS MY FAULT. They would never say this to a man who had been abused homosexually.

      • Julia

        If you want to talk about it, please email me.

  • Kristin

    When I worked at a summer camp, I was being filmed for part of our staff video & we were being silly. At one point, I yawned and stretched, and the cameraman (one of my fellow tech guys) said, “AWKWARD!” and immediately started filming something else because THAT was seductive. REALLY?! Really. (Also, I was wearing a loose t-shirt and shorts that went down to my knees. Not that it matters, but at the time I had no idea what I did wrong, but whatever it was was my fault. Ugh.)

  • anonymous

    I totally agree. I think that it is time that we start respecting men enough to hold them accountable for their own actions and reactions. I escaped an abusive marriage, but not before I was repeatedly given advice on how not to anger my husband. More than once, when talking about the physical abuse, I was asked, “Yes, but were you always a blessing to him?” No one referred to my husband’s violent behavior as criminal, no one encouraged me to call the police – in fact, when I did, I received aggressive phone calls from his Christian family members. I was told, if a man is committing adultery and his wife doesn’t deal with it, either because she doesn’t know about it or doesn’t know what to do, his adultery is her fault. I was also told, if a woman thinks that her husband might be committing adultery, or if she is upset by his porn habit, she is responsible for pushing him into adultery by her accusations. My ex-husband tells people that I verbally abused him. Recently, I asked him what were the things I said that were verbally abusive. He said that I called him a bully, a liar, etc. Because telling a man who just kicked the bathroom door in on you that he is being a bully is abuse and deserves to be punished. Or telling him that his insults about you are lies is also a terrible thing. The sad part is that at one point, my husband was horrified by his anger, and sought help. He didn’t want to admit that he could do such things to someone he loved. The church, and his family provided the perfect solution. It wasn’t him. It was me. Now, he barely walks with the Lord, because how can he? God is not fooled by the church’s justifications.

    His biggest complaint? I didn’t respect him. Yet, I respected him enough to hold him accountable for his actions. I treated him the same way I wanted to be treated…accountable. I was blessed in that I saw immediately what was happening, and challenged it all the way, including to church leaders. Which just left them more prone to blame me. After all, I was rebellious!

    God has so much more for us!

    • Courtney

      I’m so glad you have been able to get out of that situation. It breaks my heart that the church–a place you should have been able to go to receive wise council, support, and a whole lot of love–instead saddled with you shame and judgement. It doesn’t matter what anyone said or did or wore, abusing another person is NEVER acceptable behavior. And the blame should NEVER be put on the abused. I agree with you. The best thing we can do for our men is to hold them accountable. If we aren’t pushing our men towards holiness–the kind of holiness that looks like love…peace…patience…gentleness…self control–we’re not doing them any favors.

    • Julia

      Wow. I’m amazed at what was said to you. Amazed.

  • Anon

    It actually gets worse…this attitude set me up for getting into a relationship with a pornography addict, since at some level I believed (as an addict does!) that men can’t control their impulses, and that I’m somehow responsible for them. Thank you for speaking out, Elizabeth, and telling my story through yours.

    • Hännah

      Yeah, this destroyed my self-confidence/self-worth in my relationships with guys, too.

    • Julia

      That’s fascinating. Thank you for sharing this perspective of the flip side of the coin!

  • Courtney

    Thank you for sharing this. While I didn’t grow up in a fundamentalist church, I did grow up in a church with often unspoken, but clearly understood rules about modesty. Of course, these rules are nearly always given solely to women. Girls are expected to wear shorts and T-shirts over their swimsuits, but guys can have their shirts off pretty much any time they want. These rules brought self-judgment, condemnation, shame, and deferred responsibility from men onto women. That’s no good. But at the same time, I think modesty as a value can get a great thing. How can we reclaim modesty from the outward rules and begin to look at it as an inward quality both men and women can strive for? I’m thinking in terms of encouraging both men and women to be humble, to strive for gentleness and self control in their interactions with each other. Let’s encourage men and women to handle each other’s hearts and bodies with care. Let’s encourage men and women to serve, to look out for each other, to have the other’s best interest in mind. Am I way off base here? Can modesty be brought back as a good thing-freed from all the legalism and “blame the woman mentality” that surrounds it?

    • Julia

      You sparked a memory in me about the same thing. Modesty rules were directed solely towards women. I suppose this is the “taking one verse out of context” fairy at work again?

      • Anonymous

        YES! It’s ALWAYS the women! Why are there never rules for men?! “Oh, well women aren’t as visual.” That’s what I get when I ask that. It’s insane.

    • Roz Mackraz Dieterich

      I haven’t had the same experiences as many here. But I’m of the view that modest dress for girls and women is a protection for them – not from assault, but from shame. I have a therapy client whose mother forced her to wear sexy and suggestive clothing from a young age, and the wounds of that abuse are still fresh. No one had taught her about modesty, but her gut feelings were wise enough to know that she was being exploited.

      For myself, I didn’t talk about “modesty” so much to my kids. We talked about what was “appropriate”, what met the needs of the situation (e.g. athletics), and expressing respect for the occasion and the other people there. A low neckline was treated the same as pants with a stain – “We’ll wait while you go change.”

  • Danielle | from two to one

    Thanks so much for continuing the conversation, EE.

