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Virtue and Sexism in Purity Culture

May 15, 2013

One Sunday during the years of my adolescence I attended the morning worship service all by my lonesome. I forget the reason why. I sat down in a pew to the left of the altar, awaiting the start of Mass with the other early arrivers. A few minutes before the prayers began, a young very attractive woman sat down in the pew just before me. She had short, cropped strawberry blonde hair and wore the sort of dress Alicia Silverstone wears in the movie Clueless to entice the new student who turns out to be gay. Bare neck and bare arms and a mostly bare back. I couldn’t keep my eyes off her flawless skin. Whether sitting, standing, or kneeling, I was transfixed. Ogle me this, Batman.

After Mass, while on my way through the gathering area, a friend of my mom’s approached me. I didn’t recognize her, but she knew me and introduced herself, telling me how she had seen me during the service. I gulped, figuring she had noticed my not sporadic staring. Instead she complimented me.

“You were so focused and attentive. I’m very impressed. Such a good example for your peers.”

She was sincere. At least, I took her as sincere. She gave no smirk or wink or any other tell of irony. I didn’t have the heart or the courage to correct her.

Many years later, in college, a friend admitted to a group of us that he really struggled at church to avoid gazing at women in the congregation. He preferred to sit in the front row to avoid temptation as best he could. To his credit, he blamed only himself for his weakness, but others at our school were eager to lecture their fellow students, particularly women, on the importance of modesty. Men were instructed on abstaining from ogling and entertaining lustful thoughts and desires, and women were told they must exercise modesty in manner and dress. Women were expected to be virtuous so the men didn’t sin. You’ll note the double standard.

The toxicity of “purity culture” has been under discussion a lot this past week. See Elizabeth Smart, Calah Alexander, and Richard Beck. I want here to emphasis one point in particular. Not being able to handle the sight of skin, or any other erotic sensation, isn’t a sign of virtue. It indicates immaturity and perhaps an unhealthy fear of the body. Obsessive staring and obsessive averting the eyes are, well, obsessive, and not the signs of mature sexuality. You mature sexually by being sexual. Temperance takes practice. We’re sexual beings: we’re supposed to find bodies pleasing and attractive to our senses. No shame or sin there. Goes with being an animal. As rational animals, we have some control over our passions and appetites, but you don’t learn to master your passions and appetites by running from the body or keeping it out of sight, sense, and mind.

On this point, purity culture tends to be irrational. It focuses on abstinence, and not just abstinence from sexual intercourse. Consider this holy advice column by Barbara Kralis: none of her guidance has anything to do with maturing in one’s sexuality. She counsels prayer, being cheerful, wearing holy objects, modest dress for women–writing, “a women’s husband is the only person who should see and receive the joy of her body”(!)–avoiding inappropriate conversations, avoiding entertainment deemed unfit for moral consumption by a religious authority, avoiding occasions of sin, and avoiding useless activities. This is a recipe for disaster. It won’t make you pure or modest or chaste, even if you succeed at each one. You’ll have done nothing to master the sexual passions and appetites because you’ll have done nothing with your sexuality. You don’t learn to look without lechery merely by averting your eyes.  You have to practice seeing attractive people in a way that respects them and respects the attraction.*  If you want to master your sexuality, then you have to exercise it. This is true whether or not you are waiting until marriage to have sex.

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*Added for some clarity.

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56 Comments
  1. T J Hostek permalink
    May 15, 2013 4:06 pm

    I agree with Kyle wholeheartedly. Erotic love is still love. In fact, we lose much of our humanity when we deny the erotic. We also insult our Creator who made us erotic beings.

  2. May 15, 2013 5:03 pm

    Reblogged this on Big Blue Dot Y'all and commented:
    Sexuality and Christian culture should find new ways to inform one another. Anytime now…really.

  3. alexanderschimpf permalink
    May 15, 2013 6:06 pm

    Come now . . . “This is a recipe for disaster”?!?

    Let’s avoid the hyperbole, especially when directed towards those whose who are trying to encourage people to live better Christian lives, even if the advice we would give might differ slightly.

    • May 15, 2013 6:16 pm

      Marriages fall apart because of sexual immaturity. I’d say that merits the word “disaster.”

      • alexanderschimpf permalink
        May 15, 2013 7:22 pm

        Sure. As long as you are willing issue even stronger condemnations of the sexual licence espoused by those outside the household of the faith. That’s my point.

