Excuse Me, Sir — Your Sex Drive Is Showing

Excuse me, sir. Your sex driveis showing.

A guy once gently chastised me for showing him a picture of women in 1940’s swimsuits. Their bare legs were showing, and he needed to avert his eyes. I was shocked. They were legs! Everybody has legs. What’s sexual about legs?

It’s taken me several years to process why that encounter made me feel disturbed, uncomfortable, and a little grossed out: his sex drive was showing, and I was supposed to be okay with it.

During those several years, I discovered porn was a thing even among men I loved and trusted. I learned 1 in 4 girls are sexually assaulted, that I knew many of them, and that the most unlikely men (and boys) could be the perpetrators — and I knew those men too. Those personal experiences triggered memories of Christian anecdotes I read: For Women Only retold how a man came upon a napping woman, caught a glimpse of her underwear, and (helplessly, it seemed) went into dark, inappropriate places in his mind. “What Guys Think About Modesty” proclaimed that the temptation to lust never stops and that “this is not an aberration, this is the norm.” And there were various personal testimonies of men who couldn’t hold a conversation with a woman if her cleavage was showing.

I projected this male “norm” onto all of my guy friends. When they complimented my outfit, I thought, “Great, I must look like a slut.” When they told me I was beautiful, I checked to make sure their gaze hadn’t wandered to my breasts. Whenever a guy looked into my eyes as we discussed some asexual, academic thing, I felt that he must be keenly aware that I had a vagina.

For a time, every man I passed on the sidewalk was a potential predator who had just come from watching porn in his dorm room. I developed a fear of men. The world was full of them, oversexed and out-of-control. One bare leg could doom us all.

This fear started affecting my relationship with my then-fiancé. The only thing he could possibly want from me was sex. He was marrying me for the wedding night. I asked him bizarre questions for no reason other than he was male: “Did you ever sexually abuse someone? Are you able to look at a woman in a bikini? How often do you think about sex?”

“No, I would never abuse someone. Bikinis don’t bother me at all. I don’t think about sex that often, Bailey, but it sounds like you do.”

Those words sounded too good to be true. I was told my whole life that my body is primarily sexual and that all men, by virtue of being male, would have automatic sexual responses to the female form, even in the contexts of art, anatomy, dance, or sports. All men would have automatic sexual responses to my body, and there was nothing they could do about it. My only defense was wearing whatever the majority of Christian men deemed appropriate.

That is a degrading and disturbing reality.

I’m starting to question that reality, even though I’ve encountered more sexual abuse and pornography among my male acquaintances than I ever did. I’ve married a good man who overcomes his temptations, sexual or otherwise, and values me as more than a sexual partner. I’ve befriended men who notice my beauty and clothes with no motive other than complimenting my sense of fashion. I’ve chatted with men — professors and students alike — about sex, modesty, and human anatomy without ever sensing they were undressing me in their minds. The thought would never occur to them to objectify me, much less act on it.

Their sex drive never came untucked in my presence. And if, in the future or the past, it ever came untucked, I’m sure they would be the first to apologize, take responsibility for it, and make some changes in their lives.

These responsible and respectful men have given me the courage to curb my fear of men. While I would never make light of a man’s real struggle with lust, I do hold men to a higher standard of self-control. I don’t believe men are hopelessly entangled in their sex drives. I don’t believe men cannot look at a naked female body without entertaining a sexual fantasy. I don’t believe all men are sexual predators waiting to happen. If a man abuses another person, looks at porn, or struggles with lust 24/7, it’s not because he’s male but because he’s fallen.

Men are better than that. It’s unfair to men’s dignity to teach a modesty and a sexual ethic that affirms an out-of-control sex drive as something unchangeable and unique to men. Plus, it’s just not accurate.

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22 thoughts on “Excuse Me, Sir — Your Sex Drive Is Showing

  1. Mary

    Dang. This. So much this. I’m really glad you wrote this.

    So aside from the word “this” on repeat, I’m glad you found men who treated you with respect, but I do have another question – did you the way you dressed change when you realized that men could have self control over their sex drives? Did you dress with less conventional “modesty”? Did you wear things you wouldn’t have before?

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    • Bailey Steger

      I’m glad you liked it! I didn’t change the way I dressed, actually. I had already made changes to my definition of modest before coming to believe men could control their sex drives. Modesty, for me, was more about dressing tastefully as the situation required, and had nothing to do with men’s inability to control themselves. If I wasn’t comfortable wearing something for whatever reason, I wouldn’t wear it. If I felt comfortable in something, I wore it. Men were out of the equation. Sometimes I was more self-conscious when wearing certain clothing if I ran into a guy, but it wasn’t a factor when I decided to wear it that morning.