  • Caitlin

    In middle school, the boy who sat next to me in science class used to spend all of class trying to grope me, apparently without the teacher noticing. (HOW do you not notice that???) It took me months to tell my parents. I remember feeling embarrassed and ashamed, like it was somehow my fault. I think that my parents had exactly the reaction I needed, however: Their focus was 100% on this kid and his out-of-line behavior. They told me they were proud of me for telling them. They marched me (despite my protests – as a middle schooler, can you imagine how embarrassed I felt?) into the principal’s office the next day and made sure that I was separated from that boy and that the principal would get him help and teach him to respect people’s boundaries.

    My parents’ reactions (and the principal’s reaction – he was similarly wonderful) were exactly what I needed at that time. I think that they allowed me to leave the experience behind and some weird thing that happened to me once, instead of it turning into a really damaging experience for me.

    What amazes me about the whole thing is that somehow, even with the most supportive and feminist parents imaginable, by 12 years old I had already internalized the subliminal societal messages that if this was happening, it was somehow my fault and a reason to feel shame.

  • the Blah Blah Blahger

    This is SUCH an important topic that churches need to address. I was raised in a mainstream church and we (the girls) were given a dress code in high school youth group so we wouldn’t cause the boys to stumble. It’s funny now…but also, not. If our one piece bathing suits weren’t modest enough, we were given dark tshirts to wear over them. If our shorts were too short at summer camp, we were told to go home and change. There was a culture of guilt and shame put on us…and likewise, the boys were taught that their normal thoughts were naughty. And that stuff stays with you over the years, unfortunately.

  • Leila

    I hesitate to jump in here, but could we be talking about two different things? From what I can tell, I don’t think the first quote on this article has anything to do with the rest of the article. The first quote talks about women who *deliberately* try to arouse sexual feelings in men, and the rest of the article is about a totally different type of situation (violence against women, which is evil no matter what, or bad/blaming feelings about women who do not desire to provoke men to lustful thoughts, which is not relevant to the original quote). So, I think distinctions have to be made, don’t they? If we are asking “Is it wrong to deliberately dress to provoke lust in a man (a willful act, not “by accident”), that would speak more to the original quote. But as it stands, I guess I am confused about what we are talking about.

    • Christine

      The problem is that the author of the original quote is talking from a completely different perspective than most people use. For starters, the idea that women are dressing to try and arouse sexual feelings in men. Generally, even if a woman chooses to dress so that she looks “sexy”, it’s not done to arouse men, it’s done because a) she likes how she looks b) she wants to impress/fit in with other women.

      • Leila

        Okay, I can understand that. I was taking that quote at face value, but I realize he could have been speaking in nuance. I think in general, the rule should be respect. Men should *never* attack or lust after women, and women should *never* actively (willfully!!) try to temp men into lustful feelings (something I’ve been guilty of in the past, for sure, and I did it for fun). Mutual respect — that seems to be the Christian answer to this. I actually think that this discussion is more in the context of fundamentalist Protestantism, which is a world I’ve never lived in, so I think I will bow out. But it’s an interesting topic!

  • Vanessa Pawlovich

    If a woman is assaulted it is not her fault. Never never never. If she was drunk, if she was dressed in only sexy underwear, if she is suggestively flirtng or suggestively dancing, no matter where she is or who she is with, no one is “asking for” assault. The blame is all completely on the person doing the attacking. If a man is attracted to a woman or even aroused – so he is attracted or aroused – so what? Those are his reactions and feelings for him to deal with – not her responsibility

    • Helen Davis

      Fundamentalist men of any religion do not understand this– they do not have the right to touch a woman if she walks naked down the street. You can look, because looking is free, but you cannot TOUCH me!

  • Christine

    I’d like to hear from the men. Are men who didn’t grow up being taught that women are constantly out to seduce them, and are to blame for the least hint of evil arousal actually affected by something like a woman sitting back against couch cushions? I know that part of the problem (for men) with this mindset is the guilt that comes with any trace of arousal, but I can’t see something like that being at all arousing or enticing (at least out-of-context, anything can be arousing in the right context).

  • LC

    I’ve been reading your blog for the last 2 days to try an catch up on your journey. Thank you for sharing your walk. I had a similar experience as the girl who emailed you. It has been a long journey back into church for me. I have had to rediscover God and find Him on my own. Without the leadership of a youth pastor or any other church figure. And it’s taken nearly 8 years that I am comfortable in a church.

    Your words are helpful and encouraging. While I am sick at the things you have had to live thru, you are doing a wonderful thing for God’s kingdom by standing up against wicked things. Bless you!

    • Julia

      Hi LC, I’m Julia. I’d love to chat with you further, if you’d like, about your experience! Follow the link, and drop me an email :)

  • Tara S

    GRR! Once at age 18, I was headed to work in a frumpy old uniform, and was cat-called by a greasy man in his greasy car. It was the last straw: I threw a water bottle at him. I was SO MAD at him, and also dumbfounded. “What can I possibly wear to avoid being treated like this?” The answer was apparent: there are no lengths I can go to, because it’s not about me. That jerk did me a favour by spelling it out – I can’t dress in a way to keep myself safe from unwanted attention. It’s not our fault!

    (1): A modesty culture that needs women to stop being beautiful is doomed out of the gate. May as well tell the sun to stop shining.

    AND (2)!!! Modesty is a give-and-take. The linchpin of modesty is the creating of a space where it’s okay to be vulnerable. Words and actions and personal presentation tending toward mutual respect. How dare people hold out that promise, invite women to be vulnerable, then refuse to hold up their end of the bargain? What baldfaced lies! To take away all a woman’s defences, both personal, mental, emotional, and social, and leave her like a lamb for the slaughter, blaming her all the while. HULK. SMASH.

