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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10 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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