Men, Sex, and Modesty

The following are a few thoughts about discourses involving sex, modesty, and power in the LDS universe, obviously from a male perspective. That part is important. Here, I want to write as self-consciously and honestly as I can about the experience(s) of being a man regarding sex and modesty. My experience will not be every man’s experience, of course, but I hope some things will resonate with other men (and women). First, a story.


10 months into my mission in Guatemala I was sent to one of the coastal areas of the mission. I will admit–I was pretty unnerved by the half-dressed state of many of the girls I saw there. My companion and I occasionally discussed the temptations we would daily encounter, but for the most part we struggled on in silence.

Only one month after my arrival my companion was transferred and I was given my first “greenie.” This was his first area and he was excited to be serving so far from headquarters. I didn’t want to dampen his enthusiasm, but as the senior companion and his trainer I nevertheless felt I should warn him about what he was going to see. He just smiled, shrugged, and said nothing. He was young and inexperienced, I thought. He would see soon enough.

But as the weeks passed I was surprised to notice that he seemed unfazed by any of it. After encountering one very attractive woman who greeted us at the door wearing little more than a half-open robe, I waited until we were well down the road before letting loose a tirade of anger and frustration. I told my companion that it really bothered me seeing so many women in various states of undress. It was hard to focus and I felt weak and powerless around them. How were we to be strong and stay faithful? I had prayed and fasted about it constantly, and felt little strength in return. And I began to despise many of the women I encountered for “making” me feel that way (I knew plenty of other missionaries who felt the same in the face of these hellish sirens). I then turned my frustration on him, wondering how he could possibly be so calm and seemingly indifferent to it all. Was he just pretending? Maybe he was on the edge of sanity, barely holding it together, putting up a brave though false front.

In response he told me that he spent several years in Hawaii when he was younger. He was on the beach daily, surrounded all day every day by girls in various styles of swimwear, from more or less “modest” to skimpy, and everything in between. His friends’ mothers often wore bikinis to the beach; he was used to seeing every girl he knew like that. Some eventually became girlfriends, while others remained simply good friends. He was used to it; it really didn’t bother him.

It made sense, I thought. I told him that you can become accustomed to anything, and eventually you’ll be desensitized, even to evil and temptation. But how can you look at someone like the woman we just encountered without having sexual feelings? Justifiably, he wasn’t happy with my response. He told me that becoming accustomed and desensitization were not the same. He still thought women were desirable, no different from any other heterosexual man, it was just that he didn’t experience anxiety and powerlessness according to what a woman chose to wear. He didn’t have to sing a hymn or think about watching baseball or look at the ground. He felt free and unperturbed. Sure, he sometimes felt the urge to self-gratification or wanted to get more intimate with girls than was appropriate, but he viewed these as issues common to human beings generally and felt that virtuous living and basic human decency ensured that there would be appropriate boundaries that it was ok to occasionally struggle with. In other words, his normal sexual desire was disassociated from crippling anxiety and the feeling of losing control, of being everywhere surrounded by harm and threat. He loved girls, he said, and had always wanted to be with them regularly. But he didn’t obsess over girls or think of them as sexual objects designed for his own titillation, to constantly flee from until you hopefully found the safe haven of marriage at some point in the future. He didn’t think girls could directly and irrevocably cause inappropriate thoughts, but that such thoughts were just part of becoming an adult human being, and needed to be acknowledged and managed accordingly. He said he felt free. And that he was sorry for me that I apparently didn’t.

Frankly, I was devastated. And embarrassed. And envious. I felt constant anxiety and powerlessness when a girl “not dressed to standards” came into my line of view. And I felt victorious when I could somehow “banish” her from my presence or my thoughts (which wasn’t nearly as often as I would have liked), and that I had won a battle against Satan. Which, of course, made these immodest girls quite literally agents of Satan, testing my virtue and faithfulness, and, symbolically, the virtue and faithfulness of every man. It wasn’t fair, I thought, that my companion never appeared to fight any battles, that he didn’t even seem to know there was a war going on. He wasn’t sexually promiscuous, but neither was he a eunuch. He was a man, it seemed to me, truly and positively empowered.


That priesthood can be conferred on a man, this is true, they can be given authority but they cannot have power unless they are pure. So it’s very important for us to continue to talk standards, to teach them, and to encourage them, young men and young women, to be guardians of virtue, their own virtue and others because there are so many who say ‘It is not a young women’s problem if a boy is doing something wrong. If she is immodest, it’s not her problem if the boy does something wrong.’ Well it is! We have to take responsibility for one another, we have to help one another.”

