For introduction and previous posts in this series, please see Part One.
1) Is sexual arousal the same as lust, and is it a sin?
The blog post I’m responding to follows the assumption that:
A) Lust is sin.
B) Sexual arousal is lust.
C) Therefore, sexual arousal is sin.
Sexual arousal is NOT the same thing as lust or sin. Matthew 5:28 says that looking at a woman lustfully is the same thing as adultery, but what it doesn’t do is equate sexual arousal with lust. This is a major problem in the American church. We treat getting turned on as if it is the same as lusting after someone. If you want to interpret the scripture to believe that lust for someone other than your spouse is wrong, that’s okay! But we have a historical tradition of defining sin as something a person chooses to do, and experiencing a biological, physical reaction to something that you view as appealing is NOT SIN. I’ll just put it bluntly: boners are not sin. If a guy gets turned on because a woman in a short skirt walks by, that’s not sin. If a Christian man sees cleavage and thinks, “That’s hot,” he’s not sinning.
My husband Chalupa and I have been married for five years. Never once has it bothered me to think that he might find another woman is attractive. Of course he thinks other women are attractive–they are! I have hot friends! He has hot women friends! I literally could not care less if he finds someone else attractive, because it doesn’t affect me. At all. He has never seemed to mind that I clearly find Opie from Sons of Anarchy attractive, either, because guess what? OPIE IS ATTRACTIVE.* And it doesn’t matter. Because finding someone attractive is simply not a sin. It’s not in the Bible, and it doesn’t make sense with, you know, science.
If Christians continue to interpret involuntary attraction as sin, then we are going to continue to feel the need to “protect” each other from that “sin.” Which takes us to the second question.
2) If it’s not a sin, is it my responsibility to protect someone from it?
If something is not a sin, I shouldn’t be expected to try to protect someone from it. I’m not the bodily function police. I don’t try to keep people from having to pee. I don’t get to decide what people eat. I don’t have to encourage people to take the elevator because they get out of breath on the stairs up to my office, and I want to control their bodies’ natural reaction to physical exertion.
Arousal is biological and natural, just like breathing and eating and drinking and startle reflexes and all those other things you learn about in science class. If something is not a sin, there is no reason to try to keep someone from doing it.
It is absolutely the responsibility of the person who sees something that turns them on to decide what they want to do with that arousal. It seems most men outside of the church either enjoy the experience or move on without incident, but neither of those reactions are detrimental to anybody in question. I don’t like this idea that we portray Christian men as these weak, sniveling, pathetic dudes who are slaves to human skin. Who are these men that must fight SO HARD against temptation?
Here’s my theory: they’ve been told they’re supposed to fight against being turned on. And that would be difficult! And fruitless! And if you’re supposed to avoid being turned on at all costs, then sure, you’d want to ask women to dress in a certain way. But if Christian men recognized that getting aroused is NOT sin, their “struggles” would be eased pretty quickly. I recommend getting rid of this response: “Oh, shit! A hot girl! She has boobs! And I can see part of them! Now I’m turned on, and I’m sinning! Oh, shit, I’m sinning! I want that! I’m not supposed to want that! Stop wanting that! Stop it! Crap, now I’m going to think about this later! I wonder if the rest of her skin is that smooth? Wait! No! Stop thinking about it! Still turned on! I’m sinning! God, help me! Why did she wear that cleavage-y wedding dress! She’s basically dressed like a slut! Doesn’t she know that there are men in this congregation?!”
Instead, Christian men should embrace this response: “A hot girl! She has boobs! And I can see part of them! Now I’m turned on! Okay, no big deal. My day can continue. She was hot.”
If we are that concerned with “protecting” each other and being brothers in sisters in Christ, then isn’t it best not to judge one another and continually place unnecessary pressures on men? Creating sin where it doesn’t exist, forcing men to beat themselves up over something that they clearly cannot help, is not looking out for anyone’s best interest. Telling someone that their biological processes are sinful is incredibly damaging. Suggesting that women wear incredibly modest clothing to prevent male sexual arousal only creates more problems when the men continue to be aroused anyway, whether the subject of his attention is in a bikini or a burka. Women who perpetuate ideas like the ones in this blog post aren’t looking out for their brothers, who should be reassured that sexual desire is a totally normal and non-sinful thing, but rather are bringing down their sisters. And the ultimate effect on their brothers is nil.
