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Christians usually take pride in their opposition to the sexual objectification and exploitation of women… but most Christians are completely unaware that they have been practicing and promoting the very thing they claim to oppose. Rather than recognizing the ways they are doing so, they have often codified sexual objectification into their rules and expectations for Christian thinking and conduct.

Here are five ways Christians sexually objectify women… and they just might surprise you:

 

#1 — Modesty Rules

Exactly why do we require women to cover this or that body part? Because those body parts are “sexual,” Right? That perception is sexually objectifying. Women are not a collection of “parts”—some sexual and some not—they are whole persons. As soon as we legislate that one body part must be treated “sexually,” we are sexually objectifying the whole woman.

 

#2 — The “Men Are Visual” Myth

Contrary to what we’ve all been told, God did NOT make men as primarily “visual” in their sexual interest and arousal (see this article). What we observe in men today is entirely conditioned behavior. It is our culture’s expectation that every man will treat the simple sight of a woman’s body as a sexual event and respond sexually, so that’s what they do. This false yet pervasive conditioning has normalized the sexual objectification of women, weaving it into our cultural fabric and, sadly, into Christian teaching and practice. The widespread adoption of visual stimulus for sexual arousal has paved a highway for the porn industry to explode, and has resulted in rampant sexual bondage even among those who desire to live a life pleasing to God. 

 

#3 — Every Man’s Battle

Because the church so completely embraced #2 above, a new book and strategy invaded the Christian world a few years back… claiming that it could help men overcome sexual bondage. The core strategy from Every Man’s Battle tells men that they must constantly guard against any sight—in person or just an image—which might trigger lust. When it happens, they are instructed to “bounce their eyes” away from the sight so as to keep their heart pure. This means that every woman or image they see must be evaluated for its impact on that man sexually! If a man is sexually evaluating every woman he sees, he is most definitely sexually objectifying them.

 

#4 — A Wife’s “Sexy” Lingerie

Every wife longs to feel beautiful, attractive, and desirable to her husband. So, the use of seductive lingerie might seem like a good idea—and a lot of fun—to capitalize on the conditioned “visual” response in her husband as a part of sex play. However, I would suggest that by doing so, she is sexually objectifying her own body and serving to further reinforce the visual response in her husband to certain body parts of a woman. Much better and healthier would be to cultivate a relationally-based sexual arousal and fulfillment… which will serve to keep the couple’s sex life vibrant into their twilight years (see The Renewed View of the Body).

 

Cry Room#5 — Church “Cry Rooms”

Of all the places where the God-given usage for breasts can be most openly expressed and observed, the church should be at the top of the list. Instead, however, churches often build “Cry rooms” so that nursing mothers can feed their babies without risking the exposure of their breasts to the men and boys in attendance. The church is treating breasts as if the perpetuation of their sexual objectification is more important than allowing the God-designed beauty of their maternal purpose to be seen. The inescapable message to men and women is that breasts are to be treated sexually… even when a mother is nursing.

 

If the church really wishes to impact society for truth and stand against the sexual objectification of women, then the people of God first need to take a hard look at their own core beliefs about the meaning of our physical embodiment as humans… male and female… in God’s image. We need to root out ways that we have embraced the false sexualized and pornographic view of the body, and start treating the human body with dignity and in harmony with truth.

 

— David Martin

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For more on this topic:
Lie #2 – Visual Arousal 
The Renewed View of the Body
The Pornographic View of the Body

The Imago Dei

Referenced in the image above:
Is Women’s Modesty the New Legalism Among Christians?

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6 Responses to 5 Unexpected Ways Christians Sexually Objectify Women

  • A very thought-provoking post David — I also read the Renewed View of the Body.

    In regards to your point #4, I have some questions:

    Is your point that a husband’s or wife’s natural sexual arousal when seeing their spouse nude (or nearly nude), should be de-emphasized or not focused on at all because that would not be ‘cultivating a relationally-based sexual arousal and fulfillment’? I’m striving to understand what relationally-based sexual arousal and fulfillment would look like in everyday exchanges and interactions between husband and wives.

    Can you provide some specific examples of how husbands and wives would communicate their arousal and sexual desires? For instance, what would they say to each other? What would they communicate with their body language? Also, what would they say to their spouse about their desire for their spouse’s body that would contrast sharply with the Christian sexual objectification that you are referring to?

    I am not just talking about a husband toward his wife since men are also becoming increasingly sexually objectified in our culture — just see the ‘Magic Mike’ movies about male strippers that have been breaking box office records in the last few years with women as the primary consumers.

    • Thanks for writing, Ed. I apologize for the delay in responding.

      Communicating all that really needs to be understood about this issue is impossible in just one paragraph! The point is that we definitely need to rethink the things we’ve always assumed to be true and ask the hard questions until we settle on what is really true. From that perspective, it sounds like the article accomplished its purpose for you!

      When it comes to the relational vs. visual question, many people assume that by saying that God made us “relational” rather than “visual” it means that the visual is completely immaterial. The fact is that we ALL as humans ARE visual… it’s one of the primary ways we interact with our world. We perceive things around us visually, and then we interpret what we see according to our experience, culture, beliefs, and conditioning, and we respond accordingly.

