Your Turn: Lust and Leggings

Your Turn: Lust and Leggings

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by Collin Woodard

One of the advantages of living in Georgia right now is that we’re still in the middle of fall. The pumpkins of Halloween have mostly been taken off of their respective porches, but pumpkin spice lattes are still as popular as ever. Men are breaking out their boots and plaid flannel shirts, their faces sparsely covered in another patchy attempt at No Shave November. As the sun sets, and the temperature drops into the 40s, there are bonfires and warm apple cider to keep you toasty. Fall in the South is indeed a beautiful time.

As groups of guys friends gather at my house for an SEC football game or back-porch bonfire, there is one conversation that I can always count on to eventually come up: leggings as pants. In short, Christian men are very much against leggings as pants. What often starts as a fairly innocent conversation, however, often spirals very quickly into a rant about how women only wear them because they’re after attention. They’re desperate. They want us to look. We need to pray for them because they need Jesus.

Whatever motivations that women wearing leggings have, I find that conversations like this set a dangerous precedent. The biggest problem here is not why women choose to wear leggings as pants or how Christian such a clothing choice may be, but that men don’t want to take responsibility for their own behavior. It’s not like this is a new phenomenon. Just look at Adam’s reaction the second God questioned him about eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Instead of stepping up and taking responsibility for his sin, Adam tried to pin the blame on that woman God gave him.

Somewhere along the line, the thought slipped in that men are naturally programmed to look lustfully at women no matter what. While that’s convenient, if we look at the Bible, we see a different story. When Job said, “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a young woman,” it is clear that he understood where responsibility for his actions lay, and he chose to act accordingly. When Proverbs 4:23 says to guard your heart, there’s no exception included for times when others aren’t being careful to guard your heart as well. While I know it can be hard at times, ultimately we are responsible for guarding our own hearts, guarding our own eyes, and taking charge of our own thought lives.

One of the biggest problems with the argument that men are programmed to lust after a woman in skimpy clothes is that it makes women’s bodies out to be inherently sexual regardless of situation, context or intent. Women were made in the image of God just like men, and as such, they have purpose outside of mere sexual function. To reduce women’s bodies to nothing more than something for men to have sex with requires some very dangerous hermeneutical gymnastics with Genesis that I’m not comfortable entertaining. Women may be different from men in a number of ways, but despite our differences, we are still equals in the sight of God.

While the world seems intent on hyper-sexualizing young women, I worry that misplaced messages of modesty are doing just as much harm. Is the church’s message coming across to women saying, “Men can't control themselves when they want sex, and your bodies are for sex. Cover them up so you don't look like you might want sex. If you have any feminine curves, make sure you hide those because even under clothes, men will see them and only want you for sex”? I can’t begin to imagine the level of insecurity and self doubt that comes from being raised hearing a message like that.

Interestingly, when my friend Rick was deployed to Afghanistan, he discovered that many insurgents had pornographic pictures with them. The women in these pictures weren’t nude. They weren’t wearing bikinis. They certainly weren’t wearing leggings as pants. They were hiking up their burqas to show off their ankles. It seems that even in a society where women dress as modestly as humanly possible, a man who wants to lust will find a way to lust.

As men, I say it’s time that we man up. Unlike Adam, let’s commit to accepting responsibility. Let’s guard our hearts and take our thought lives captive. It won’t be easy, and you won’t do it perfectly, but the great news is that the Gospel isn’t for perfect people. Christ’s perfect sacrifice covers those shortcomings, and that, my friends, is a beautiful thing.

 Collin Woodard grew up near Atlanta and is a student at Liberty University.

If you would like to contribute a post to the Boundless blog's "Your Turn" Friday feature, see "Writers Wanted" for more details.

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  • --The title of this post was almost enough to turn me off of reading it completely. "Oh great," I thought. "Another exhortation to women about how men can't control themselves, and it's all women's fault. I don't even wear leggings, for pity's sake!" Then I started to read, and realized my error. This post was incredibly refreshing, and well-written to boot. It also reminded me about this thing I have for making snap judgments . . .

  • At the risk of sounding like a "victim blamer" (which seems to be in-thing to call someone nowadays when you disagree with their viewpoint regardless of its validity; it's meant to bully someone into agreeing with or silencing you) I think a few things should be cleared up or at least clarified.

    "In short, Christian men are very much against leggings as pants." - Really? Have you any emperical evidence to back this up or are you just assuming that leggings = immodest?  There's also a considerable difference between leggings which show no or little covering all the way up to the waist and those which are simply used as pantyhose nylons or simply no leg coverings.  The logic doesn't seem to fit.