      • May 15, 2013 9:35 pm

        Could you please give one example of what you consider to be “sexual immaturity” within marriage?

        • May 15, 2013 10:00 pm

          Fred and Wilma are married. Fred wants sex tonight. Wilma does not. Without bothering to find out if Wilma is interested, Fred has allowed himself to become sexually aroused. He doesn’t demand sex after hearing Wilma’s lack of interest, but he blames Wilma for leaving him unsatisfied and tempted to find sexual satisfaction in other ways.

        • May 15, 2013 10:10 pm

          To me that is an example of lacking in communication. I don’t see how having bad communication skills adds up to being sexually immature. Wouldn’t you consider Fred to be mature since he displayed self-control in not forcing sex upon Wilma? Yes, Fred could be immature in general, especially in blaming another person without communicating his wishes or his feelings but I just don’t see this as an example of sexual immaturity.

        • May 19, 2013 1:51 pm

          The immaturity is on the part of Wilma, who is the only one directly disobeying a biblical command here (First Corinthians 7:5: “Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”).

        • May 19, 2013 3:31 pm

          @Teresa: There’s more than a failure to communicate here. Fred can’t handle his being horny in a dignified manner. Sure, he doesn’t rape his wife, but that’s hardly a sign of maturity. He’s aroused, can’t “get off,” and instead of blaming his inability to live for the moment with his arousal, he blames his wife for not being the tool that satisfies him.

          @WT: I’m not a scripture scholar, but I don’t see anyway of reading that line as requiring husband or wife always to submit to having sex if the other wants it. The qualifications of “mutual consent” and “for a time” imply that the depriving here is something long term, not a particular instance of saying “No.” Other translations say “starve” instead of “deprive.” If Paul were saying “You must always say ‘”Yes,'” then I’d have to take issue with him, as he’s given moral and religious justification and cover for rape.

        • May 19, 2013 5:21 pm

          @WT I am in full agreement with Kyle’s response to you.

          @Kyle After re-reading comments I agree that Fred is immature and he could be considered sexually immature but not necessarily so either. I don’t see arousal as being necessarily immature. Since you said that Fred was “tempted to find sexual satisfaction in other ways” and didn’t say that he carried out anything like masturbation or other ways to satisfy his sexual arousal I don’t see Fred as being sexually immature. If he had resorted to certain means to fulfill his arousal needs then I would agree that Fred would be sexually immature.

  4. David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
    May 15, 2013 6:34 pm

    Kyle,

    thank you for posting this. I was thinking about writing a post about the flip side of purity culture, or as Zizek would put it, its obscene underbelly. Here is the money quote, from the director of a crisis pregnancy center in the SF bay area:

    “Would it surprise you to know that avoiding shame is one of the top reasons why a woman has an abortion? I would bet that many of you would think that ignorance about early fetal development was reason #1. After all, as early as 22-28 days after fertilization there is a beating heart. Surely, that knowledge would cause a woman not to abort. No, and early ultrasound showing the evidence of life doesn’t make the list either. In fact biology, and even morality (is abortion right or wrong?) have little to do with why women have abortions.

    Over the next several weeks, I hope to make the reasons women have abortions come alive to you. And I’m not doing this just to provide you with information. I want what I share with you to change you. To change us as a Church. To ultimately change us as a society. Because to a big degree, we’re all complicit and that’s got to change.

    “Trisha” was a single woman in her early 30’s, a registered nurse and very much an active part of a local church. Trisha had gone window shopping the morning she called us to get her mind off the reality that she was pregnant and would have to have an abortion. While she shopped she saw one of our ads. She sat down on a bench in the shopping mall, called us on her cell phone and asked, not the “obvious” question (“Which is your closest clinic to where I live?”), but rather, “Which of your clinics is farthest from where I live? I just can’t risk anyone seeing me.” That afternoon she drove quite a ways for her appointment.

    Trisha ultimately had an abortion. The shame she was convinced she’d experience from her church family over exposing her pregnancy and carrying her baby to term far outweighed (for her) the guilt she herself admitted she’d have to live with for the rest of her life.”

  5. Agellius permalink
    May 15, 2013 6:37 pm

    I’m not sure I understand. How exactly would you say you can “practice” or “exercise” your sexuality before marriage without doing anything that violates the requirements of chastity? Can you give examples?

