LOOK BUT… ACTUALLY, DON’T EVEN LOOK!

Who am I to give advice?? Well, I’m a married 30-year old chap which, in CCB’s evening congregation, pretty much puts me among the wise old heads. What’s more – I am someone who has by necessity put a long time and a substantial amount of effort into figuring out quite how it works being a man of God in a culture redolent with female flesh. In short; I, like so many others I’m sure, for a long time felt guilty about EVERYTHING and thus gave up on myself as a hopeless case, becoming a guilty prisoner to lust in all its myriad forms. I so wish someone had given me some honest-to-goodness decent advice on the issue. As it was, I felt so alone and helpless that I felt sure there was a demonic element in my inability to remain oblivious to the feminine allure as revealed around us in a thousand daily forms. I honestly believed I was possessed… turns out I was simply male.

So – first and foremost – as a heterosexual youngish man in the West, let me make clear that of which I am convinced: you can not and, barring some special gifting I am yet to encounter, will not remain oblivious to the physical charms of the fairer species. We are not wired that way. Of all God’s beautiful creation, the part of it we are most likely to appreciate is the female form. God intended and created it thus.  

And yet… whilst that realisation should serve as something of a relief, I’m afraid that’s as far as the allowance goes. We are fallen creatures in a fallen world. What’s more, due to the particular and extreme manifestations of sexual sin in our particular culture, we have each been further damaged by a visual and anecdotal over-familiarity with that which should have been kept hidden until marriage; female nudity and sexual behaviour, down to the act itself and beyond. We are therefore not to be trusted when it comes to keeping such observations of women sexless and pure. Anything beyond that initial recognition has to be subject to the greatest self-control and, in the case of the married man and the random stranger, ruled out entirely. In fact, the initial recognition must serve as our alarm bell. To let our eyes drift downwards at that point – not cool. To store the image for later lustful access – not cool. To later click through internet sites pursuing other such fine specimens of the gender – not cool.

Perks and others refer to this as the ‘second look’ approach, meaning that, whilst we may not be able to help the first glance we stumble upon, we very much stand accountable in going back for a second lingering helping. In simple terms, she isn’t yours. She is, in all probability, somebody else’s – or will be. In implicating her in your adultery (going by Jesus’s definition of the term) you are dishonouring her and the man she goes home to. As an engaged ‘semi-Christian’ I caused my wife-to-be a great deal of hurt, and effectively held up our wedding by a year, in admitting the mess I had become on this issue. I’ll say it again – I felt guilty for everything, including my being tempted in the first place. I therefore gave up on myself and ended up no longer trying. I hate to think of it – I was a secretive furtive pervert increasingly unable to look the girl I loved in the eye. There was a way out of the black hole – through honest communication, repentance and discipline that the world deems unfashionable and unnecessary. But the trap is always only one step backwards and I truly want Christian brothers to be ruthless with themselves in ensuring they do better.

There’s plenty I don’t know. If I was a single man reading this I’d be thinking that it’s all very well for me to write this knowing I share a bed with a beautiful woman – but how exactly are the unmarried meant to get relief? Truth is I don’t really know what to advise so I won’t claim otherwise. However, I do know that we must be distinctive and we must haul ourselves out of the gutter – the church is full of ineffective men rendered so because they are in chains of guilt and secrecy over lust. The answer is not to legitimise lust, but to hold one another to account. And by looking a woman in the eyes rather than anywhere else we will make ourselves so distinctive – we’ll be saying we value them for something more than what they offer sexually. As a teacher of teenagers I can assure you that will be different and valuable. As I’ve stated before, we are raising a generation of boys who routinely have hardcore degrading sex on their mobile phones from the age of 13 and they struggle to see girls in any other light. We must, for their sakes and our own, be different.

PS I was going to write about masturbation but the Lord stayed my hand. Ho ho…

PPS Any girls reading this – sorry… but I bet you read to the end!

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14 comments so far

  1. Tom Stanbury on

    Last week in the office we had ‘it is ok to look but not touch’ conversation.
    Lots of non-christian men have this attitude, how do we use such a conversation? It is hard not sound morally judgemental and in a sense how is the unbeliever going to understand the demands of Christ without knowing his love.
    But would be interested to hear if anyone has ideas of how to bring Christ to such a conversation.

  2. Phil C on

    Christ gives us a completely different mindset – so we’re not looking for the bare minimum that we can do for Christ, but looking to live wholeheartedly for him, and to enjoy life to the full as a result. That’s a hard thing to convey…

    This approach might be one that suits me more than other people, but I’d try asking them why they think “just looking” is fine. They will enjoy their own relationships/marriages more if they focus exclusively on their girlfriend/wife. Think of a strict Muslim country where you wouldn’t see any women unless you are in a relationship with them – wouldn’t that be positive for your relationship with them, rather than negative? Imagine how much more attracted you would be to your wife if she’s the only available object of your attraction!

    That would be an interesting conversation. The next step in the conversation would probably be that lust is inevitable, or that it’s even psychologically harmful to “suppress” it. We can appreciate the sentiment behind that statement – and then we have the opportunity to point to Christ and how he helps us live for other things.