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  2. Abigail

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. So few people say anything about this flip side of the modesty debate. People rant about its effect on women, and rightly so, but so few people understand or care how it stigmatizes men as nothing more than an appetite, teaches girls to fear them at all times in all contexts, and basically says that they are animals with no will, choice, or freedom. I have met awful guys, but I have also met great ones whom I respect and value as fellow reasoning, moral, thoughtful human beings. Advancing the narrative that all men are predators waiting to happen negatively impacts these good men, and it gives the awful ones a free cultural pass to do and think whatever they want, because it’s “natural” and “any guy who says he doesn’t think this way is lying.” Thank you so, so much for sharing your thoughts about this neglected or derided aspect of this issue.

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  3. Logan Hurley

    This is really solid stuff. The next step seems to be too discern how to advance our discipleship and teaching to account for this instance of “weaker brethren,” in a way that obeys our Romans 15 obligation and honors the God-established dignity of women. Something I’m definitely going to be chewing on a few days. Thanks for the food-for-though!

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    • Bailey Steger

      Thanks for commenting, Logan! I’d be interested to hear your further thoughts. Personally, I don’t think it’s necessary or possible to apply the Romans 15 obligation to this. For one thing, the problem isn’t women’s clothing or bodies; the problem is men objectifying women and struggling with lust. I don’t see this as a women’s issue. Plus, it’s just not practical — too many guys are tempted by too many varying things. It’d be impossible to pick a dress code — even a personal dress code — that encompasses all the possible temptations men might face if they see a collar bone, thigh, or ankle. Guys will have to sort out how to see a bare leg or a bit of cleavage without going into sexual overdrive. We women had to learn to do that with all the hot shirtless guys running around on the beach. Men can do it too — that’s the point of this post. :)

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      • Rebekah

        YES! on the hot shirtless guys thing. It’s such a double standard. Some people actually think that girls aren’t physically tempted? That’s really hard for me to wrap my brain around. I’m probably more on the emotional side, but I definitely still struggle with that.

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  4. Courtney

    Wow – I’ve been reading through your blog and this post literally sums up middle-school-me. When I was in middle school, I was literally Terrified of the opposite gender. I always read above my grade level and a lot of Christian fiction seemed to paint the entire male species as being frighteningly perverted. Granted, this may have been partially my age, but I boarderline obsessed about modesty because I was always worried someone’s mind would go to the forbidden places if I showed even the slightest amount of skin. I still strongly believe in modesty and try to carry a clean cut image, but through becoming friends with a group of guys who are like brothers to me, I no longer fear and distrust the entire opposite gender. Through growth and real-life friendships with actual guys, I’ve come to find that there actually are guys out there who Don’t obsess over and sexual every female they see in passing – and this was very freeing for me to learn. Keep writing Bailey!

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  5. Mike

    Women need men to be robustly motivated to initiate actions and drive the world forward. A sex drive accomplishes a great deal of the hard work that is meeting, attracting, dating, marrying, creating families, building a nest, and all the schooling and college and work that supports a mans ability to pay for his family obligations that go along with WANTING SEX REALLY REALLY BADLY. Does he want sex with you? Yes. Is it that hard for you ladies to figure out? Get over yourselves. If he can’t be properly social while trying to figure out how to bed you, that’s his problem to overcome. He will suffer for it, trust me. It’s harder for a man to jump through all the hoops to get you to meet his physical needs if he’s a creep about it. He must check off all the boxes you’ve always dreamed about (polite/respectful/courageous/hard working/ambitious/capable) while figuring out how to deal with the madness that is his natural sex drive. Otherwise he goes without. But please rethink this whole modesty kick you’re going on about. You need him to be strongly determined to make this all happen and make it seem tasteful and natural so you can feel it just “happened” or that he “swept you off your feet”. If men didn’t want sex very very badly, the world would collapse. So if you’ve been victimized, please accept my apology for the male species. Otherwise, please get over your puritan Innocense, get over yourselves and begin to change this dialogue more toward appreciating a good strong male sex drive. You want it, you need it, and you should stop asking men to apologize for it.

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    • Bailey Steger

      I fundamentally disagree with you on men’s purpose in the world and how the sex drive accomplishes that, so nope, I’m not just going to “get over my Puritan innocence” that expects men to act like civilized humans rather than sex-crazed animals.

