Yesterday on the podcast I shared about how “don’t be a stumbling block” is a toxic message to give to young girls about modesty.

It all stemmed from a discussion on Facebook where I was presenting a scenario where a 13-year-old girl was blamed for causing an adult man to lust in church.

You can see those posts here:

Post 1: Initial post on how thinking a 13-year-old is to blame for an adult man lusting is a red flag

Post 2: If you’re in a subculture where it’s assumed all men lust and that lusting after 13-year-olds is normal, that’s not a safe place.

Post 3: If you were ever given unwanted sexual attention at church as a teen, what were you wearing (to show it’s not about clothing)

The comments on Facebook were numerous (hundreds on each post) and all over the place. But some really stood out. And I thought today I’d just share a few that said something important.

First, when commenters started saying that 13-year-olds need to watch what they wear, commenters made some excellent points:

Thanks for providing more evidence that Sheila’s posts and work on this topic is necessary. The fact that so many women read a post about a grown man lusting after a 13 year old CHILD – and think the appropriate response to said post is to think teens and women need a modesty lecture is incredibly disconcerting. This is absolutely part of the problem.

It seems to me that some of you need to rethink your ideas of responsibility. Attaching the same amount of responsibility to a child that you do to an adult man is horrific. Adolescents choose their clothing primarily based upon style, peers, and social pressure. This is appropriate development. very rarely does a child choose their clothing because they want to be sexy or seduce a man . Please understand that first and foremost!
Men are adults. A healthy Christian man protects a child regardless of what they are wearing. They understand that they are in a position of authority. men are not ruled by their penises because they are adults and are capable of making choices. So if you’re attaching the same amount of responsibility to a child’s adolescent peer-driven choice in clothing as you do to a grown man’s choice to sexually abuse and use a child… You are also in sin

Several comments showed concern for the CHILD, which is as it should be:

First – I am glad the 13 year old is at church, I don’t care what she is wearing. It may be all she had. So blessings that she is turning to God.
Second – if a man is married or not and he is lusting after anyone under the age of 18 he needs help. If he is married and he is lusting after anyone other than his wife – he needs help.
Third – even if the roles are reversed and it’s the woman lusting after anyone under the age of 18 or if she is married and she is lusting after anyone other than her husband, she needs help.
The adults are the red flag, the minor is in the right place and is obviously seeking God and the right way of life and doing the best they can.
Fourth – if for some reason the minors behavior is inappropriate towards an adult or even another child – red flag as they may have had trauma in their life and needs help! Don’t ignore any of the red flags! Our children deserve protection.

Girl come on. The correct response from a grown man to a girl who is deliberately trying to dress provocatively is, “Gosh that poor thing, it’s got to be so hard being a kid and feeling so much pressure to act sexy in our oversexualized society. I’ll be praying for her. Maybe my wife could invite her to the teen girls Bible study she runs. Lord, protect this sweet child from the evil in this world.”

Is a provocatively-dressed teenager AN EXCUSE FOR LUST? Or should it be an occasion for sympathy, empathy, compassion, and prayer? I remember dressing provocatively to get men’s attention when I was a teenager. What I desperately needed was for an older woman to take me aside and say, “Honey, you are so much more valuable than the ‘sexiness’ of your body or how appealing you are to men” — to teach me to value myself apart from how attractive men found me!
I don’t think anyone is saying it’s a good thing for a girl to dress provocatively. I think what most people are saying is 1. that a teenage girl is still a GIRL and her maturity is the likely culprit rather than wanting to seduce adult men, and 2. that men, especially men who claim the name of Christ have to (and are able to) be better than that. If a sexily-dressed 13-year-old is “in sin” in some way, her “sin” absolutely pales in comparison with a so-called Christian man ogling and lusting after someone who he should look on as a daughter, seek to protect, and pray for.

Then, over the course of several threads and in several comments, I made these points, which I’d like to end on!

(POINT 1):
Of course we need to help girls see their worth. Of course. But the topic of this post is that a man is lusting after a child. The fact that we keep turning the conversation to “BUT THE CHILD….” is highly concerning. The main problem here is NOT THE CHILD, but the man. I think the fact that so many are focusing on the child shows that in our minds and our hearts we do not truly understand that men are to blame for lust, and that women and girls are not to blame for it. Until we understand that, we will continue to pass dangerous messages on to the next generation–messages that do harm their marriages. If you want to teach girls how to respect themselves, by all means do so. But please don’t do it in the context of a bigger conversation about men’s lust. That equates two subjects that should never, ever be equated.

(POINT 2):
You said that “Adults need to know it is never OKAY to lust after a child.” However, you said that in a thread where what you focused on most was fashion for children and girls. Can you see that, even if you give the caveat “adults should never lust after children,” if you make the focus of your discussion what is appropriate clothing and how girls keep wanting to show their butt cheeks, that you’re actually giving the opposite message? You’re saying adults shouldn’t lust and there’s no excuse, but then you’re going on and on with things that are excuses. You need to separate the two arguments. When we’re talking about adults lusting after children, that must be ALL we’re talking about. Modesty and dress should never, ever enter into the discussion. Have that discussion at another time, by all means. But when you conflate the two, then you’re giving the message, “Actually, sometimes it’s understandable that adults lust after children.”

(POINT 3):
It is very, very possible for men to control where their minds go. It truly is. Scientific studies have shown this; we also know that lust is cultural. We lust after what we’ve been taught to lust after. If you are in a subculture where it’s normal that men would lust after children, that isn’t safe. If you are in a subculture where, if a man lusts after a child, the first question is “but what was the child wearing”, then that is not a safe place for a child. Most men, when they realize someone is only 13, stop thinking of them in a sexual way. That should be the norm. This is what we should call men to, because this is what JESUS called men to.

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Finally, this is how I ended a lot of the discussion (and you can tell I was getting testy): 

What if telling a girl that she is causing a man to sin is actually being a stumbling block TO HER? Why do we think that “don’t be a stumbling block” needs to be addressed to GIRLS? Why shouldn’t it be addressed to the ADULT MEN who have been Christians for decades, who are telling young, impressionable children that they are responsible for the adults’ sin? Just read this thread and read the stories of the girls who were shamed in church and scared to go back. Read the stories of the girls who were abused and blamed for it. And then ask yourself: Who is the weaker brother who is being hurt? Who is the one whose faith is being weakened (which is what the stumbling block passages in Romans are about)? Is it the young girl, or is it the adult male who is objectifying her and blaming her? And then maybe, just maybe, we need to change entirely how we talk about this.

And then maybe, just maybe, we need to change entirely how we talk about this.


You may also enjoy these posts on modesty and lust:

The Final Words on Modesty, Lust, and Stumbling Blocks

I really hope this can be our final word! But I’ll give you a chance now–anything else you want to add about modesty and lust? And how can we help the church stop talking about this in weird ways? Let’s talk in the comments!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum

Sheila is determined to help Christians find BIBLICAL, HEALTHY, EVIDENCE-BASED help for their marriage. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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