  3. Phil C on

    Sorry, my post wasn’t quite clear – when I wrote “Think of a strict Muslim country where you wouldn’t see any women unless you are in a relationship with them – wouldn’t that be positive for your relationship with them, rather than negative?”, I meant it would be positive for your relationship with your partner/wife specifically!

  4. Tom Stanbury on

    Phil,

    A really constructive post. It is a topic that consistently comes up in conversation with male colleagues and friends. I am aware I have often moralised and not brought Christ to the discussion.
    It crushes me the way I hear some friends talk/refer to women when their wives/girlfriends are not around. I am sure God can use our conversations with this subject matter.

    Tom

  5. Phil C on

    It’s hard…people are used to ignoring moral questions but take it seriously if they think they are not living life to the full (horrible phrase, but anyway). It reminds me of CS Lewis’s point that our desires are not too strong, but too weak – we are satisfied with the piddling satisfactions of lust and junk food rather than working hard for the greater pleasures of good relationships and, ultimately, knowledge of God.

    Part of it is also that we’ve lost the ability to speak seriously about these things…people just get embarrassed.

  6. enraged RS teacher on

    “Think of a strict Muslim country where you wouldn’t see any women unless you are in a relationship with them – wouldn’t that be positive for your relationship with them, rather than negative?”
    huh?? are you serious that you can’t see a woman as another human being created equally to you by God? do you in any way really think that the subjugation of women in ‘strict Muslim countries’ could be ‘positive’??? God created two parts to humanity -you are just reinforcing the worldly view of a male-dominated society that women exist as objects of your attention!

  7. Phil C on

    Enraged RS teacher: please read my whole comment in context, including the comment to which I am responding, and then the following comment which clarifies it. I think it’s clear I’m playing devil’s advocate, using a thought experiment to get people to think in a different way about both their own attitudes and what the Christian life involves.

    Sorry, I guess this is the danger of writing rather than speaking…it’s harder to discern nuance when it’s just text.

  8. Ed Drew on

    I have been particularly “struck” this week by a Marks and Spencers advert that only features a filled bra. (I can’t bring myself to type alternatives to this rather perculiar expression). I have been surprised that M&S would choose this marketing policy. Presumably this advert wouldn’t make a woman go out to M&S for a bra would it? So is its sole purpose to make men lust? I’m guessing that M&S think its “naughty but nice”, sort of bawdy, end of the pier entertainment. And you know, bill boards are huge. You are confronted by a very large bra, and no face, no body, nothing. So what do we conclude? If a pillar of middle class, high brow shopping thinks it is acceptable to advertise in this way, then that must the norm. That must be what our culture has decided is absolutely right and acceptable. I don’t want any child of mine seeing it. I don’t want me seeing it. What does the rest of the male world think? Can they really look at this advert and pretend it has no effect on them?
    I complained to the advertising thingy. I felt like Mary Whitehouse but decided I couldn’t ponder and rant without actually doing something. But I found it very hard to justify my complaint. What should I say, “This advert makes me my perversion worse”, or “I can’t be trusted with this advert”?

  9. andybeingachristian on

    If I may mediate between RS Teacher and Phil… I can testify that he has no desire for us to adopt Islamic dress codes! The supposition I think is – imagine if the only female body we saw was that of our wife – how much more we’d appreciate it! We can learn from that idea wthout actually seeking to impose it. That said… whilst a veil and baggy sheet may be excessive, Christian women can certainly help men out in their weakness by choosing not to dress provocatively. More so we can help ourselves by not watching late night Channel 5 and reading Zoo!

    PS Ed, I’m in full agreement. I’m astonished there hasn’t been more of a fuss – there would have been a few years back. There’s a bench at the end of my road directly facing one of these posters – it’s quite surreal to watch the old guys who sit there drinking of an evening taking in the view…

  10. enraged RS teacher on

    Well I can see what you are saying Phil, but my point was that as Christians we should have the mind of Christ, who saw all people, female and male, as loved and valued children of God. I think you are being sucked in to male objectification of women!
    Surely what we should be focusing on is becoming able to look at people with love and not as objects of our gratifiction. But perhaps you think that women don’t lust anyway..
    I’d love to hear Christian guys at work speaking out against the prevailing culture…!

  11. Phil C on

    I agree with you absolutely (except for the point about me being sucked into objectifying women!).

    Tom’s question was how we “speak out against the prevailing culture” in a way that doesn’t sound judgemental. So I suggested an approach begins by raising doubts about their assumptions, before proclaiming the way things are/should be.

  12. Tom Stanbury on

    Ed- the phrase you were looking for is she has ‘big cans’.

  13. Tom Stanbury on

    On a serious note. This very advert came up in a car journey whilst passing. Apparently they belong to Claude Makelele’s girlfriend. I didn’t think that was correct. But that is beside the point.

    This leads me back to my first point, ao during the journey I couldn’t say anything of value other than agree they were big. I don’t think showing moral outrage would have been helpful or going on about how 10 years ago M & S would never have shown big breasts on a billboard.

    We all have moments like this with friends work colleagues or even passers by and I don’t think we as christian men have worked out anything intelligible to say when confronted by a large pair of breasts on a billboard.

  14. mollified RS teacher on

    Right.
    ps the big breasts are relevant to the M&S ad – they’re reducing prices for big bras!
    I guess the ideal would be to look without lust… or is that being impossibly idealistic?


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