Elaine S. Dalton, 2013 Young Women Leadership Training

Elaine Dalton got quite a bit of pushback for this quote (not, of course, the only such statement she has made on this topic). I understand the impetus for concern with the quote–I myself have been a firm advocate for the responsibilization of boys and men for their own thoughts and behaviors. We infantilize and unnecessarily and falsely victimize men (and women) when we insist that men at best bear only partial responsibility for their feelings and any actions derived from those feelings, and often have no substantive responsibility at all. However, I do agree with Dalton that “we have to take responsibility for one another, we have to help one another.” There is an important sense in which this is profoundly true. The question, of course, is how this is or should be the case (more on this in a moment).

Now, let’s be honest–there’s nothing a woman can do that will completely eviscerate certain aspects of the male mind/gaze. It doesn’t matter how modestly a woman is dressed, a guy will find a way to notice her attractiveness. If a woman dresses in a burlap sack, something will still be noticed by a typical man in her presence. You can guarantee that in cultures where extreme modesty is the norm (like Muslim culture), men (gasp!) somehow find ways to discover women attractive and desirable. It is sufficient, really, that they are women, period. No need to panic, of course–this doesn’t mean that men have the lascivious meter cranked up to 11 whenever a woman is around. Women will note the same sorts of things in their own ways with the men in their presence. It’s called sexual dimorphism, and it’s Human Sexuality 101. We’re fooling ourselves if we think there’s some sort of magical fashion threshold beyond which awareness of sexual difference disappears. It’s also why the following quote, voicing some fairly common views, doesn’t hold much water for me:

So why don’t you just wear a bikini, you ask? Why? Because I am making a sacrifice for the guys around me. I’ve heard the excuse, Guys just have an imagination, it’s not a girl’s problem. Frankly, I think that’s stupid. Part of it is our problem. The way we dress impacts those around us, especially guys. I don’t really want a guy to look at me and notice me for my butt, upper thighs, or chest. I’d rather him notice my smile or God-loving personality. Well sure, you say, that’s all fine and good, but guys should be able to control their imagination and look beyond our bodies. That’s true, they should control it. But it’s important for girls to help them as they try and do so.

It’s absolutely true that the we ways we dress ourselves impacts those around us. What is simply not true, however, is that there is some way to dress in which your own sexuality is completely foreclosed to another human being, and that you can lessen the impact sufficiently to prevent another’s loss of “virtue” (another problematic term we’ll need to save for another time). The thought that a one-piece is some kind of testosterone vaccine to the polio bikini is quite ridiculous. If a woman takes steps to ensure a man notices her smile and “God-given personality,” it will never come at the expense of actually being a woman. Fetishization (for both men and women) will always occur where norms and taboos exist, which are always mutually constituted, and which, of course, always exist.

Sex is constantly being re-discovered to be an increasingly complex phenomenon. Not only do we see arguments that female sex drives are more on par with male sex drives than previously thought, but that the brain has an element of “neuroplasticity” in which it is constantly being altered throughout the span of a lifetime due to changes in behavior, environment, and neural processes (in other words, that the brain is not static; it changes over time). Consequently, we are learning that

If boys and men tend to take in messages that manhood is defined by sex and power, and those messages encourage them to think about sex often, then those neural networks associated with desire will be regularly activated and will become stronger over time. If women, generally speaking, learn other lessons, that sexual desire and expression are not necessarily positive, and if therefore they don’t think as much about sex, then those same neural networks will be less stimulated and comparatively weak. The more robust the neural pathways of eros, the more prone you are to feel lust at home, even as stimuli dissipate with familiarity and habit.

All of which, for purposes of this essay, means that 1) our narratives about how sexuality plays out in both men and women will always already not be nuanced enough to grasp all the truths about our sexual lives in their entirety; and 2) the stories we tell have an enormous impact on the ways human sexuality (including modesty discourse) plays out in the real world.

Two things, then, must be acknowledged. First, it is absolutely a reality for men and boys that sexual desire can feel overwhelming, all-consuming, and thus, unsurprisingly, frightening. I think this is at least one of the roots of the constant need to present virtue and modesty as acts of vigilance and courage–because fear lies at the heart of what we are trying to confront but doing a poor job talking about. My anxiety and feelings of powerlessness in the face of perceived temptation from the opposite sex on my mission were real; there was nothing untruthful about them. The same is true for other men (and women) in that boat, and it’s difficult to appreciate that fact if you haven’t set sail onto uncertain stormy seas in it. What was untrue, however (what remains untrue), and this is point number two, were the stories that had produced that anxiety and powerlessness in the first place. Stories about girls and women being centers of uncontrollable desire and lust that must look and act in particular ways in order to tame the beast within me. Stories about learning to be strong and courageous while surrounded by frightening temptation everywhere I turned, thereby transforming women around me into either enemies or potential enemies (should they choose at some point to not dress according to current acceptable standards, on my behalf). Stories that metaphorically and realistically banish or exile women from thought and place so I could feel safe and powerful. Stories that divided not just women against men in significant ways, but also women against women, in which women saw other women as potential insidious bearers of the seeds of destruction sown in husbands, sons, and fathers.