    • May 15, 2013 9:02 pm

      If someone can’t look at an attractive person without ogling or stressing out about lustful thoughts, it would be good for this person to ask why. What’s going on? Why these reactions? What would be needed for these reactions to change? Could one learn to notice attractive people without feeling compelled to objectify them? Could one develop a virtuous way of seeing attractive people so that their presence is not an occasion for sin?

      • May 16, 2013 12:17 am

        “Could one develop a virtuous way of seeing attractive people so that their presence is not an occasion for sin?”

        Well, maybe. But how would one go about it? What do you suggest?

        I would note that no one is saying to attractive people, “You should make yourself unattractive so as not to tempt people.” Attractiveness is not the issue. The question is more like, whether one could develop a virtuous way of seeing immodestly dressed people. I wouldn’t say that’s impossible. I also wouldn’t say that it’s easy.

        I’m also not sure it would be natural. Maybe we’re supposed to be aroused by scantily clad persons of the opposite sex. Are you suggesting that people should be able to dress as skimpily as they please without it being an occasion of sin for anyone?

        • May 16, 2013 7:05 am

          Well, maybe. But how would one go about it? What do you suggest?

          Depends on the individual and what’s happening internally when seeing someone attractive causes arousal. As a starting point, I would recommend treating arousal not as a problem but as a fact. Arousal happens. We’re sexual beings. The question is what we do with that arousal. Do we suppress it? Sublimate it? Get rid of it by masturbation? Note that each of these suggestions assumes that the arousal needs to be gotten rid of. And not without reason. Arousal can consume the thoughts and last for quite a while and be a difficult state to be in. And that’s why the development of virtue is so important. We can, I believe, learn to master arousal, not in the sense that it doesn’t happen at all, but in that it doesn’t bother us. It’s there but it doesn’t dominate the consciousness. You master arousal not by getting rid of it the moment it happens, but by accepting its presence, keeping calm, and carrying on. This takes will power. And practice.

          Being in a relationship also helps as it provides an object of focus for one’s sexual energies and desires.

  6. Thales permalink
    May 15, 2013 8:29 pm

    Huh? Prayer, being cheerful, and avoiding the near occasions of sin is bad advice and a recipe for disaster?

    But setting that aside, I’m right with Agellius. You’re not telling us what is better advice than Kralis’s advice. What exactly do you have in mind? What do you mean when you say that you should “be[] sexual”? What do you mean when you say that you should “exercise your sexuality”?

    • May 15, 2013 9:14 pm

      If taken as advice for sufficiently developing a mature sexuality, yes, they are very much bad counsel. They’re not enough, but they’re often treated as if they were. You can’t pray your way into purity, chastity, and modesty. Nor does avoidance of vice get you all the way to virtue. As virtues are habits of being, you have to practice them. That means you have to act with your passions and appetites in ways that are pure, modest, and chaste so you can form these habits. As I mentioned to Agellius above, one might practice “seeing” attractive people in a way that appreciates the attractiveness and respects the attraction and doesn’t objectify them. If you’re in a relationship, presumably you show some displays of affection. Generally these are good and can help couples learn to respect and appreciate one another, if they’re done with the right disposition. Sometimes, however, one needs to learn how to have the right disposition. That takes practice.

  7. Mark VA permalink
    May 15, 2013 8:51 pm

    Kyle R. Cupp wrote:

    “If you want to master your sexuality, then you have to exercise it. This is true whether or not you are waiting until marriage to have sex.”

    Kyle, may I respectfully recommend that before you offer any more of this kind of advise, especially on such an important and sensitive subject, you have a talk with your significant other. Whatever it is you’re trying to get across, is coming thru very confused.

    This is not how it should be presented, especially to the young people. I’m a mature person (well, at least chronologically), and I see several divergent directions one can take based on what you wrote so far. Please rethink this.

    • May 15, 2013 9:30 pm

      Exercising one’s sexuality involves much more than having sex or stimulating the sex organs. There’s a tendency to conflate these, which is part of the problem I’m trying to address. Acting as a sexual being doesn’t have to mean losing one’s virginity. If you’re trying to learn self-control and mastery of your desires so that you don’t go full lecherous with every sight of the opposite sex, then you’re acting as a sexual being.

      • Mark VA permalink
        May 15, 2013 10:01 pm

        Thank you, Kyle, this seems like a step in the right direction.