When I was talking to my friend Lana today via chat, I said it like this:
If these men aren’t beating themselves up over getting a boner, maybe they wouldn’t have to feel so guilty, like they’re in some giant struggle.
3) If sexual arousal IS lust and is sin, then can one person be held responsible for someone else’s sin?
I am absolutely certain in my belief that sexual arousal is a natural, biological process, and not a sin. However, there are still some people who are going to want to define sexual arousal as lust, and therefore sin. Or, they’re going to want to argue that the slope from arousal to lust is so slippery that it is nearly impossible to differentiate the two things. Or they’re going to insist that even if it’s not really a woman’s FAULT that a man lusts because of what he sees, women can still contribute to “helping” men not to sin sexually.
However, it doesn’t really matter whether or not sexual arousal is sin or not, because the fact remains: no one can cause another person to sin.
Additionally, if we describe lust for what it is–obsessive, overwhelming desire that a person refuses to choose to control–then it really doesn’t matter what a woman is wearing. When I looked up “Christian definition of lust,” I found things like this:
“The simple definition of lust is having a self-absorbed desire for an object, person, or experience. When we are in lust, we place the object of our desire above all things in our lives. From a Christian perspective lust is bad because we are putting the object of our lust above God.”
I think that’s a pretty decent definition, when it really comes down to it. Notice that it doesn’t put any blame on the object of lust–it is completely under the control of the person doing the lusting.
If a man wants to lust after a woman and ignore the consequences, he will. That is 100% his choice. A woman could be wearing a floor-length skirt and a wool turtleneck sweater (which is basically what I happen to be wearing today), and if a dude wants to lust after her, he will. A woman is never, ever, ever responsible for someone else’s sin. She could walk down the street naked and it is still up to anyone who sees her to decide if they are going to lust or not.
There are no other “sins” that our modern church blames on anyone but the sinner. We don’t say that thieves were tempted into their thievery because their victims had nice things. We don’t say that children should stay inside because they might tempt those poor, weak pedophiles. We don’t say that a person who is hit by a drunk driver is at fault because they went driving on a Saturday night, which is a time when there happen to be more drunk drivers on the road. If I get really angry while watching a sporting event, it doesn’t matter how mad I get–it’s not my fault if the guy next to me throws his Mountain Dew into the TV. He can’t say that my anger egged him on, and I should have stayed calm to help him keep from getting carried away.
In no other instances do we say that sin is the fault of someone other than the sinner.
There is a lot of talk in those threads about “accountability” and being “allies” and “protecting” men, but I just don’t buy it. I can’t find Biblical evidence that supports the idea that we are supposed to live according to the lowest common denominator of behavior. If we are really concerned, and this is a situation where men cannot help themselves, and it’s the fault of women, then women should either wear burkas, or men should be willing to pluck their eyes out, like Jesus instructs in Mark 9:27. That protects everybody, right?
I once witnessed something that was upsetting: a small Christian community had the opportunity to present an imperfect but compelling documentary about the problems that accompany the objectification of women. It’s called The Bro Code. However, because there are sexy images of women in the video, the decision was made not to show the documentary to the community. The fear was that it would “cause men to sin,” or “make men feel uncomfortable.” Here was an opportunity to inform an entire community about the REAL problems of an overly-sexualized culture, and it was completely ignored because some of the dudes in the room could have gotten turned on by the bared hips and lip-licking video clips. How disappointing.
I will discuss the risks of this kind of thinking and responsible options for Christians who want to promote modesty in Part Three.
*I’m kind of excited that I just got to put this particular all-caps statement into a blog post. There should probably be an entire blog called that. OPIE IS ATTRACTIVE. DOTCOM.
This article first appeared on Back to the Hoosier State.