    "What often starts as a fairly innocent conversation, however, often spirals very quickly into a rant about how women only wear them because they’re after attention. They’re desperate. They want us to look. We need to pray for them because they need Jesus." - Another gross generalization.  Maybe this is true, maybe it isn't.  But if you are going to make such a blanket assumption about men AND women (i.e. women wearing these primarily for guys' attention or guys are constantly "ranting" about it) then you're going to need to provide more than a roomful of people watching an SEC football game.

    Your next few paragraphs talk about men not taking responsibility citing Job's covenant this his eyes.  Yes, Job took responsibility because he knew that lust was a temptation for him.  If it wasn't not a temptation why would one need to make a covenant?  .  I don't think anyone seriously believes that most men aren't seriously tempted  (which is probably why Jesus mentions about a man lusting after a woman but not vice versa, and given widespread use of porn among men both secular and Christian).  

    "One of the biggest problems with the argument that men are programmed to lust after a woman in skimpy clothes is that it makes women’s bodies out to be inherently sexual regardless of situation, context or intent" and “Men can't control themselves when they want sex, and your bodies are for sex. Cover them up so you don't look like you might want sex. If you have any feminine curves, make sure you hide those because even under clothes, men will see them and only want you for sex”? - Well, despite another instance of assuming the worst about men I will submit this is as sort of true and sort of not.  First, it's incorrect to say "men are programmed to lust".  No, men are not "programmed" but are inclined to because of the Fall.  All temptation has an exit (and for sexual temptation it often involves fleeing  [1 Cor 6:18]).  Furthermore, by God's design, our bodies ARE meant for sex.  It's why both men and women have sexual organs and a limbido (albeit expressed often in different ways).  Again, no one is seriously saying men aren't primarily driven by sex.  But you seem to imply that this is an inherently BAD thing.  Quite the contrary, it's actually a GOOD thing.  When God first created man and woman, before the Fall, He said "It is good" and actually commanded them to engage in sexual activity (to mulitply).  As author Mike Ensely wrote, "sin isn't original, there must be something pure to pervert".  And C.S. Lewis wrote in Screwtape Letters that Hell cannot produce pleasure, only twist and taint it.  I'm sure you most likely agree with everything I wrote, but it would've been nice to expound upon some of the virtues of sex, especially of men, rather than focus only on the negative.  It just isn't an insatiable, selfish, and manipulative scheming to get a woman into bed.  Without a strong male sex drive I speculate that most men wouldn't wouldn't be motivated to treat women nicely (e.g. ignore them), care much for marriage, and write all those literarly, musical, and visual works of art (since the vast majority of them involve a male/female dynamic).

    "Unlike Adam, let’s commit to accepting responsibility" - I'm not a misogynist (I'm sure some would call me as such given what I just wrote.  Again "victim blaming"), but Adam isn't the only one who sinned.  Eve also bears some of the responsiblity for listening to Satan (serpent) and taking of the fruit.  Maybe Adam was standing right next to her and was in full agreement, or maybe he just wanted to see what happened.  We'll never know.  But to imply "it's all on the guy" is bad theology.  Women too fall into their own sins, and yes, some of it involves lusting and porn (you can search for the numbers but by the simple fact many readers of 'Fifty Shades of Grey' were women should tip you off right there).  Now, I'm not going to get into the debate of modesty and what is considered sin on the part of the woman in regards to what's in her heart when she's choosing her attire, but it's helpful that both genders realize they need Jesus and that neither is inherently holier (at least what I can gleen from Scripture).  I understand that your post was primarily directed at men, but to simplify your message to "It's all your fault, and always will be" does not encourage men.  It's a message we've already been browbeated with and frankly just makes most men feel like crap.  It would've been nice if you could mention something like that, but then again, maybe you didn't want to labeled a "victim blamer".

  • --I'm sure Collin was well-meaning, but MikeTime has valid points.

  • --Fantastic article! It is especially great that this was written by a man, because then critics cannot claim, "You're just saying this because you want to dress however you want" or "You just don't understand how men are wired."

    Matthew 5:27-30 is another passage that commands personal responsibility over lust, which is ironic since a lot of Christians have somehow twisted it into a clobber-verse against the lust-ee.    

  • --Alyson,

    "It is especially great that this was written by a man because then critics cannot claim, 'You're just saying this because you want to dress however you want' or 'You just don't understand how men are wired.'"

    Without trying too hard to give myself a forehead slap, that logic is supremely flawed.

