Tuesday, July 31

Sexuality and Modesty (warning, may not be a post for the younger crowd)

This morning Sean handed me a delicious iced coffee as I was finishing writing in my journal, and as he left for work, I moved to the laptop and some pinterest inspiration for the day.  I was Horrified, yes with a capital H, to see link upon link and photo upon photo of pornographic images come up on the screen via pinterest, some specifically tagged with "Shades of Gray".  Thank goodness I didn't have a kiddo sitting next to me at the time...
I've been thinking lately a lot about modesty of the heart and modesty in dress after I read a Princeton medical study which monitored men's brains as they were shown images of modestly dressed women and scantily dressed women.  I commented on the article on FB, which led to a huge debate among Christian women on whether we have any responsibility in love towards our brothers in how we dress.  Only one man commented on the post but my husband has talked to other men about it and I've heard that there were a lot of men watching and reading where the post went.  The general man consensus: "Did they really need to do a medical study to show how our brains are wired???"  I had a handful of women come up to me in private and comment on how saddened they were by the comments against modesty.
As a Christian, it is easy to point and say, "that is wrong" when I see something like pornography on pinterest or another expression of sexuality that I read in God's Word is not the way He designed things to be.  But do you know what the real sin is?  All my thinking on modesty and nudity and different forms of sexual expression or sexual sin and studying it out in the Bible has led me to believe it all boils down to one sin - expressing our sexuality outside the covenant of marriage, which is how God intended it to be expressed. 

Modesty is a heart issue which often reveals itself in the outward.  I can dress modestly but let my eyes linger or act in a flirtatious manner.  I was once a naive eighteen year old in a bikini, happy to draw the attention of men, and totally unaware to the struggle nudity gives men.  Was I sinning?  I think I was.  Being unaware of the effect does not make me guiltless. 

There are three big arguments against modesty and the first is that modesty=legalism.  If I am taking care to dress modestly, then I must be doing it to make myself holier or to find favor in God's eyes.  But, you see, if our motivation is love for our fellow human beings, there is no room for self-gain there.  Love usually costs us something. 

The second argument against modest dress is that men are responsible for their own sin.  This is an absolutely correct statement.  What is good for the goose is good for the gander. It also applies to women. We, as women, are responsible for our own sin.  If God's Word calls us to consider men as our brothers, then it is perversion to dress provocatively for them.  If I had a brother in the natural and dressed in a pair of short shorts to draw his attention - how gross would that be? 

The third argument is that modesty is different in different cultures so we can't possibly know how to dress modestly.  Do we cover our ankles like they do in Uganda but bear our breasts on the beach like some believers in Europe do?  Since we can't pin down what exactly modesty is, why should we try at all?  My sister wondered what the effect of nudity had in Europe, and if you've ever visited Europe, you'll understand her question.  When we visited Germany, public nudity was everywhere.  Truckers squatting or peeing in the middle of the road, massive posters of nude women advertising clubs - when I took time to research it, I found that there is more pornography addiction, more incest, and more sexual abuse in most European nations.  There really isn't a numbing effect when the mind sees nudity or pornography constantly - it makes the mind desire more and more intense images or more perverted acts to satisfy its cravings.  Instead of being satisfied with sexuality expressed in marriage as it was intended to be, humans seek the perversion of sexuality outside of marriage to satisfy their cravings.  Why bother trying to dress modestly?  Because we love our Saviour and that love flows over towards our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Modestly is only beautiful when it is an expression of God's work in our hearts.

More thoughts later on how we teach heart issues, like modesty and purity, to our children...


Tiff said...

Thank for this post. I wish more mothers with address this with their daughters. My 14 yr old daughter is very modest and wishes everyone would wear long skirts and no belly shirts and she tends to look for me in example of dress. I am pretty modest(wasn't so much at 18) and when I switched over to mainly skirts she followed, not because I made her but because she was looking at me as an example. However, my 17 yr old daughter was tending to be less modest(after losing a lot weight and "finding" her new body). I commented to her many times and stressed that you can look like a girl without showing so much skin. And thank the Lord that she is starting to listen.
As for pinterest, I hope you reported that link. I am worried that pinterest is becoming a place for people to store porn, which is appearing there more often. Shades of Gray, that is another topic and for me, not worth my time reading.

Sorry for the long comment, I can ramble at times.

Stephanie said...