    • Anonymous

      The Hulk. Smash. is my favorite part. :) I totally agree with what you wrote here!

    • Virginia

      I have wanted to throw water bottles at men like this many a time. How did he react? I am always afraid they might act aggressively. And its not a real solution, I’m sure. But sometimes it takes so much to keep it from not bursting out of me.

      • Tara S

        He laughed and drove off, but the laugh sounded forced and embarrassed. But yes, it’s definitely not something I would recommend as a standard response in all situations! In a situation where you feel threatened, it’s always best policy to get away and get help. Sexual harrassment is totally against the rules, and there’s no shame needing outside help.

        Ladies, never let a villain separate you from the pack by embarrassing you!! It’s what he’s trying to do!

        Ach, villains suck. Stupid jerks.

    • Lisa Webster

      Okay honestly, if your celebrity crush pulled up next to you in his nice car and did the same thing, would you throw a water bottle at him too? I think most girls are just picky about who “gets to” check them out. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like having “creepers” (a term used by girls to define less attractive men) checking me out either, but the guy didn’t even touch you. Chill out. No need to punch a mocking bird.

      • Tara S

        As a reasonably mild-mannered, barely-eighteen-year-old-young woman who had been subjected to Quite Enough sexual harrassment already, and appreciated none of it, and been in a culture where it was pretty much up to me to handle it as I may, because nobody would ever think it their place to stick up for me, it’s pretty safe to say I would have been angry at any person who propositioned me from a car as I walked to work, especially a fully sexually-mature, at least 35 year old man, who should damn well have known better. I’m 30 now. I’m neither as mild-mannered nor as effectively helpless, so I’m sure I would respond differently at this period in my life. But as for the situation that unfolded, I stand by my actions.

      • Tara S

        And the thought that all sexually healthy girls and women *must* like certain inappropriate sexual advances under certain circumstances, and therefore *should tolerate* them under many *more* circumstances is exasperating, infuriating, flawed, and dangerous. Growing up surrounded by “Chill out, it’s your own fault if you don’t like it, nobody’s touching you…” was like a constant, low-grade sensation of my worth being violated.

        • Tara S

          Oh bother. This “Guest” was a glitch on my part. Delete please, Dearest Admin? <3

      • ThatOne

        Honestly, yes, I would have. I have had both unattractive and attractive men cat-call me and have I been embarrassed and insanely pissed-off by both equally.

        (excuse my online yelling at every single man who has ever cat-called me)
        As an off-side, every memory I have of being cat-called has been while I’ve been in full-length pants and a simple shirt. Once, while holding hands with my husband.

  • Lana

    In my own life, I’ve felt like I could never ever been good enough. Moving to Asia, where they had a whole different set of modest cultures, really put it over the top for me. I never could keep all the laws.

  • Jimmie Lee DiIanni

    I have a new perspective yes, but I still think that woman should be careful of how they dress and how they behave. Call me old fashion i guess. I agree that people take it too far like in your case with the way you were sitting on the couch. It was obviously that man’s issue not yours. And I am appalled that a woman is sexually assaulted in a church and the pastor’s response was why were you over there…really? That is really terrible.
    I struggle because I obviously agree that women should not be shamed but still feel that I should conduct myself in a conservative modest manner. I agree that (for example) my husband should be able to control and manage his sexual thoughts but am a little upset that his christian female photographer FB friend plasters her Boudoir photo sessions on her personal FB page with no reservations. (yes my husband can unfriend her and I am not saying that he should or that i think he would be sinning or anything like that, I am just making a point that both parties should be responsible for their conduct… i guess) again I say I struggle and probably need to process this all :)

  • Amy

    I find it interesting that the people who say women are the ‘weaker vessel’ and men must take ultimate responsibility (Driscoll, Piper, et al) are the VERY SAME PEOPLE whose disciples say things like, “Well, why were you over there?” Isn’t this kind of victim-blaming assigning responsibility to the women? Isn’t it saying men are too weak to control their own impulses?

    How can they reconcile these implications with the fact that they’ve been crowing for years about how men are the responsible, authoritative party?

    If you’re going to be a fool, you should at least be consistent in your foolishness.

  • Kreine

    I attended Christian school. My BFF was a teacher’s kid, and my brother was good friends with one of the principal’s kids. When I was in 5th or 6th grade, I was invited by my BFF to go swimming at the principal’s house. BFF’s mom insisted I wear my shirt in the pool. I refused because my shirt was brand new and it was one of the first things I’d purchased with my own money. (BIG deal to a kid of that age) She then told me if I didn’t wear the shirt, I’d have to get out. I sat dejectedly poolside and then was told to put on my towel. I wrapped it around my waist, like we did in my family, but apparently, that was wrong, too, because I needed to have my shoulders covered. By my new shirt I didn’t want to ruin with chlorine water in the first place.

    That’s right. Prepubescent fundamentalist girls can’t just go swimming at the principal’s house, because we might cause this supposedly godly, upstanding man who is our father’s age to lust after our childish bodies.

    I was frustrated and offended that day, but now as an adult and mother to three girls, I am outraged by that mindset. And hopefully, that translates into my daughters’ ability to simply live their lives without the burden of carrying the morality of all men on their beautiful shoulders.