        Perhaps you will agree that this explanation is one of several that can be drawn from what you wrote.

      • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
        May 19, 2013 7:34 am

        Kyle,

        I didn’t think your post sound confused at all, contra Mark VA’s nervous comment. It sounds like a kind of real-world wisdom to me. Your response to Mark VA sounds more like the celibacy boilerplate that one heard from many priest types. It is not that such a rosy scenario couldn’t or never obtained, for sometimes it did. But as your post implies, for most people having a sane & and savvy way of handling one’s libido comes exactly through having non-guilty experience of the pleasure of one’s sexual
        organs. Honestly, does one need to say even that this is a lot more to it than that? But that amplitude is not on a continuum with the “I am celibate but still a sexual being” nonsense. Again, it is not that such could never obtain, but its likelihood is slim in a a mature, integrated way, given the very logic you outlined above. Ergo, the problems of the institutional priesthood, and, also ergo, the problems of the advice of those priests — like Theology of the Body- to those whose “vocation” does not include celibacy.

  8. May 15, 2013 10:01 pm

    I agree with much of what you stated above Kyle. But you seem to look at Kralis’ column negatively. While practicing seeing skin without ogling is good I also see virtue in girls/women dressing modestly for Today’s times (not necessarily as modest as Kralis specifies). Their is virtue in guys and gals practicing chastity before and during marriage. Seeing too much skin in certain bodily areas can bring temptation for guys when doing so outside of marriage. Women showing cleavage with part of their breasts may be considered appropriate by society today but that doesn’t mean persons seeing this without ogling or those partaking in this type of dress are necessarily mature. For Catholics/Christians who have been taught to be chaste and want to follow this, avoiding inappropriate risque dressing doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re immature. Actually I would say that that denotes maturity.

    • Jordan permalink
      May 17, 2013 10:09 am

      Teresa Rice [May 15, 2013 10:01 pm]: When the sartorial expectations of a few are forced on steadily increasing radii of a society, the urge is not to comply but disobey. Please, if you have not yet done so, read Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi. Through Nafisi’s work you will learn why Western dress, and in particular what you call “risque dressing”, have become symbols of the Iranian women’s social equality movement. Equality, in the eyes of moderate Iranian women, implies the liberty to show more than one’s hands and eyes in public. Must draconian hijab laws, not from the lips of the angel Gabriel but rather written into Islamic jurisprudence by the hands of men, result in women traveling to the opposite extreme of fashion to merely call attention to their public and social imprisonment?

      Don’t like the decolletage? Switch sidewalks. I would take longer routes home during the Montreal Pride Parade, so I wouldn’t be disgusted/aroused (English word?) by the gratitutious sexuality. Justification is a free gift. God won’t love anyone more than he already does through his superabundant grace. No amount of skin covering will get anyone more God.

      • May 17, 2013 12:51 pm

        Thank you for your thoughts on this subject. I am definitely interested in reading the book by Azar Nafisi. Thanks for the suggestion.

        “Equality, in the eyes of moderate Iranian women, implies the liberty to show more than one’s hands and eyes in public.”

        I do know that women in the Middle East look at how women dress in Western Society as examples for social equality. But I am wondering how wanting the right “to show more than one’s hands and eyes in public” leads to the extreme in vying for the right to to be “risque” or wear “risque” clothing. I believe there is a happy medium there. I believe there is extreme modesty and then there is extreme or provocative, overly sexy or risque dressing. I just think there is a moderate position here or common sense dressing where you respect both self and others.

        “Don’t like the decolletage? Switch sidewalks.” I agree. But I see no problem with promoting chastity and the wearing of modest clothing that is in between being overly modest and risque. I agree that God loves people who wear risque clothing and those who are modest, even those who go to the extreme, but people can be sensitive and respectful to themselves and others and consider what is appropriate to wear according to the occasion. The more risque someone dresses may bring more pressure and the occasion to sin.

        • Ronald King permalink
          May 17, 2013 1:55 pm

          Teresa, I may sound nuts when I say this, however, every sexual sin I committed was a blessing because through the sin I was able to learn from the other person that each of us were seeking to fill a void which was the result of our particular history of a lack of or a loss of love. After having that awareness I could not see them as objects again as I had previously no matter how they dressed. They were just as desperate as I.

