Worthwhile Reads: The “Modesty Doctrine” Hurts Men Too

From time to time, I plan to point my blog readers to articles on other blogs that I find especially good. I’m really grateful to my blogging friend Sierra for writing excellent pieces on the problem with what she calls “the modesty doctrine.”

Just today Sierra posted an amazing article called “How the Modesty Doctrine Hurts Men Too.” I highly recommend you take a look, she’s spot on.

Sierra previously wrote an excellent piece on how the modesty doctrine affected her own life. For that, click here. You won’t be sorry, I promise.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Henry

    This might sound cheesy, but it’s nice to read an article like this and realise I’m not the only one. Whilst not bought up in an overtly religous family, the emphasis on modesty and of sex being “dirty” has thoroughly buggered me.

    “He went stiff as a board and tried to brush her off as politely as he could. Perplexed, she asked whether he might be gay. He related this story in helpless frustration.”

    ^This is incredibly true.
    Last year on a lads night out we moved to what I thought at the time was just another bar. I quickly realised it was a strip joint, froze, panicked and ran away. Next morning I got all the “It’s OK if your gay” stuff.
    Not being religious, it’s tough to work out why this way of thinking still persists for me.

    • Otrame

      Henry, it depends on the reason you were freaked. Not all straight men find the setting of a strip bar exciting, or even bearable. But if you feel that way about women and sex in general, I honestly thing some time with a therapist is in order. At the least, a therapist can help you work through what is causing the reaction. We all have these little “glitches” about one thing or another, but if it seriously effects your life, then you might need help sorting it out.

      Oh, and well done you for having friends who (however mistaken they may be) are willing to accept you whether you are gay or not.

  • RW Ahrens

    Damn, that’s intense.

    I grew up in a liberal congregation of the First Christian Church. We weren’t exposed to any of this, at least not to this extent. Modesty WAS taught, but only as to an avoidance of pre-marital sex, and wasn’t pounded into us as sex being inherently sinful to that extent.

    Hell, I was nervous as a cat on a hot tin roof around girls anyway as an adolescent and sure as hell didn’t need anything like this twisting things up worse! I would have turned out a basket case for sure!

    Thanks for the reference, that was a really interesting post.

  • lordshipmayhem

    It is my hypothesis that parents who raise their kids with this level of feelings of discomfort about their own bodies have themselves been raised with a sense of body shame.

    That this does harm to the kids surprises me not at all.

    Sociology studies have been done on the attitudes and behaviours of children raised in naturist (nudist, if you prefer) homes versus those raised in “textile” homes. They indicate children raised in the naturist environment grow up having a higher level of self-confidence and understanding about their own sexuality. Daughters of naturist parents tend to not freak out at onset of menses, or at least at lower rates than the daughters of Textile parents. First sexual experience for both genders happens later than Textile kids, which means the individuals are more mature, more likely to use birth control, have fewer partners, fewer incidents of sexually transmitted disease, fewer incidents of teen pregnancy, and a more satisfying first experience.

    I cannot see the Quiverful movement ever advocating naturism. There are plenty of Christians who do, some of them quite socially conservative, but they still believe in teaching their kids a different concept of “respect your body” and “be modest” than that of their Dominionist/Quiverful compatriots.

  • Judy L.

    I’ve always found it deeply offensive that religions always shoulder women with the ‘modesty’ and the responsibility for men’s behaviour. It’s a consistent feature of Patriarchal cultures that only men’s sexuality, their desires and their gaze, is recognized at all. It’s a devastating paradox that women are viewed as seductresses, but apparently not because of their own desires (the only desires a woman is supposed to have is to submit to her husband and be a brood mare, and if she’s being sexually aggressive she must be giving in to demons or something). Men are expected to resist temptation, but they aren’t expected to cover their bodies or their hair or faces in order to prevent tempting women.

    • ‘Tis Himself, OM

      I really wonder if the Modesty Doctrine is endorsed by certain church leaders in order to excuse their own infidelities. “It’s the woman’s fault, she seduced me with her immodesty.”

  • Mr.Kosta

    Well, I went through this “girls are icky” phase… when I was 5 years old. It baffles me how adult, supposedly madure men are so afraid of what they lust after.

  • Mr.Kosta

    mature men*

    Damn typos.

  • Henry

    Baffles me too …. believe me, it’s a head trip.

    Cheers Otrame, though the strip club was kind of an extreme example, I can completely relate to the chap in the linked article finding the attention uncomfortable.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=153100784 michaelbrew

    There’s a guy like that in my company. 30+ years old and has never had sex. Ironically, he’s also the only guy in our company who got caught spanking it while looking at porn. Funny enough, the rest of us just see it as funny/embarrassing the way we would if a guy ripped a super loud fart in the car, but he seems to view it like getting caught in the act of murder or something. I should also note he’s the only guy in my unit who regularly feels the urge to confront me on my being an atheist, so it’s definitely the Fundamentalist influence.

  • http://pervasivegoodness.com Donovanable

    I’m glad you posted these links. I’d seen the second one (Sierra’s personal experience with modesty doctrine), but both were worth (re)reading.
    I lived in a house with a modesty doctrine that was not particularly religious, but definitely stressed dressing and behaving with serious attention to the “messages I was sending”. It can make finding an outfit a fairly stressful endeavor, even today.