  • Anne

    I was at my childhood church years ago with my husband and we had been asked to do a special music. After the service, I was approached by a woman I had known for years and she said she felt she needed to confront me for what I was weakening and that I had caused her son to stumble. I was wearing an ankle-length skirt, with slits to the knee, but on the sides and a modest top. Needless to say, I haven’t returned. The funny thing is, my husband and I both work at a church currently. There are definitely days when I am surprised at what people wear to church, but other than when something is clearly immodest when sitting on the floor in kids ministry or jumping on the stage during music or something, I can’t fathom confronting someone. Or telling them that they “caused” someone else to sin!! I’m pretty sure we do that well enough on our own!

    • Anonymous

      WHAT?! This woman was bonkers. That is not cool.

  • perfectnumber628

    Wow, that story about you and the couch cushions… wow… One of the most messed-up parts of “modesty culture” is the idea that whatever a straight man thinks is the correct way to view a woman’s sexuality. Is there no room to say, “Sorry but YOU’RE WRONG. If you think I’m trying to ‘flaunt my body’ by dressing like this, you’re wrong”? And then not let some guy’s misperception of the situation dictate the rules for women. Ugh.

  • Kevin Shoop

    Blech what a terrible thing to happen. What a vivid example of shame. Thanks for sharing it. I have a close friend who was sexually assaulted and she was never overtly shamed in the way Julia describes. BUT, I know that there have been other, more subtle ways that she was shamed…for example, she was given advice to only refer to the incident as “having a past” yet being redeemed and made new. (RWOAR that made me angry!!!) I guess that is not so subtle! She is doing well today, but I know it is still a scar and healing continues IN SPITE of some of the boneheaded things people say and do. Thanks again for sharing your story and your thoughts!

    • Julia

      Indeed. I think that many (especially male pastors) think that rape is something you should be able to “get over.” Though I’ve integrated it into my life, and made a lot of good come of it… it is still something I struggle with.

  • Anon

    i would just like to commend you for having this conversation. I am work in the field of sexuality therapy. This is one area where I try to empower the women I work with and educate the men. thank you for this conversation. I am also a christian and feel that blaming women for male sexual misconduct (even inappropriate thoughts) has been allowed and encouraged far to long. I support stopping all forms of this kind of thinking.

  • trenchbuddy

    E… At the time I broke free from the bondage of the group I was in my kids were in their pubescence. The first thing they wanted to know.. Can I get my ears pierced? The second thing was can I FINALLY wear a regular bathing suit?… Yes and yes. The damage I had done in treating their very young and childlike bodies as though they were inherently seductive was more than any bikini could have done to them. Since then they have learned that they DO have power in the lovely bodies God gave them. They have learned that this power can be used and they have the right to choose exactly how. They are all adults now. They have come to their own conclusions regarding the issues of boundaries and sexuality.

    I am personally aware of how the rules of modesty do nothing to keep our children from pain… Sitting upright or a bike shorts and a one piece will never keep our children from predatory behavior. Predators don’t care. They have no capacity to care about anything other than meeting their needs. Once that is accomplished they will blame the victim and never themselves.

    This was a true stumbling block for me… I had tried SO hard to keep them from evil and evil found them anyhow. How could I, good-modesty-rules-mom not have seen the signs of a perpetrator, but been so concerned about the ***#!@_)()_(&(
    length of their shorts or whether or not the kid looked a complete stranger in the eye and gave them a handshake… GOD was I stupid.

    We have strained at a gnat and our kids are being sacrificed at the altar of looking-good-for-others …… such ridiculously unimportant rules while their souls are in danger of being overun by true evil…

    My only hope is the Healing power of the One who always knew…. My biggest question.. is why I was such a fool for so long….

    • Julia

      You are moving forward. That is a great thing. Enjoy the time that you are free, now.

  • Tara S

    And another thing! I want young women to understand that when a *grown-ass man* disrespects you, and persecutes you, and blames you for being young and beautiful and vulnerable, that that is exactly what he is doing and he is 10000% WRONG. EE, you were right to feel violated! When that man went and told everybody the effect you had on him, he was making your sexuality into public property, even before he blamed you for it. He was immodest, and you were lovely.

    • Aadel Bussinger


  • MBSL

    I was once asked to undergo “a healing” because my inch of cleavage in a tank top was making it hard for a brother in my group to get over his very hush-hush porn addiction. I was told that a “Spirit of Lust had taken up residence” in me and I needed to be freed from its influence. Thankfully, half the group stood up for me so I didn’t have to defend myself alone, and basically told him that his attraction to me was not my fault (and not a big deal). I told him all he had to do was ask me to wear a higher neckline, and got the response of “but that’s so awkward”. Yeah, and having your entire family and the rest of our group sit me down to get me to agree to exorcism isn’t… *rolls eyes*

  • talking figleaf

    Yes! Of course a culture that says men can’t “control their impulses” is going to be a culture that not only enables rape but practically invites it!

    And yes, it’s bizarre that so many cultures steeped in the idea of men as superior beings and women as those “weaker vessels” should be so invested in the idea that men are so powerless in this one rather central-to-morality dimension.

    So yes, us men teaching ourselves that a) our reactions are normal, b) our reactions are natural, c) our reactions are our reactions and not something anyone else “makes” us feel gives us power. The right kind, not the to-be-abused kind!