  9. Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
    May 15, 2013 10:21 pm

    “You mature sexually by being sexual. Temperance takes practice.”

    Amen. Totally agree. But please note, nothing in the more uppity interpretation of catholicism allows for this. Sexual desire has its own self-limiting aspect, which the “averting the eyes” technique never is congruent with. It becomes obsessional, easily. Whereas, actually experiencing sex makes you realize the limits asap. This is not rocket science, but you wouldn’t know that from the “theology of the body”.

    Btw, isn’t “Christian Mingle” just the internet version of meeting hot girls in Church, which is why a lot of guys went to church in the first place. Duh! How were people supposed to meet before the internet??

    • May 16, 2013 6:43 am

      I’ve found church conducive to meeting girls ever since I became interested in meeting girls. Everyone looks nice. The parents assume you’re an upstanding citizen. Good opportunity to make a good first impression.

  10. Thales permalink
    May 15, 2013 11:08 pm

    Kyle,

    Your responses to Agellius and Mark and Teresa and myself clarify your position considerably. I agree with you entirely that seeing attractive people in a virtuous manner, or showing displays of affection with the right disposition, or learning self-control and mastery of one’s desires so that one doesn’t go full lecherous with every sight of the opposite sex, are all ideal ways of being a sexual being.

    It was just that your post wasn’t very clear that that was your position. Your post encourages people to “be sexual!” or “exercise your sexuality!” I would venture to say that most people don’t tend to think that encouragements to “be sexual” and “exercise your sexuality” mean “learn self-control and mastery of one’s desires.”

  11. dismasdolben permalink
    May 16, 2013 1:13 am

    It won’t make you pure or modest or chaste, even if you succeed at each one. You’ll have done nothing to master the sexual passions and appetites because you’ll have done nothing with your sexuality.You don’t learn to look without lechery merely by averting your eyes. You have to practice seeing attractive people in a way that respects them and respects the attraction.

    I want to compliment you on your deeper understanding of chastity than most of the other writers here, Kyle.

    And, for your carping critics, who apparently are taking what you’re saying in a way that demeans God’s creation and willfully stigmatizes innocent human sexuality, I’d suggest they take a look at THIS –which is as fully “sexual” as almost all of Gerard’s poetry is. Therein, Gerard is truly “doing” something “with his sexuality”!

  12. trellis smith permalink
    May 16, 2013 4:17 am

    Leering and lechery are cartoonish, hardly sexual and pretty bad techniques in any event as most adolescent boys find out.
    However, I learned something in Paris cafe culture about the art of people watching. Parisians look at you, they actually stare at you, they take you all in and make no apology for it. When I see someone of remarkable beauty that’s exactly what i want to do, i want to contemplate their loveliness. if that leads to a higher art of flirtation with furtive and stolen glances than all the better.
    I agree with Kyle all such advice to avoid one’s eyes, wear a burka and don’t have sex standing up as it might lead to dancing is puerile and puritanical and likely more obsessed with sex as a result. It teaches nothing about being virtuous and hasn’t a clue how to enjoy being a virtuous sexual being let alone act like one.

  13. David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
    May 16, 2013 5:58 am

    I was reading the comments last night when my wife asked what Kyle was writing about. When she got to the quote “a women’s husband is the only person who should see and receive the joy of her body” her immediate response was: “she want’s Christian women to wear burkas!” I think she is right. At the heart of purity culture is a profound dualism which treats male and female sexuality completely different. It enshrines male sexual immaturity (“boys will be boys” is the unspoken watchword even as it lays out certain rules of behavior) while insisting that women are either “sluts” or “pure vessels”. Neither men nor women are taught to be mature in their sexuality, but women bear the brunt of the punishment for both.

    • May 16, 2013 6:38 am

      That was my response to the quote as well, which is why I quoted it.

    • May 16, 2013 8:56 am

      Precisely, David. (And for this post, Kyle.)

      I’d add that in countering the dualism of those insisting that prayer, modesty, etc. are enough to develop the virtue of chastity we not accidentally engage in a dualism of our own. Prayer ought to be, and in fact, must be bodily. Thus the “being sexual” and practicing “seeing attractive people in a way that respects them and respects the attraction” ought itself to be an act of prayer.

  14. Joseph permalink
    May 16, 2013 7:24 am

    As it was in the beginning…. In my Mother’s day, 1930’s, she and her classmates were told by the Nuns to avoid wearing white as it will cause the man to think of bedsheets. The implication was that he was helpless. She was at fault for pointing him down the rabbit hole.