      The lie is that the simple sight of a woman’s form has intrinsic meaning and inexorably incites a sexual response in men. This is simply false. That we would find it aesthetically pleasing and attractive to our eyes is exactly what God intended. That we should consider the very sight of it to be a sexual experience is NOT what God intended.

      But let’s tie the Relational aspect into it…

      Have you ever seen a person who owned an absolutely ugly dog which they adored? To that person, that dog is no longer ugly… but because the sight of their dog calls to mind the depth of love and relational joy they’ve experienced with the dog, they rejoice to see the dog every time, and they love to pet and cuddle that dog. Visually perceived, but relationally comprehended… and the relationship drives the response. Others would see that same dog and not have it impact their heart or their response in the same way at all.

      What if the dog is a gorgeous show dog? Well, that dog might turn a few more heads in admiration, but still, only the owner of that dog who has a close relationship with the dog would go nuts about the dog and want to hug and cuddle the dog every day.

      What about my wife’s body? Well, I can guarantee you that my wife doesn’t look anything like a playboy model naked. But I can also tell you that I love seeing her naked, and she’s absolutely her most beautiful without any clothes. Her body excites sexual responses in me… as it should… but why? Is it because she has breasts and I can see them? No. Its it because she has this gorgeous feminine figure that blows me away? No. It is because she is my wife… her body excites me because it is HER body. The sight of her naked form is a lovely reminder to me of the fact that I have a sexual relationship with HER and I have spent 25 years finding my true sexual fulfillment in her alone. So… does the sight of her body excite my sexual interest? Of course it does… but not because they are “female parts,” rather because her body is HER to me… MY wife. My love. My sexual partner.

      But let me add something that changed in my sexual relationship with my wife when I came to understand the truth and stopped sexually objectifying my wife’s body (yes, that’s possible!)… I had for all my life focused on the sexual appeal of breasts. That was my “trigger” with pornography. So, when I married, when in the act of intercourse, when I was ready to go “over the top,” during penetration, I would focus my attention on her bare breasts. And because of my conditioning, it worked like a charm. When I understood these truths, however, I recognized that I was doing that and that it was demeaning to her and her body. So, I rejected that “technique” and I simply enjoy the entire experience with my wife.

      You absolutely should enjoy your wife’s body sexually. You should absolutely find it beautiful and attractive. You should NOT treat every sight of it as a sexual turn-on (have you read this personal story?) And you should NOT treat expect the same sexual reaction to the sight of any woman’s body as you have with your wife…. if you do, you are still seeing the “sexual” in the “parts” and not in the relationship.

      I hope that helps. Feel free to write again.

      Pastor David Martin

  • Regarding point #1, would you say a nude beach would be appropriate for Christians? I went to one and found, just as you suggest, that the sight of those normally covered parts did not arouse me in that setting. The experience was less frustrating than a beach with bathing suits.

    • Michael, thanks for writing.

      If we truly do reject the sexualization of particular body parts, then it would be inconsistent to then turn around declare that a nude beach would be immoral, for the only thing that would make it immoral is if it were an illicit sexual context or experience. If we are going to live as if the truth is true instead of a lie (sexualizing body parts), then we cannot then treat “morality” rules based on the lie as morally binding.

      And when we DO live our lives as if the truth is true, we fin ourselves set free (John 8:32) from the sin bondage that accompanies the lie. In your case, you went to a nude beach (in keeping with the truth) and found that the lie (seeing naked bodies is a sexual experience) no longer had any power over you.

      For most people the lie is so deeply entrenched in their mind and heart that they cannot even imagine that what you experienced is even possible.

  • I agree with everything here except #3 “This means that every woman or image they see must be evaluated for its impact on that man sexually! If a man is sexually evaluating every woman he sees, he is most definitely sexually objectifying them.”

    The body is not pornographic but there are pornographic images and displays of the body which SHOULD be avoided. So while I agree that we shouldn’t bounce our eyes from simple nudity, but if there is a seductive look (nude or not) it can still cause me to stumble. I am not evaluating the woman, I am evaluating the presentation.

    • Phil, thanks for writing.

      Actually, you’ve proved my point rather than refuted it. Here’s what I mean…

      One of the things we’ve written about on the MCAG site (see this article) is the fact that men are NOT primarily “visual” in their sexual response. What you’ve described as “a seductive look” is indeed received visually, but it is interpersonal communication that is discerned, not a body part–even if a body part is being used as the “medium” of communication. A seductive look is one that communicates sexual availability. And there is nothing more tempting to a man than the woman who communicates that she’s desirous of his sexual interest.

      Consequently, turning away from the “seductive look” is not a decision about what I see, but rather a decision about what I will entertain in my heart about her; what sort of communication will I accept from her; what aspect of a relationship with a woman will I allow to take root.

      Even when the “seductive look” is captured in an image, my experience with living the truth has been not the need to look away, but a deep sense of sadness that this woman–fully worthy of her dignity as an image-bearer and valued as a person rather than for her sexual appeal–is so misguided that she believes that her value as a woman is greater because she can deliver the “seductive look.” When you really see that that’s what’s happening, it’s not appealing, its saddening. I wish for so much more for her, and I’m angry at a culture that has ingrained the lie into her life that she’s acting upon as if it were true.

      So yes, I may turn my head away, but not to protect my own moral purity… rather to refuse to participate in the indignity that she is an unwitting victim of.

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