    The… well… stark truth that sexual violence is no more prevalent (if also no less) in the topless-beach towns of the Riviera than in the bonneted and be-shawled hallways of a mega-church only worsens the lie that if only women covered up “enough” you would be “safe,” and that if only men were “protected” enough from “temptation” we wouldn’t be dangerous. (I use scare quotes because, well, in that context those words are scary!)

    I have been teaching this to my son, and my son’s friends. I wish I’d received from my family, community, and church when I was growing up.

    Thanks for the lovely illustrations of the folly, Elizabeth.


  • Alex

    When I was a newly wed, my husband was struggling with lust and pornography. As newlyweds who waited until marriage to be intimate often do, we were having sex quite often. When we went a day or two without being intimate, he would stumble and look at pornography. He then told me I was not fulfilling my responsibilities as his wife. He was blaming me for his struggle with lust. We had many arguments about this. He cited a Driscoll sermon in his real marriage series where he stated some research that men often struggle with pornography and masturbation 7 times a week, therefore husbands and wives should be intimate everyday. I’m all for supporting the marriage bed… But blaming women for a man’s struggle with lust and sin is NOT acceptable. Ever. After seeking some counsel from son awesome Godly men in our church, he apologized for blaming me and we have reconciled. But it is so true that this idea of blaming women for lust pervades Christian culture, even into the marriage.

  • Kyra Gelyastanova

    I remember wearing baggy, shapeless jumpers, and being aware that I needed to be careful when I walked, so that my hips would not appear to sway (as though one could discern my hips beneath that sack, anyway), lest I be a “stumbling block” to some young man.

    • Kyra Gelyastanova

      (Meaning that I should walk like a robot, of course ;)

  • Anonymous

    I TOTALLY agree. This removes all responsibility for men, their thoughts and actions, and puts it all on the woman. In my church the pastor doesn’t like to see our ARMS bare (as in, like, the upper arm). He talks about our SHOES. It’s ridiculous. There is, of course, appropriate dress for church–like not looking lie you’re going clubbing–but then there are people who say women who wear pants are going to hell. That we shouldn’t participate in sports because we are “immodest.” The that t-shirt I’m wearing right now is tempting men! This drives me absolutely insane. Thank you for writing this! Men have a responsibility to control their thoughts and their actions, and stop blaming us!

  • Erin

    So how do we teach our sons what is normal sexual attraction and what is lust. I do think there is too much shame for both young men and women surrounding this whole sexuality debate. I want my sons and daughters to be proud & healthy, not guilty and shameful.

  • Aadel Bussinger

    I love this post. Taking it one step farther – we don’t just have a culture of rape, we have a culture in most churches where women are sexual objects that are made to feel like crap simply for being feminine; but male machismo is applauded. What if women went around telling the male leaders that the way they stand or the cologne they wear is too provocative and sexual for church? If the men were treated like criminals simply for being masculine?

    Modesty has nothing to do with preventing the sin of others, it has everything to do with your worth and identity in Christ.

  • Anonymous

    There’s nothing I can add other than, “yes”. It’s discouraging to still hear this in churches today–it’s even in my own church.

  • KatR

    I have a bunch of thoughts, so here goes:

    1) Having lived in this type of culture for more than decade (I guess I should call it modesty/purity culture), it’s hard to overstate the hysteria it produces. I knew men back in the day who would have been more comfortable leaving a woman they knew from church at the side of the road in a rainstorm then be alone in a car with her.

    2) I once got chastised for studying at the library with another guy who went to my church. What did they think we were going to do, have sex on the table?

    3) Modesty culture gives older men the ability to say, basically, “you make me horny” to younger women without getting in trouble for it. It’s a church approved form of sexual harassment.

    4) Modesty culture tells women that their default mode of being is “whore”, and that they have to spend every minute of every day fighting against that.


    • Aprille

      #1—I heard that one preached multiple times. Leave the woman on the side of the road! Better to never be alone with a woman.

    • Lucie

      “Modesty culture gives older men the ability to say, basically, ‘you make me horny’ to younger women without getting in trouble for it. It’s a church approved form of sexual harassment.”

    • Tara S

      #1 & #4. So gross. Let’s write a book! “How To Turn Modesty Into Anti-Modesty In One Easy Step.” And the book is one sentence long. “Obsess over sex and bodies and lady-parts all the time. THE END.”

      KatR, I love you! <3

  • AnonymousB

    Although I still believe (general) modesty is beneficial for all parties – I wouldn’t want a young girl to go around wearing practically nothing just for attention – because that type of behavior does unfortunately occur and it’s a matter of retraining one to dress to situational appropriateness, I agree with this article entirely! I personally have been involved in a relationship with a Christian young man with whom I was a congregational member and co-worker. He manipulated situations to put us both at risk for sexual interaction, and took advantage of me when I said “No”. I wept as it happened. At that point, I knew that I was ruined from the abstinence I’d committed to, and that it was too late to turn back. He took advantage of my trust and belief in his “Christian” profession, so that I would think it was my fault. He did this multiple times, and manipulated me every time, lying, saying how much he loved me, and then would turn on me, blaming me, being destructive and abusive. He would avoid me like the plague, as it were my fault and there were something wrong with me that “caused” him to sin. I lived in this bubble of pain for 2 years until someone who would become a very dear friend spoke plainly and called it what it was: Rape. As anyone in a controlling and abusive relationship feels, I could not fathom that someone who professed to know Christ, confessed his love, and repeatedly made promises that could entangle my emotions and loyalty could “rape” me – the one who love him. It has taken a couple years to heal from that and release the anger. In the meantime, I was treated as a “sinner” and “outcast” at the church because no one knew the truth, nor would they believe it – he would have lied to cover his own hide. I was the one that was treated as a “whore” to some people, like I was the one who seduced him, despite that he’d had other encounters similar to this one since he was 15 (a fact I learned much later). He even told me once that he had a fantasy about raping someone… I was naive that anyone could really have that fantasy as a Christian, so I never took him seriously. And somehow, in the cloud of lies and hurt, I didn’t know how to fight back…. So yes, I agree. The discussion needs to happen more clearly and frequently. So long as the church as a whole keeps sexually behind a door and cannot face our humanity, a culture of rape is cultivated, and the woman will always be to blame. THAT pain of violation is something that does not go away.