Thank you for today's post! I look forward to reading your future posts regarding this issue. I have been studying diligently over the last year or so with my 2 daughters (21 & 16) about modesty, charity, and submission among other things. It still amazes me that each behavior seems wholly connected to the others. In other words, if you truly practice and develop any of these good things in your heart, it will automatically lead you to the others. I also have a 19 year old son who is currently not dedicating his life to God, but he has been raised to do so and I pray he returns. Meantime, he has called me with "girl" questions and I was thankful that he still seems to have a teachable spirit. I pray he gets on track and will search for a Godly, modest woman whom God has created for him, who will enhance his life, as he will hers, and bless him with children they can raise together to honor and obey God. Keep up the good work!

Brandi said...

Thank you for writing this. I agree 100 per cent.

Googs said...

This was a wonderful post! Where I live, women tend to verge on the edge of the cliff with this one. Just enough to teeter, but not quite enough to fall over. They do not see that this is almost sealing their likely hood of falling.

Ruth said...

Thank you, such a great post. You really nailed the three arguments I have heard against modesty. It bothers me that people would size me up as a legalist because I like feminine, modest dress. I sometimes feel that way like people are judging me because I am dressing modestly. I guess that shows how warped our culture is in their thinking. Thanks for the encouragement!

Rachel said...

Thanks for this post, I completely agree with you. I can't believe that christians, or even non-christians, who go topless on the beach in Europe are not aware that it is a sexualised thing to do. If it were completely unsexualised then it would attract no controversy. I'm from, and live in, Europe, and go to family oriented beach resorts frequently - women don't go topless in these resorts, but I've heard and seen it in more exotic places, which suggests that deep down everyone knows it's risque.

Joy said...

Great post, Hannah. I agree with your thoughts completely.

Jennifer said...

Well, you hit the 'nail on the head' with this one. It's a sticky topic, for sure. I think that your quote about 'wanting to express our sexuality outside of the marriage covenant' is so true.
It's easy to 'swallow' what our unbelieving culture allows, but among Christians it isn't so easy.
There is such a wide variety of thought on this!
I'm motivated to share a little more with my almost 13 year old daughter to help her understand the 'why' of dressing modesty and how purity starts in the heart.
Thank you for sharing :)

MaggieJoy said...

Thank you! I'm so glad I stopped by your blog (it's been a little while!) I'm so uplifted by your post. As the only Christian among my mother and two sisters it's hard to explain my point to them on this matter. My husband appreciates my modesty and we look forward to teaching our children that it's important to understand that how you dress does affect others. Looking forward to future posts!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this post. It is so right on and I am so glad there are other women out there willing to talk about it. I am not on Facebook or pinterst and I don't have a blog, but I just read another post last night about the same thing and it is music to my soul! I am so frustrated with churches and older women who are not stepping in to teach these things to the believers.
I find myself trying to instill these beliefs and values to my almost 8 year old daughter who then asks "well, why does auntie or cousin so and so wear a bikini at the cabin?" (who are all believers) It is an area that is lacking teaching and direction. We have been going to the same church for over a year and we find ourselves asking why they aren't teaching on these issues. We had been visiting churches for two years prior trying to find a church that taught the gospel...
Thank you for speaking truth and shedding some light on this very important topic. I also have 3 younger sons and I hope and pray that we will be surrounded by others of like mind as they grow and become men!
I can't wait to read what you have to say! Thank you for your encouragement!

Anonymous said...