  • Ysanne

    What really bothers me are the comments of some modest readers at the end of the second piece. “This is extreme, but being modest and not displaying yourself is good…” apologies on end.

  • Tony

    Libby Anne (do you prefer to be called Libby Anne, or is Libby ok? This question is predicated on the-perhaps incorrect-assumption that ‘Anne’ is not your last name.):

    From time to time, I plan to point my blog readers to articles on other blogs that I find especially good.

    -Given the high marks I give Sierra for her blog post, I recommend you upgrade ‘especially good’ to ‘brilliant’. I had a faint idea of what the ‘modesty doctrine’ referred to; after reading her post, I feel I have a much better idea. I’ve definitely seen and/or experienced some of what she talks about. I’ve, unfortunately seen far too many examples of the ways the modesty doctrine hurts women. I live in Pensacola, Florida and we have Pensacola Christian College here. Seeing young girls clothed in the most generic attire saddens me. I know it’s an attempt to squelch individuality and force them to conform. I’ve imagined speaking to the president of the college and questioning the homogeneous attire of the women (the men too, for that matter). Who is the victim is a girl chooses to wear jeans instead of the bland dress? Why is the dress color so dull? Why are these young women and men not allowed to dress in suitable clothing that they choose? It would be awesome for the president to own up and admit the young women wear dull clothes so they aren’t as enticing to the young men. I don’t think I can hold my breath that long though.

    • Coph

      Oh, my. I used to live in Pensacola, and had a really good friend who went to Pensacola Christian College. She wasn’t allowed to wear pants even away from the campus, and doing so much as hand-holding with anyone was grounds for administrative intervention. Talking to a member of the opposite sex had to be done in the presence of witnesses. But at the time, it didn’t sound that extreme, being that my family was part of an evangelical home-church. Eventually, I left Florida, and in time, found a good guy who’s been helping me past the stumbling blocks laid out for me by that type of religious indoctrination.

    • Libby Anne

      No, Anne is not my last name, and I go by either “Libby” or “Libby Anne,” so call me whichever. :-)

  • kisekileia

    That was an excellent post. I recognize my own experience in it, to an extent that surprises me given that I never identified as fundamentalist. I definitely believed, for most of my teenage years, that almost any sexual thought or expression before marriage was a sin. The effects on me, and on the others I knew who believed similar things, were extremely negative.

    I’ve touched on this before at Libby’s old site–the dynamic michaelbrew describes is very very familiar to me. I definitely have found that guys who hold extremely puritanical beliefs about sex are prone to losing sexual self-control in ways that harm themselves or others. I think there are multiple reasons for this.

    One is that constantly focusing on not thinking about or having sex actually makes you obsess about sex. It’s like this: if you consciously try to not think about pink elephants, you will think about pink elephants. But in the course of your daily life, you rarely think about pink elephants, because you’re not trying not to.

    Another reason, I believe, is that when people think all sexual thoughts and actions are harmful, they lose (or never gain) the ability to distinguish which ones are actually harmful and which are not. If one thinks that hitting on anyone is wrong, hitting on a 20-year-old and hitting on a 14-year-old don’t necessarily seem that different. When someone like this loses control and gives in to temptation, they may end up engaging in seriously harmful and aberrant sexual behaviour because they can’t differentiate between sexual indulgence that doesn’t hurt people and sexual indulgence that does.

    A third is that believing something is almost impossible makes that thing much harder. If a guy believes that not thinking lewd thoughts about women he interacts with on a day-to-day basis is supposed to be an incredibly difficult uphill battle, it will be an incredibly difficult uphill battle for him. If a guy realizes that while some attraction to women is normal and healthy, it’s really not that hard to look at a woman’s face rather than her breasts, he’s likely to be able to see a woman, feel attraction to her, and nonetheless decide to look at her face rather than her breasts.

    I think cognitive-behavioural therapy techniques used to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder are instructive about this topic. My understanding is that if you have OCD, your therapist generally won’t tell you to desperately try to resist the obsessions and compulsions and constantly focus on avoiding them. Your therapist will more likely tell you to accept the thoughts, sit with them, and realize that just because you’re having a compulsive thought doesn’t mean you have to act on it. And that actually helps reduce the compulsion, because OCD is driven by fear.

    I have found in my own life that attempting to avoid all sexual thoughts and feelings can actually cause clinically diagnosed obsessive-compulsive disorder, and I really doubt I’m the only one who’s experienced this. When I adopted more liberal views about sex, the OCD sexual thoughts pretty much went away on their own, because I wasn’t as afraid of them anymore. Changing my beliefs did more for me than meds did. I think if a religious belief actually causes mental illness, that’s a pretty good clue that it’s toxic.

    • ScottInOH

      This is great, kisekileia, and paragraph that begins, “Another reason,” is brilliant. So many sexual conservatives (if that’s the term for them) seem completely incapable of any nuance when thinking about sex. Santorum can’t tell the difference between a gay relationship and beastiality. The Catholic Church can’t tell the difference between consensual adultery and child molestation (heck, they seem more upset about the former than the latter). When they think about women, they see only virgins and sluts, and the latter have no right to decline to have sex. It’s crazy and harmful, and I think you point out at least part of the root of it.

      • kisekileia

        Thanks! I think the points I mentioned also contribute to such a high proportion of American politicians and pastors who have sex scandals being social conservatives.


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