  • Random girl

    I grew up in a majority Catholic, very machismo culture and was catcalled and whistled at regularly from the time I was 8. My parents took it seriously, though, and never let me be in danger, so I simply learned not to look at guys. That harassment didn’t affect me much…

    Then as a young teenager there was an adult Sunday School discussion of Lot and I was completely horrified to hear ELDERS going on at great length about how the culture was different back then and so it was the honorable thing for Lot to offer his daughters over to the crowd like that and that if they had been raped it would have somehow been OK because the men/angels were guests. I remember feeling my face burn with anger. It took years before I knew just how messed up that was, but I never again trusted any of those men. They ended up doing a fabulous job of destroying that church, actually.

    Then I grew up some more and had my first kiss and first romantic relationship with *gasp* an atheist boy. He showed SO much respect for both my bodily integrity and my brain and emotions and it was amazing how different it was to the attitudes I was used to from church guys.

    Maybe TMI, but there were times where we were making out really intensely and not exactly completely clothed anymore, much less modest… and guess what, he would ALWAYS stop the second I even shook my head. He was not turned into a raging monster just by the sight of skin.

    When I compare the mainstream guy to the church guys like my brothers that I grew up around, I feel like my brothers and other Christian guys are also being victimized and abused by these stupid modesty teachings. They are told to do the impossible, resist something that they are told is impossible to resist, and then blamed for it. The guys who have consciences and really do try beat themselves up constantly and the ones who have no consciences get away with all kinds of things because of all the shame surrounding sexuality making people stay silent.

    Shaming horny guys for masturbating and then telling them to not be attracted to anyone ever until they are married is cruel and unusual. It’s terrible to the girls, too, but to the guys it’s unbelievably vicious. Some of these patriarchal culture men are victims just as much and more as we women are and it’s time we all learned to relax and realize that a person’s sexuality does not magically wake up at the wedding and that that is OKAY. Once you have that understanding in place, then you can teach responsible ways of making decisions. *Newsflash* evangelical parents, most kids do have some interest in being mature and safe and many, many Christian kids really want to follow Biblical guidelines. Where does it say masturbation is wrong? Exactly. Stop making people desperate and then shaming them when they “Fall into sin.” Even worse is how many times people get married to someone dangerous because they had sex, sometimes coerced, and then end up in an abusive marriage because they feel like damaged goods.

  • Amanda

    I love this. I remember going to church camp at 15 and my friend and I realized we had nearly matching clothes packed. So we matched on purpose each day and were playing around having people vote on which outfit was better (many times they were different colors). Nothing we wore was immodest. One outfit was even athletic pants and a T shirt. I found out that my youth minister told my guy friends from church to pray for me because I was dressing in a way to cause men to lust. I told my mom and she made me show her what I wore that week. She told the youth minister I was upset and he came and “somewhat” apologized. However, I now realize he had a lust problem (something he actually admitted to later with an addiction to pornography). I still wish my Mom would have put him in his place though!

  • Reader

    Well stated. Many years ago, I was told after church one Sunday morning–by the young man with whom I had gone to church that morning–that I should not raise my hands during the worship service because it made my breasts look too enticing. Raising the hands was a common expression in that church and I felt robbed of that simple pleasure, forever after feeling wrong and self-conscious if I raised my hands.

    • Handsfull

      That is crazy! I am angry that he thought he had the right to tell you how to express your worship to God… and so sad for you.

  • Virginia

    I think if men can not control themselves (as some claim) when they see me out in public, then they should stay out of public, not me!

  • Jason

    I have never seen this kind of behavior from a church body, but I know many men who live by the rule of “Men are the gas, women are the brakes.” They don’t hold men responsible for their behavior. I have in the past tried to reason with them, but they have made the choice to let their hormones rule their lives, so arguing doesn’t help. It is disgusting to see how many people throw away self control and then blame it on the object of their lust. This mentality stretches far, from someone stealing a nice pair of shoes you left on a bench, to sexual assault. The fact is that the more we live in the Spirit the more self control we have.

