Wow, the Christian internets are on fire right now with women discussing bikinis. (Does this happen every summer, or is this summer different? I’ve never noticed this before, or at least not at this volume.) There are women arguing that the bikini is inherently immodest, and those arguing that it is not. As for me, I am not a woman and so I don’t feel I should get into that part of it at all. I think it would be wrong for me to jump in and act as though I somehow had some ground to speak from. Each of the two links above present their sides very well, so feel free to look into those and come to your own conclusion.
What I can speak to, however, is the men.
Men, let the women argue about if the bikini is okay or not. Because you and I, we have something we need to talk about.
It seems to be taken for granted by both women and men, on both sides of this argument, that men are nothing but hopeless sex addicts. Perhaps it is no surprise that this is the culture that we have, for it is how we have raised our boys. We perpetuate the long-held myth that men think about sex every 6 seconds. Every TV sitcom at some point tells us that men want sex far more than women do, and that if they don’t there is something wrong with them. We tell young men that they need to have condoms handy because it’s just “unrealistic” to expect them to keep it in their pants as hormone-raging teenagers. And our young men overhear us teaching young ladies that their immodesty is what leads to rape or objectification of women or lust. Evolutionists agree, telling us that men are evolved to spread their seed as widely as possible, so once we see an attractive woman our response is nearly uncontrollable—so much so that some even recommend adultery or “open” relationships.
That’s what our culture teaches. Men are basically one slight step above animals in heat, unable to control ourselves. We can’t say “No,” so it is the woman’s fault if we have lustful thoughts. And this is not a new thought: it has been used as an argument against women for centuries.
This view—that men can be “forced” into lust by others and that, therefore, it is the woman’s fault—is both insulting to men and very unbiblical.
It is of course true that a woman is responsible for being modest—but not for the reasons given on either side of this bikini debate. A woman is responsible for being modest because immodesty is a sin. Not because of what it might create in others. (And again, I will let the women decide whether the bikini counts as immodesty or not—this is not my topic here, so no comments about that!)
A woman is responsible for modesty in and of itself, regardless of whether that does or does not inspire lust in men. Men are responsible for our own lust. (And vice-versa, by the way: men are responsible for modesty as well, and women are responsible for controlling their own lusts.)
I wrote about this topic over four years ago, and again two years ago, and tangentially this year...so I guess this will just become a recurring odd-numbered-year topic. As I have said before, there is absolutely no logic in the “women dressing like skanks caused me to lust” excuse: if an ugly woman dressed immodestly and you are not turned on did she not sin? Or if an attractive woman dresses in a burka and you still lust, is she now guilty of sin?
Men: we are responsible for the sin of lust when it happens in our hearts. Not women. I don’t care if the hottest woman in the world parades around nude, you are responsible for not lusting. If you sin, it is your fault, not hers. She will be held accountable for whether or not she was trying to be seductive or immodest…but that is between her and God. Your lust is your own sin, and your own responsibility—she is not forcing you into anything.
Jesus said that it was our responsibility to avoid lust, even taking drastic methods if possible—He did not blame it on the woman (Mt 5:27-29). Paul said that lust was part of our earthly nature, to be crucified along with other evil desires (Col 3:4-6). Paul also said that we are responsible for controlling our sensual desires (1Thes 4:4-6). Peter says that lust is a lifestyle we choose, just as the pagans do (1Pet 4:2-4). And we see this principle throughout Scripture in the Old Testament as well. Eli’s sons are responsible for the own lust (1Sam 2:22-24); Solomon is the one blamed for being led astray by his lust for women (1Kng 11:1-3); and it is not Esther who is sinning just because she was dressed in a way which the king found provocative—she is not said to have done any evil by not choosing death instead of the primping of the harem. In none of these situations is the woman and her dress blamed for the man’s lust. Indeed, the Bible talks much more to men about controlling their lust than it does to women about how they dress.
Furthermore, this “women’s immodesty made me lust” concept frankly does not fit real life—at least not in my experience. I cannot speak for all men, but I can speak to my experience as a man who lusted a lot as a teenager and who (thanks be to God!) has grown to be able to control lust much more effectively. I have found that in my life, it is not always the most provocatively dressed person who inspired lust in my heart. I have been on beaches in Europe and seen women topless and been completely un-lustful, yet seen women walking down the street in a full-length business suit and had to battle lust.
Why? Because the sin of lust is not theirs, but mine. When my heart is wrong, my flesh will find a reason to lust and when my heart is right I am immune to it. I am not absolved from guilt even in the slightest—nor can I blame women—because of seeing an opportunity to sin: the sin of lust only happens when I choose to dwell on it and/or act on it.
Consider any other sin, and ask yourself if this argument holds water. If I walk in a restaurant and see a wine list, is the restaurateur guilty for my alcoholism? If I drive down the street and see an attractive home, is the homeowner guilty of making me covetous, because he has fresh paint and a nice lawn? If I really want a Viper, is Dodge guilty for making me materialistic? If I embezzle money from the company, is the company guilty for not having appropriate controls in place? If I punch someone in anger, is it really their fault for having such an obnoxious face?
Of course not. Sin bubbles up out of the place of our hearts: when we get our hearts right, the self-control follows. As such, the sin of lust is independent of the temptations presented us. We are responsible for our own actions.
Men, you cannot help that you will see something which causes a sexual thought to occur. That will happen from time to time. And it’s not just recent either: it has happened in every generation of history, no matter what the standards of dress were. Even the Egyptian kings found aging Sarai attractive and lusted—and she would have been wearing robes, while most Egyptian women at the time wore makeup and were often topless. Lust is about the condition of the luster’s heart, not about the things his or her eyes see.
However, you can train your brain to not lust. The brain is not something that you just receive and it works as a meat-machine independent of our willpower. Neurology has shown us that our brains rewire constantly based on our focus and desire—that quite literally, your actions can rewire your brain to avoid lust. Indeed, the secular site, www.yourbrainonporn.com is dedicated to teaching people to do exactly that: to “reboot” your brain and free you from porn addiction. And they have had wonderful success with many men, and are recommended by pastors from time to time to help with people in their congregations. Because it is controllable—despite what modern society wants us to believe.
Women: continue to debate whether or not bikinis are immodest. Modesty is important, and I hope you can all come to an agreement. But please leave out the argument about “inspiring men to lust”—this is an argument which causes great harm, for it lets men think that they are somehow off the hook for their own sinfulness. Whether or not bikinis (or one-pieces, or dresses, or pants, or makeup, or jewelry, or whatever) are modest needs to be debated without this falsely low expectation of men.
Men: do not allow our culture to continue to tell us that we are mere machines, animals incapable of controlling our lustful thoughts. Do not give in to the misogyny of low expectations which says that rape and lust and treating women like objects are the fault of the women. They aren't. It is your fault if you do such things. Just as you can condition your mind to exhibit the other fruits of the Spirit (love, peace, patience, etc.), you also can condition your mind to exhibit self-control. God will help you do so. But the first step to recovery, men, is admitting you have a problem. So stop blaming the women and embrace lust as primarily your problem.