Great topic, and such a needed discussion among Christians. My caution to women, and men: May modesty not become a god to us, but rather "putting on Christ" who did not stand out among a crowd as either legalistic in his dress, or too liberal. The kingdom of God is not about eating or drinking (or clothing), but rather righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. If whatever I do is done in love, I can fit into any culture without drawing attention to my clothing (of all things!) and be a light. I worry that Christians get caught up on the length of dress, the coverage of the chest - does it reach the clavical?, the bagginess of the clothes - can a man see curves?, and forget that God made us to enjoy, be attracted to, desire the opposite sex - in purity - before marriage. This is NOT a sin!! God made our bodies - and called them GOOD. It is not a sin for a man to admire a womans form. If it was, there would be a lot more monasteries out there. :-) Sure our surroundings can make that difficult. These are perverse days and we should not follow in the world's footsteps of immorality, but we should also not allow our clothing to prevent us from sharing the Gospel because people see us as "weird" or too "modest". If modesty is all we're known for, we've gone seriously wrong. I pray that the people I rub shoulders with do not think "She's so modest", but rather, "She's so different in the way she loves, cares, and communicates. I wonder why?" If they ask why I dress the way I do, great, but hopefully, my clothing doesn't stand out at all.
It is all a matter of the heart. I know plenty of very Godly women who wear bikinis in California because that is culturally what is the "norm". They would draw more attention to themselves by wearing a barrel then by swimming in a two piece. Where I live in OR, you are scorned in Christian circles for wearing anything less than a one piece, and then usually something on top of that. It is not right for us to judge the intentions of anyones heart because their dress makes us uncomfortable. It is for freedom that Christ set us free so lets not be subject again to a yoke of bondage (religious moralism) funny how much the Pharisees cared about these issues of dress and food.
By the way, my husband has traveled extensively overseas and the topless women's "tops" became rather commonplace and unnattractive. However, he noticed that when he came home, it was women's ankles that he was most attracted to. Interesting!?!?!? I let girls in my care know that nakedness and flaunting are never ok outside of the marriage relationship. That's what God calls us to protect. So, lets not add more to it then He does. Ok, enough of my thoughts. :-)

Homestead Living said...

Amen sister!
Thank you for your boldness in this matter. May we help educate those who are not being educated on this topic and may the Lord do the mighty work in all of our hearts.

Julie said...

Agreed! This is a v e r y unpopular message these days. May Abba give us wisdom and compassion.


Me said...

To the second anonymous writer - You are correct, nothing should be held as a god to us except for God, moralism is not the gospel.
As I mentioned, modesty, or treating our brothers in love w/ our dress, is a result of God's working in our hearts and minds. Caring about how we dress and its affects on the struggles of our brothers is only one outward/ inward change from God's working and it certainly isn't the epiphany of God's work - salvation is.
I disagree with your husband's assumption that topless nudity had a numbing effect on him because the studies on sexuality show it makes the mind desire more, not less. Yes, endless bare breasts stopped being a turn on to your husband but does that excuse the nakedness? Scripture instructs men to enjoy the breasts of their wife and how can they if they are deluged with other women's?

Modesty is a matter of the heart, as you said in your last paragraph... but what does that mean? It means the fruit of that changed heart will show itself. If God changes my heart and helps me develop patience, I still won't be flying off the handle at my kids when they're yelling in the back of the van. If God works compassion in my heart, I will be compassionate, unable to turn a blind eye to the poor and the needy. Simarly, when God works a love and heart in my for my brother's struggle or call to purity, that will manifest itself outwardly too. Adopting a cultural norm, when cultural norms change and progressively include less and less coverage or fabric, is not a sign of Christ working in our hearts. To pick on the bikini some more, since that is the hot topic of clothing, when it first was designed the only women they could find to model it were strippers. Models wanted nothing to do with it. I mention this just to show how our thermometer for modesty cannot be culture. Stephanie made a great point when she said that Godly characteristics usually go hand in hand.

I didn't write this article to glorify modest dress or suggest that we should wear baggy formless clothing. I wrote it out of the culmination of my own personal study on sexuality and hoping this might be a light and encouragement to other mothers and women in Christ.

Jacobitess said...

Living in Europe, I love your respondeo to the third argument against modesty! Indeed, those countries with topless beaches are the same countries teaching masturbation in preschool. And as we notice in primitive peoples, when they begin to espouse the Faith, they start wearing clothes, because they realize that lust is a sin as well as fornication and adultry.

Poland is one of the most beautiful havens of godliness in Europe, and you don't see women going topless here. The daily customs of women are the soul of a nation's mores.

Unknown said...

Very well said, Hannah. I remember being at a Campus Crusade fall retreat more than 20 years ago and having the staff men first share with us very frankly what it was like to walk around campus. (And it was nothing like it is now!) Then their wives spoke with us, and I'll never forget the words of one of them: "The way you choose to dress could be causing my husband to stumble." I was so impacted by it being put in those personal terms, and it really made me start evaluating my clothing with genuine consideration of my brothers in Christ.

My daughter is only five, but I started planting the seeds of modesty probably about two years ago. I've seen signs that she "gets it" at her level. While my husband and I can monitor what she wears while she's living in our home, I want her to leave it with a heart that desires to glorify God in this area. Waiting until she has curves to teach her about modesty is too late!

Anonymous said...