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    • Ayianna Franklin

      I have fallen madly in love with a man who did not persist in any way, leer at me, make me uncomfortable, or actively TRY to get me in bed with him. There was no manipulation and, if the match is good in the first place, there need never be. So no, Mike, this behavior is NOT desirable for continuing of the human race nor for a ‘provider’ figure. You, sir, have the mind of a sexual predator. YOU are one of the men we are concerned about. Oh, and the world will collapse without MEN who have ‘drive’? Give me a break. Women would take over any necessary functions in a heartbeat and many of them would make it look easy. (See World War II)

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  6. Mike

    I never said that misbehavior should be tolerated. Only that women who are available need to find a way to communicate their availability to eligible men. Accusing a woman of being ‘immodest’ is to accuse her of signaling her sexual availability in an inapproprite way. Low cut dress? Cleavage? Skirt too high? Who decides? The answer is that other women decide, and it can be dependent upon event/location. For example beach vacation vs. Sunday service. Women enforce the norms of what is acceptable sexual signaling against each other. It comes down to control- women need to regulate sexual signaling against each other to control who is trying to influence/appeal to their boyfriends/husbands, and just as often, to prevent unwanted competition for desirable bachelor men. Women set the rules of the game and penalize each other for violating those rules, or in other words, women penalize each other for dressing (or acting) like a ‘loose or immoral woman’. Some people refer to this as Slut shaming.
    If a man accuses you of signaling him in an inappropriate way, just tell him you were never interested in him to begin with, and that he should refrain from further inappropriate signaling himself now that you have made it clear to him that he is not among those men you are interested in appealing to. That should shut him up. Dressing in an appealing manner is never something that a woman should have to excuse or apologize for. If a man or other women can’t deal with it, they should zip their mouths and let the singles signal each other as necessary and appropriate for the venue. This includes not only manner of dress but friendliness, laughing at each other’s jokes, smiling, behaving agreeably, and yes, dressing to emphasize desirable physical traits. And using makeup. Or ‘accidentally’ finding reasons to talk to each other. Some people just can’t handle observing successful people attract and appeal to each other. Haters gonna hate. Slut shaming is just a desperate method of control for people who can’t handle the mating game as god designed it. Including men who can’t keep their comments or libido to themselves. To heck with them. Men can and do act responsibly to find mates, and being a raging pervert is not part of that equation. Women are beautiful just because they’re women. Try to avoid hating on the good guys because they want sex tho. Reserve the negative feelings for the men who get out of line or refuse to control themselves. I’m a man and it can de done.

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    • Bailey Steger

      I think I very much misunderstood your first comment, because I’m pretty sure I agree with everything you’ve written here. And to clarify, I’m sex positive — sex drives are a good thing. There are appropriate, consensual ways to express it, as we both agree. My ire is for controlling, slut-shaming, inappropriate expressions of men’s sex drives.

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  7. dragonwithsword

    I just wanted to point out that men deal with shame too, especially in some of the more conservative evangelical circles. When you are taught that your sex drive is dirty and that you also can’t control your sex drive, you wind up with a pretty corrupted view. It also makes it harder not easier to deal with porn.

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  8. Beth

    Mike. A man’s out of control sex drive is a big flashing light that he is not suitable for having sex with, period. Why? Because women put themselves and their future children at huge risk of this guy seriously screwing up their lives and the lives of countless other women. Not a turn on unless you are completely out of control yourself. Nothing is more of a turn on than having a man be able to control himself and know that he is using his sex drive for the right purposes. Who are the most sexual satisfied people in the world? Married women and men in a committed marriage who can make better use of their sex drives in a safe, loving and trusting relationship. This is the way nature intended it to be.

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  9. Peter

    “This fear started affecting my relationship with my then-fiancé. The only thing he could possibly want from me was sex. He was marrying me for the wedding night. I asked him bizarre questions for no reason other than he was male: “Did you ever sexually abuse someone? Are you able to look at a woman in a bikini? How often do you think about sex?”

    “No, I would never abuse someone. Bikinis don’t bother me at all. I don’t think about sex that often, Bailey, but it sounds like you do.””

    I cannot be sure of what your ex-fiancé thinks of your relation, but I would not at all be surprised if he in retrospect considers this to be a red flag.

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  10. joelfrederick

    I got here from your “Don’t Accommodate…” post.

    I remember as a parent, I was always told to be careful how I discipline, not telling my child that he was “stupid” or “worthless” because they will live up to those expectations.

    The purity culture has been telling girls and women they are the reason for boys and men to sin for many years now. We are reaping the fruit of this now with men with a lot of problems.

    Thumbs up on the “self-control” platform you are promoting.

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