    So a woman saying that "women ought to dress more modestly (as in no traditional swimsuits)", needs to be a SAHM, etc is valid simply because it was written by a woman and you can't criticize it?

    So just because a man writes something against men makes it valid too?

    Or take the converse, a man CAN'T write about women's issues because, well, they aren't women.  So does that mean women can't do the same of men?

    Please think about what you're saying.  I hope you could come at with a different angle.

  • --Oh look, another MAN UP!!!111 article.  That's original.

    I've often heard women rationalize wearing skimpy clothing using the argument, "Well men are going to lust after me anyway even if I dress in a potato sack, so I might as well wear a tube top!"

    "It is especially great that this was written by a man, because then critics cannot claim, "You're just saying this because you want to dress however you want" or "You just don't understand how men are wired.""

    One can however claim he's only writing this because he THINKS this is what women want to hear, and it will help him get girls.

    Here's an novel idea, why not dress in modest apparel because it's the right thing to do, regardless of what anyone thinks?

    "I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.  In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works." 1 Timothy, Chapter 2

  • --What an encouraging blog! Truthfully, I was that girl who, although not directly, was told that the entire weight of modesty was on me; that men cannot control their thoughts. And as you mentioned, this placed shame on my heart. I felt like I always lost regardless of what I wore. Although I do strive to wear clothes that are pleasing in God's sight because I love Him and my brothers in Christ, it can become quite distressing when individuals in the church constantly place the burden on just women.

    Thank you for your words of truth and insight. Sometimes I feel that there is a great lack of young men out there who are passionate for Jesus and His desires. You have proven me wrong and shown that there are men who are in an intimate pursuit of our Savior!

  • --"Sometimes I feel that there is a great lack of young men out there who are passionate for Jesus and His desires."

    Funny,  feel the same way about women.

  • --This is a difficult topic to ferret out which is unfortunately prone to imbalances. One the one hand we have people telling women, that indeed, the weight of all lustful thoughts and desires lies on them. Their choices are the ones that matter. On the other hand, we have people telling men that identifying women's choices that are stumbling blocks only contributes to "rape culture." Instead, some people say, the weight of all lustful thoughts and desires lie on men. Neither of these are right. Both women have a responsibility to care for the weakness in men and men have a responsibility to control themselves and not exploit women. It's no wonder that one dimensional articles such as this one cause so much frustration.

    Imagine two young brothers, the younger managing to annoy the older by sneakily tickling him constantly. The older, wiser, and more responsible brother snaps and punches the younger brother in the face. He rightly gets punished, but should the younger brother been so annoying? Or imagine a dog left alone in a house with a huge steak on the table. The dogs finds a way to eat the steak because it is hungry. The dog rightly gets chastised but the home owners will not be surprised unless they trained their dog to eat only what they give him! Men are greater than boys and dogs, but they are still weak. Men ought to learn and be trained to control themselves in all situations. They will be held accountable. But should women tickle men and offer meat when they are hungry? No.

    This matters particularly so when we are bombarded with sexual images from all angles, whether it is from the way women dress on the street or from the television ads and movies we watch. I can't enjoy a James Bond without psyching myself up and exerting myself through the expected, over the top sensuous scene! If I decide to watch a James Bond movie I must do this, but why couldn't the movie be made differently? There are definitely times when I notice the form of a woman but in the social context I realize there is nothing intended to be sexual, either through the direct choices of the woman or from implicit societal pressures. I actually feel very comfortable in these circumstances and safe and I know how I must act. But how do I control myself when I see bikini clad women at the beach? I don't go to beach.

  • --@MikeTime. No, that is not what I said. Women have written blog posts very similar to this before, and they have been shrugged off by male and female critics who say "You're just saying this because you want to wear whatever you want" and "You don't understand how men are wired because you are a woman." These PARTICULAR objections do not work in this case because Collin is a man. Anyone can criticize anything they want. Men are free to write articles telling women what to do, and women are free to write articles telling men what to do, but they will not be taken as seriously. Whether we like it or not, whether we agree with it or not, that's just reality.  

  • --Alyson,

    You still don't seem to be making any sense to me.  What do you mean the objections "do not work"?  First, what are the objections exactly?  If they are what Collin wrote then I did have (IMO) some legitimate objections to it (e.g. making blanket statements from merely anecdotal evidence).  But if it's the examples you gave of "You're just saying this because you want to wear whatever you want", well maybe that person really DOES mean it that way.  But regardless of motivations, the key question is, "Does the argument or assertation put out there have legitimacy?"  Is the accusation of "You (Someone) don't understand how men are wired because you are a woman (or vice versa)." true?  Maybe it is, maybe it isn't.  But do I care whether or not the author is male or female?  Nope.