I agree so much it's scary! There are girls that show up in church wearing dresses so short, they are practically shirts! I see small babies in bikinis and it makes me sad. While there is certainly nothing wrong about sexuality in a marriage, society seems to purvey the idea that it is everywhere BUT in a marriage! The best idea I ever heard to help my son's heart when we are out and about came from Michelle Duggar. Her family has a code word that they use when a woman (or man) walks by wearing inappropriate clothing. When they hear it, the boys (or women) look down so they are not tempting themselves.

Alison said...

GREAT post! I agree with you 100%! This is such an important and necessary topic that needs to be discussed seriously among women in the church. How prideful and sinful I was over 15 years ago as a high school girl thinking that lust is only men's responsibility to handle and that we women don't need to do anything differently in our dress or our actions. Modesty and demeanor are very specifically discussed in the Bible. It is so sad to see the revealing clothing worn by the women at churches today, especially those on the worship team or other prominently viewed places! That is the last thing men or women need to be struggling with on church on Sunday is what the ladies on stage are wearing! And thank you for mentioning the devastating effects in Europe with their child molestion/abuse rates. Not everyone knows that, but anyone who has traveled abroad can see the devastation their immorality has led to. Our country is headed down a similar path. Thanks again for an important and Godly post!

Emily said...

I agree with you whole-heartedly. =) Modesty is SO important!
Love in Christ,

overcoming pornography addiction said...

thanks for this post, this would overcome the pron addiction especially to the your.

Austin said...

I just wanted to say thanks for writing this and for those who responded and stood up for Godly modesty in a world that screams for more nudity. I am a male and I promise that topless women on beaches and nude women never get "old". You only seek out more and you are never satisfied. We are supposed to be satisfied in our wives bodies, not the topless/nude women that are not our wives. I should know nudity never gets truly non sexual and old, I spent 6 years addicted to pornography and much of it was nude and topless beach women. Modesty is truly an attractive trait. Only your husband should lay eyes on the beauty that is your female body. Anyone that says otherwise needs to dig into the Bible.

Medical Patient Modesty said...

I really appreciate this wonderful article about sexuality and modesty. There is one area, medical modesty that many Christians and non-Christians do not really think about.

It bothers me about how many Christians preach that you should dress modestly, but that your modesty does not matter in medical settings. It is odd that many Christians preach that young women should dress modestly to help men to stay pure, but they see nothing wrong with male gynecologists. This is a huge cultural blind spot. I think that in general, people tend to accept almost anything that the medical industry does because our culture sees doctors as the definitive “experts” on the human body. Often Christians fall into this trap; they submit to a doctor’s methods without questioning, but often doctor’s methods go against God’s nature.

I do not believe in situational ethics. If nudity is always wrong with the opposite sex except for your spouse after puberty, I believe it is wrong in all settings including medical. Doctors and nurses are humans like all of us and not exempt from God’s moral standards. Many Christians have fallen to the cultural blind spot that opposite sex intimate medical care is okay. I encourage you to check out some articles about this issue at http://www.truthmagazine.com/modesty-and-your-physician.

Look at how one man’s marriage was hurt by his wife going to a male gynecologist at http://www.patientmodesty.org/modestycomments.aspx?ID=2.

The abortion issue reminds me so much of opposite sex intimate medical care. Abortion was not performed in the bible, but infanticide was. There are plenty of bible verses that indicate that life begins at conception and that an unborn baby is human. We know murder is wrong based on God’s word so that is how we know abortion is wrong. Think about it this way: it is wrong for a man to shoot a pregnant woman in the stomach and kill her unborn baby, but it is okay for a doctor to kill an unborn baby through abortion in the name of medicine according to the pro-choice movement. Both the man and the doctor are equally guilty of murder. It is wrong for a person who is not in the medical profession to examine and touch private parts of a sexually mature person of the opposite sex she/he is not married to, but it is okay for a doctor or nurse to do that in name of medicine. It is ridiculous because God has the same standards for everyone including medical professionals.

It is very easy for your wishes for modesty or same gender intimate medical care to be violated and this is the very reason I started Medical Patient Modesty.


Anonymous said...

Respected author,
I did not read your whole blog, just read the few starting paragraphs. I am not a native english speaking person so sorry for my english if you find any mistake.
Well i agree with you. The world is getting commercialized. Women are now just become show piece which are used to sell products.
They feel proud showing their body but they dont know that they are being used.