    I am a man who struggled with lust for years, not sure what to do about it or how to handle it. It was a struggle, sometimes every day. It wasn’t easy, because seriously, all it took was a hint of the right or wrong shape, or pretty eyes, or a certain posture, and lust would rise up in me. I would actually become more aroused by modest dress than the other way around, and I know other men who felt the same. Now, that was not any woman’s fault, and I never blamed them for it, but sometimes I wished I could get away from them, and I stayed away from places like the swimming pool, because I didn’t know how to deal with my thoughts. I never acted on them, though, and I certainly never would have tried to force it, and now that I am a Christian, and now that I have the Spirit and seek God every day, I don’t have those problems any longer. Instead of thinking about women, or about sex, I think about God. I learned to replace the worldly thoughts with God, and then one day I realized it was all gone. Then, when it was no longer a problem, I searched my real feelings about it all. Being attracted by beauty is expected. I love to appreciate beauty in all things, and women are more beautiful than any sunset I have seen. The difference between now and then is that I do not have those lustful feelings anymore, ever since I took control of myself. Self control and responsibility go hand in hand, meaning if we give up self control we are still responsible, we are just not acting responsibly. I feel foolish for not seeking God this way sooner in my life. Trying to force ourselves to ignore the issue doesn’t help. We need to acknowledge that attraction happens, and arousal happens, and understand that neither of them are reason enough for action, and it all begins in our hearts and not in someone else’s body or words. If my mind is in the right place, I will not look, or I will not think about it sexually. I have gone from hiding from my thoughts to complimenting women on their clothing or appearance. All it took was prayer and practice, and the will to be in control of myself.
    Unfortunately, self control is not something we find being advertised very often in our culture.

  • A mom of both

    Wondering, while agreeing with the article, do females bear any responsibility? How about females that wear shorts to church that barely cover their behinds. Sometimes with holes in them too? My son avoids these girls because averting his eyes gets exhausting. He calls them jean underwear. While he knows that he is responsible for his thoughts and I’m not letting him off the hook. At what point do we acknowledge that we aren’t helping things.

  • trenchbuddy

    thanks for the comment… moving on has been a monumental task… I am putting one foot in front of the other… which I have to believe is the pace God would have me go…blessings.

  • Kim Vandapool

    Thank God someone is saying this! As a Catholic, I hadn’t been quite as accustomed to seeing this “modesty culture” and all its blame of women until quite recently. This fundamentalist notion that women must cover up to keep men pure is most definitely working its way into Catholic sensibilities rather pervasively now, though. Unfortunately it’s not just that men want to blame women for their “immodesty” – there are some women out there as well who’ve married men with sexual addictions, and feel it’s their duty to keep every other woman in check by prescribing strange, arbitrary rules of modesty.

    Sorry, but if I want to wear pants, shorts, or, God forbid, short sleeves – I damn well better not be made to feel responsible for for some man’s lack of self-control.

  • Jesse Steele

    I think you’re right on target. TAKE EVERY THOGUHT CAPTIVE… it’s OUR OWN responsibility what we think.

    And, if that guy thinks you’re being “suggestive” it actually makes implications about what HIS experiences have been.

    He doesn’t even realize, what he did is like putting a huge neon sign above his head saying, “I’m a pervert! I’m a pervert!”
    What can we do to change this? Tell him just that, “You just put a big neon sign above your head. AND? We can crack down on the same problem…
    If a public school teacher touches a student’s ARM, it’s sexual harassment… but from the SAME politicians, fornication is okay, MTV can play in school, contraceptives can be passed out, and teaching about basic, VOLUNTARY morality is considered “imposing” our ideas on others.
    Basically, if we want to change this, we can’t just confront the nonsense in the Church, we must also address policies and stop letting the State redefine morals.
    It’s one in the same problem.
    Thank you for sharing. Thank you very much.

  • beautifully brainwashed

    Sorry, this post is a little late. I was raped awhile ago, and I never spoke of it for fear of being told something like this. If our society were to change, and allow for freedom of understanding and expression, I wouldn’t have been afraid. I would have spoke up. I don’t know if they ever attaacked someone else, or if I’m the only one. I’ll never know. What I do know is I was dressed appropriately, especially for beimg in my own home when it happened and I never said anything suggestive (except maybe for them to leave). I think that is also the problem. The attacked person feels a need to defend themselves after the fact. We have to explain that we did what we could to stop it. All we should have to say is that we said no. It doesn’t matter if we are buck naked covered in beer and hot wings. We still are humans. We still have every right to use our voices and say no.

  • A Guy

    I’m not sure that modesty is the problem. The story about the sofa and the offended older gentleman seems to me to be more of an issue of grace, or the lack thereof. He assumed a motive on your part and in turn revealed a problem in his own spiritual life. Further, it shows the challenging nature of being a beautiful woman! This is true the world over.

  • Fashion Belle

    The issues you raise are increasingly discussed in many circles where women are discouraged by the impossibility of completely covering the shape that is naturally theirs and men are led to believe that temptation is a result of a woman’s sin in appearance. It’s a tough line to draw. Certainly women can dress and behave in overly suggestive ways. My Fashion Belle site is dedicated to helping women dress more modestly. However, the thought of modesty, the effort of modesty becomes sickening over time when it is the all-consuming focus of your life. Men must take responsibility for their thoughts and actions and relieve the pressure that women feel to obscure what they are from fear of harmful reaction. There is more to life than modesty, and modesty should really fade to the background behind real living.

  • Katja

    Thanks for this (and other similar) posts. I no longer believe the lies of the modesty culture that my folks swallowed and grout me up to believe… As an engineer who often works in the field I need to deal w a lot of different men – while covered neck to toe in high visibility work wear. Only recently has work wear for ladies become available, so I would have to work in an oversized man’s shirt and men’s trousers. 10hrs in the harsh Aussie sun meant that all the buttons would be done up. Yet the men still noticed that I was female, and some have made advances… So much for the modesty myth! Glad to be free of it finally :-)

  • Jen

    Men should be offended. Men should be up in arms and screaming every time the “brother stumbling” and “modesty” conversations come up in conjunction with sexual assault.