    Point being your words clearly indicate his gender was a signicant reason the argument had validity or not.  Your words again:

    "It is especially great that this was written by a man, because then critics cannot claim..."

    So if it were a woman instead, it wouldn't be as great because now critics COULD claim something?  Or I can't criticize his argments in this subject because he's simply a man?! That's the natural conclusion.  Maybe some people would.  But simply because a man is saying it they now have to agree with it or the fault is on them?

    Maybe if you could articulate it better I would be more inclined to understand.  But right now I can't.  :(

  • --"Here's an novel idea, why not dress in modest apparel because it's the right thing to do, regardless of what anyone thinks?"

    That person would have to define what "modest" is. Is showing the ankles acceptable? How long do shorts and skirts have to be? How high does the neck line need to be? Are tank-tops okay if they cover the bra straps? How tight is too tight? Is a one-piece bathing suit okay or would it have to be a burkini? Can men go shirtless? That's just the beginning.

    Also, the Bible passage was clearly talking about not showing off by wearing expensive, flashy clothing. www.qideas.org/.../modesty-i-dont-think-it-means-what-you-think-it-means.aspx

    I dress pretty conservatively (no shorts or skirts, high neck-lines, clothing that is a size or two bigger) because I grew up that way, they are more comfortable clothes, and because I want to look professional.    

  • --"So if it were a woman instead, it wouldn't be as great because now critics COULD claim something?  Or I can't criticize his argments in this subject because he's simply a man?!"

    I am also glad when women write posts like this, but I know in general men will be less likely to take it seriously. Also, there aren't many articles like this written by men, so it was a nice surprise.

    Like I already said, you can criticize his arguments, you can point out flaws you see, or say that your experience as a man has been different, but you cannot claim that he has no idea what it is like to be a man. That is a common claim made in gender discussions. His gender does not mean he is automatically right about everything. Personal experience is subjective and widely varied. I'm simply saying that Collin's article shows that the claim "If you were a man, you would understand and agree with me" is not valid because men have a variety of opinions and experiences.  

    Also, it wouldn't make sense to say he is writing this because he wants to dress however he wants, because the article is about female modesty, not male modesty. Is it a valid claim when women write about modesty? There's really no way to know the person's motivation. I agree that we have no way of knowing for sure what Collin's motivations were either.

    If you still do not understand, then just drop it because either you are not listening or I am not explaining well, and I am tired of this argument.  

  • --BryanC,

    Since the only person any of us have a hope of controlling is ourselves, how about we each concentrate on making sure we're behaving in a way that is godly, rather than trying to change the world around us? I dress to look attractive and classy. It's my responsibility to check my motives, to make sensible choices about my attire in different contexts and to not intentionally provoke men to lust after me (guess what, most of us don't actually want men to lust after us), It's your responsibility to get your thoughts in order and stay away from avoidable scenarios that you know are going to tempt you to lust.

    We all have different standards and different weaknesses. I will take reasonable steps to dress in a way that I deem modest and appropriate, and the reasons for that are, in priority order, 1) I believe that's what God is asking of me, 2) I want the people around me to respect me and not objectify me and 3) I don't want to hinder your efforts to think pure thoughts. I will not however cater to every conceivable weakness of every hypothetical man that might catch sight of me on the street. My clothing choices are about me, not you.

  • --JoiseJo,

    I entirely agree. Being told to cater to every man's conceivable weakness is rubbish, and I do know that this can be a thing in some conservative churches which has hurt people. That said, I think a woman has a brain and can know what is culturally pushing sexual boundaries. I might make an argument that using leggings as pants are pushing those boundaries. (You'll find comics where the joke is that men enjoy going to yoga classes because of the attire or you might consider what the women are wearing in Psi's Gangnum Style video during the "sexy ladies" part.) If a woman decided thinking about this was not important, I think that would be wrong. It sounds like you might agree with me.

    I think sometimes Christian men want women to understand that women do have real sexual power over men. There is a reason why the word "seduce" exists and our society is filled with seduction. Often when women or men throw all the burden on the men, in the sense that they should be allowed to act however they want, it is upsetting because it can be a way of subtly denying their power in order to abuse it. This is all said, I don't know if I'm trying to say something proscriptive, which is how these things often go, but something more in the line of trying to give understanding. Much of the problem is in the secular world and unbelievers will act as unbelievers.

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