    • May 16, 2013 5:17 pm

      I shudder to think of the men at first communions and weddings…

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
      May 17, 2013 6:25 am

      These sentiments were mocked in the comic novel about life in Catholic Chicago: Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up? (You may supply for yourselves the advice to girls that led to this question.)

  15. Ronald King permalink
    May 16, 2013 9:45 am

    It appears to me that chastity is shame based(fearful) control, denial and isolation for one side and for the other side it is about openness, communication and building trust. This applies to all areas of being human. It is facing the world with a false self versus risking oneself through the expression of the vulnerable self. It is early in life where we learn which one is going to be accepted. Consequently, we hide from each other and ourselves the passion of being vulnerable and it is replaced with the passion to be protected and safe.

    • dismasdolben permalink
      May 16, 2013 7:37 pm

      God bless you for your always acute and insightful observations of what is actually motivating people here. (And did you see Trellismith calling Hopkins’ verse “leering”?!–Unbelievable, but I’ve seen British and American literary critics who despise Roman Catholicism do the same thing.)

      • trellis smith permalink
        May 17, 2013 1:24 am

        @dismasdolben I was not responding to your post as I hadn’t seen it when I wrote and generally admire Hopkins. I was responding to the puritanical not the pure
        To retire a quibble on chastity as I think there is a misunderstanding. My effective understanding of church teaching is that for all unmarried couples chastity requires celibacy.
        As gay couples cannot marry they must remain in a life long celibate state to be chaste. The church sees the evangelical counsels of poverty, obedience and chastity as heroic virtures freely chosen and proper to the religious life to which gay or straight arel called. Gay couples are not called to this life yet the church imposes this heroic virture of chastity upon them requiring a celibate state.to which they are not called.

        • dismasdolben permalink
          May 17, 2013 12:12 pm

          they must remain in a life long celibate state to be chaste.

          That is illogical because it is contrary to the actual meaning of the spiritual virtue, and, if that is what the Church is requiring, then the Church is being illogical. I have no difficulty saying that.

  16. Commoner permalink
    May 17, 2013 8:05 am

    When I was in college (one of those very small, very conservative Catholic liberal arts colleges), one of my closest girlfriends told me her she and her fiance couldn’t go to the beach because of all the women in bikinis. It was too much of a temptation for him.

    I was horrified. Having spent my very early years on one of Florida’s most beautiful stretches of beach and having loved every minute of it, I simply could not imagine marrying a man who couldn’t handle being at the beach.

    But what horrified me far more was the thought of marrying a man who could not handle seeing other women in bikinis without getting (apparently) so aroused that he would commit a sin over it.

    I couldn’t really articulate at the time why this bothered me so much, but you have stated it quite well. I couldn’t bear the thought of being with a man so uncomfortable with–or so not in control of–his own sexuality. Men get aroused. I like that aspect of male sexuality, quite frankly. I love that my husband gets aroused by me; the same biological factors that make him so easily aroused by me also mean he will, without any action on his own part, at some time likely be aroused by other attractive women. I trust him not to purposely allow himself to stay aroused by the sight of beautiful women in bikinis. He is very comfortable with his own sexuality, doesn’t beat himself up for natural bodily responses, and would not do anything to purposely get or stay aroused by somebody other than myself.

    He is what I would consider to be a very sexually mature male. Not perfect, by any means, but definitely able to handle his own sexuality without beating himself up over it. I respect and admire this about him, as I am sure it is probably not an easy journey to get to this point as a male.

    We were both virgins at marriage, are best of friends, and have been married for over 20 years now. All in all, it’s been a very good life.

    My friend is still married, too. But she definitely doesn’t have the kind of relationship with her husband that I consider ideal in any way, shape, or form. They’re surviving, though, which is more than most people can say these days.

    I despise the madonna/whore aspect of so much of the modesty/purity movement, but I have to say I believe the same movement is also very disrespectful of male sexuality. The assumption that men can’t learn to have some sexual mastery demeans men. They are more than just animals.

    • dismasdolben permalink
      May 17, 2013 12:15 pm

      Bless you for saying this, and bless your beautiful husband, too!