    These idiots presume that men’s natural state is rapist. Men should be deeply offended that these religions believe that.

  • Anon.

    Yeah, I’ve had issues with this, too. It caused so many problems when I started dating my husband, unfortunately. I didn’t understand his or my sexual attraction. I’d never come to terms with the fact that attraction and lust are different – that he could find other girls beautiful or attractive and not be lusting after them and violating our relationship. This purity culture and the failure of anyone to explain this to me caused me to have serious trust and emotional issues.

    Thankfully, husband stuck with me. He explained everything lovingly to me, and waited while I processed it. I also had to process the fact that what I felt for other men (I’m a very visual girl, experiencing what most guys do) was what he experienced with other women. It wasn’t lust, it was an appreciation of physical beauty. You can stop the thoughts before they go too far. And once I realized that, I found that not only I had peace, but the purity culture I grew up in was wrong. so so wrong.

    Also, ironically, I think not ever having an honest discussion about sexual attraction and feelings contributed to me being very sexual very quickly with him.

    Anyway, thanks for this. It’s always encouraging to hear.

  • Sarah

    When I saw this photo I thought about this post – even though the “rules” in secular society are more nebulous the are still there and women are judged accordingly.

  • Anonymous

    My parents were theoretically egalitarian, but they still – I think just in the backlash and conservative panic of the eighties and nineties attempted homeschooling, and teen books like the Josh Harris stuff that was coming out, they panicked and the result was a decade of sorting through the shame of what we were taught in youth group.

    The modesty police made it feel like it was your fault somehow for being a woman, and therefore attracting men, no matter what you actually intended. There was a lot of guilt laid on teenage girls that never should have been there.

    I felt envious of my cousins – whose parents actually practiced rather than just talking about egalitarianism – and the freedom that they seemed to have to just be themselves. Meanwhile, I am hearing my parents and people in the church insult them for what they wore. I think my uncle threatened the status quo because he wasn’t harsh about it.

    Great thoughts! Thank you!

  • Megan Bullock

    I was 19 years old. Still in the process of breaking free from the church’s abuse, yet still going back for acceptance. I first had sex at age 18 when seeking any attention I could get from a male as my father was only giving out negative attention to me. At age 19, I had been out of my parents house for about 4 months. Not taking the world’s reality very well. (As would any over sheltered girl that had just been in the world for a few months.) I met a youth Pastor a while back. About 6 months to be exact. During those 6 months, he had been “giving me council” on saving sex for marriage. He would say things such as “You’ve lost your virginity, but it’s not too late to become pure again.” This statement confused me but I listened and didn’t question like a good girl. One night in Feb 2011, we went to dinner. He then took me to a place he “used to work.” It was a bar. (He also did some council on not drinking.) Last thing I would’ve expected him to do was buy me alcohol. I had no idea what it even tasted like. Never had it before. He ended up getting me drunk and raping me in a hotel that he payed for with my money. (Which I was not aware of seeing that I was trashed.) When I went back to my parent’s church and talked to the head pastor and youth pastor, they said I had given the man the chance by going to dinner with him alone. They told me I shouldn’t have put myself in the position for sin to be committed. I’m sorry, but how in the world was I supposed to think that a youth pastor was going to rape me?! It’s a bunch of rubbish. When I argued (which was highly looked down upon), they said if I felt like I was innocent, then I needed to call the cops and go to court. A 19 year old girl who didn’t have a lawyer or money for a lawyer had to take him to court. The pastors didn’t even offer to help. Since I didn’t want to go to court, they said I needed to admit immorality. I refused to do so, which resulted in them kicking me out of the church. I was not allowed back onto the church property because I was an immoral woman. I had been going to this church for over 10 years. I can’t even begin to explain the rejection I felt and the suicidal thoughts that ran through my head. Since then, I’ve gained self respect, self worth, and am %110 able to shut out the lies and condemnation they tried to force upon me.

  • ShawnaB

    OK, I’ve read through all these comments, and while I know this is an older post, I have to ask the question. What DO we teach our daughters and sons about how they dress? I am part of a very different type of church culture than the one you describe. We have not “kissed dating goodbye” here, and our youth leaders wear bikinis, and so do all the youth group girls, and many of their mothers. They wear SHORT, backless, deep-plunging dresses to the prom, and strapless dresses to church, with stilletos.

    This is happening in our church. And no one better say a word about it, because that would be legalism and judgemental, and would just make the girls feel bad.

    And while I HEAR what you are saying, and I totally agree that women are not responsible for men’s purity, they are still told in scripture to dress with modesty. Mind you, they are not told to be modest in order to keep men from sinning. They are just told to dress modestly.

    So, is there a balance? The idea of commiting pornography with your life is absurd, and not Biblical, and just bad teaching. And harmful and dangerous. But, does that mean we pass the bikinis and everything goes?

    In our home, we love clothes, and love to look beautiful. We think beauty is a good thing. I think as a woman, I dress modestly, depending on to whom I’m compared. In some churches I would be considered a harlot. I cover my cleavage and tummy, and keep my hems around the knee. But I do wear sleevelss, and a sensible swimsuit, and shorts. And I try to find jeans that make my rear end look good. I don’t want to draw attention to myself, but I do want to look reasonable feminine and pretty.

    As followers of Jesus, we should look different than the world, right? How do we do that, and NOT fall into a list of rules and bad doctrine?

    I have young daughters and a nearly adolescent son. Help. EE, how do you live this out with your kids?