  17. Ronald King permalink
    May 17, 2013 9:40 am

    Dismas, when I first met my spouse I was 27 and we met at a dinner for the South Hills Health System in Pittsburgh. It was a bunch of psychiatrists, psychologists, administrators, social workers and counselors. Someone introduced me to her and I could not speak, all I could do was stand there in a catatonic state in awe of her beauty. To this day 39 years later she does not remember meeting me at that event. I could not summon the courage to speak to her, I was not worthy. Six months later I met her again at a picnic with the same organization. She was across the volleyball net from me and smiled at me. I froze. When she was walking towards the parking lot I thought she was leaving and I was not going to let this moment pass without making a pass. I screamed, “Hey, will you go out with me!” since I did not know her name. People were laughing and screaming at me, “King you dumba## go talk to her!” The rest is history. What I remember is that it was not lust which drew me to her it was an attraction to her beauty both external and internal. It was the purity of the hardwiring instilled into my creation which drove me to the point of losing my “dignity” to pursue the creation who surpassed and overwhelmed any expectations I had for myself. Of course, lust came later only to add to the passion which was already there.

    • dismasdolben permalink
      May 17, 2013 12:16 pm

      Nice, really, really nice!

  18. May 17, 2013 4:08 pm

    That didn’t sound nuts, Ronald. We humans tend to learn quite a bit from our failings – sins – and mistakes. It is a blessing when God makes good come from something that was bad.

    • trellis smith permalink
      May 18, 2013 10:55 am

      Huh?

      • Mark VA permalink
        May 19, 2013 5:10 am

        Trellis:

        There is an old folk wisdom proverb:

        “God can write straight with crooked lines”.

        Teresa has made a good point.

        • trellis smith permalink
          May 20, 2013 12:44 am

          I get the concept but not the relevance

      • Andrew permalink
        May 19, 2013 4:44 pm

        Correct me if I am wrong, but it may be that Trellis’ confusion stems from the fact that Teresa’s [May 17 2013 4:08 pm] comment appears (due to formatting) to be in response to Ronald’s [May 17, 2013 9:40 am] comment, instead of to his [May 17, 2013 1:55 pm] comment, where it makes perfect sense as a reply.

        (If THAT made any sense!)

        • trellis smith permalink
          May 20, 2013 12:57 am

          Thanks for the clarification

  19. May 18, 2013 4:16 pm

    Marc Barnes recently wrote a three-part series (the second one is fantastic) on this very issue. Consider reading it.

  20. Agellius permalink
    May 20, 2013 1:55 pm

    Kyle:

    You seem to be saying that rather than address the external causes of lustful thoughts and occasions of sin, we should deal with them internally. Basically, a mature and healthy person should be able to encounter skimpily clad persons of the opposite sex without any problem.

    And so I repeat my question, which you haven’t answered: Do you feel we should have the right to dress as skimpily as we please and expect it never to be an occasion of sin to anyone?

    But suppose some of us are not as mature and healthy as that requires (or as some would put it, we’re “fallen”). What of them?

    If you have reached such a point of health and maturity that you could see women walking around in bikinis every day at school, work and church, “accept” the resulting arousal, and process it and file it away in a calm and disinterested manner, good for you. But what about those who haven’t?

    How long does it takes to attain that level of enlightenment? Suppose it takes 10 years on average? Is it prudent and charitable to expect a person to endure 10 years worth of occasions of sin? Do we not owe our weaker brothers and sisters some consideration?

    St. Paul wrote that we of strong faith know that an idol is nothing, so there is no harm in eating meat sacrificed to an idol. But what of those who are weak in faith? Should we just chow down on our
    sacrificed meat and if anyone is scandalized, that’s his problem?

    “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge.” (1 Cor. 8)

    “We know that ‘We all possess knowledge.’ But knowledge puffs up while love builds up.” (1 Cor. 8:1)

    • May 20, 2013 2:22 pm

      No. There’s a place for both, although I think most of the attention should be paid to building virtue. Of course, part of being virtuous is thinking about how one’s appearance and deeds will affect others. On the other hand, literally anything can be an occasion for sin, and you can’t go through life worried that you might be tempting someone somewhere.

      Do you feel we should have the right to dress as skimpily as we please and expect it never to be an occasion of sin to anyone?

      No and no. However, the fact that your dressing in a particular way may be an occasion of sin for someone is not, I think, sufficient reason not to dress in that way. Prudence comes into play here.

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