It’s a daunting thought, to consider telling alternative stories about human sexuality, but because, as I am arguing, the problems are structural, the stories that have built the structure are due for a revision and overhaul. Many will be understandably concerned that a different narrative will simply cause us to devolve into wanton permissiveness and excess on the parts of both women and men. Honestly, I don’t know that that wouldn’t be the case for some. The traditional stories are rooted in deep soil and might remain powerful for a long time. But it is an unalloyed good to be able to understand ourselves in ways that allow us as men and women to interact with one another in the bonds of love, confidence, and friendship, not fear, anxiety, lust, and distrust. More than any other thing, it will be a climate of fear, anxiety, and powerlessness that will create dependency in ways that lead to sexual addictions of various kinds, which we know are rampant in our communities. The ways we currently talk about sex an modesty are not accomplishing the healthy and empowering understandings of ourselves and our potential that are necessary for us to truly live together.


  1. Heather says:

    This is so good! One of the best things I’ve read online about modesty/virtue/sexuality! Thanks!

  2. Well put. This is a topic that lends itself to polemics and talking past one another, so from my perspective this is a good way to frame a tricky issue in terms people who might not frequent sites like BCC might accept. Unfortunately, by definition people who tend not to haunt BCC aren’t too likely to read this so, bummer.

  3. Thoughtful. I notice you’re a doc student and you should think about writing an autoethnographic article for publication in a journal, you’d be good at it.

  4. DeepThink says:

    Casey, that’s what Facebook is for!

  5. As a divorced, semi-young(ish) woman in The Church I know all too well the party line that because I am single I am some form of hellcat bent on the destruction of every marriage within my demon grasp.

    This was especially hurtful because I am in the strange position of being back in the same ward I was baptized in, and was a YW in. A male friend (now married) still lives in the ward as well. When we first reconnected everything was great. My last name is different than it was then so his wife assumed everything was kosher. Once she found out I was divorced all of a sudden he and I could never catch up in the foyer, and I was getting looks from her that would sear the flesh off an animal. Eventually the friendship died along with my hope of being treated like more than my biological sex.

    I’m sad how women and girls are treated. I’m sad for all of us (men and boys included) that we were ever charged as “keepers of the gate” including the thoughts of people that we can’t possibly have control over, most of all I am sad that my hemline is worthy of anyone’s notice but my own.

    Great post.

  6. Angela C says:

    Great post. Most of the men in my experience have been more like your mission companion, but this does explain some of the odd behavior I have seen from a handful of men, including some on my mission who seemed to actually hate and mistrust women. I have always been accustomed to being treated as an equal, treated with respect, an intelligent person with valuable ideas, a natural leader. But I did encounter a few elders who treated the sisters with suspicion and/or disdain, dismissing or lecturing women or simply acting like we didn’t exist. One elder even said he wished women weren’t allowed to go on missions because they were such pains and totally unnecessary. I’m sure he was just quoting Jesus . . . oh wait, maybe not.

  7. Jacob, you have amazing thoughts, and a simple, brilliant clarity to the way you express them in writing. This piece is excellent. Thank you so much.

  8. Jacob,

    Thanks for this. I really do think “modesty” as we currently treat in the LDS context is just as bad for men as it is for women. If we spent half the time and energy we do on trying to control women’s clothing choices on teaching men to not objectify women we would be so far ahead. As a guy, though it takes some minimal effort, it really isn’t that hard to train yourself to simply think of women as people first (shocker!) and then objectifying them in your mind becomes rather easy to avoid. I mean certainly as a guy you can flip that switch and go all objectifying (I bet it is just as easy for women too!), but all you have to do is set the default to non-objectifying personhood. The sad thing with this modesty rhetoric is it tends to assume and therefore teach that men’s default setting is objectification. In my experience there is no reason that has to be true. That is taught behavior, or to the extent it is “natural” it really is pretty easy override it with basic social decency.

  9. These and other topics on the board amount to topics that have been troubling me for some 25 years (I’m 39 but didn’t really start thinking about “what’s wrong” until my teens). It warms my heart to see the dialogue because I know that the dialogue is what’s needed to address these issues and strengthen the church even if it takes time, one ward at a time. This issue wasn’t the only reason I became inactive in my teens and started looking into other churches (the last straw back then was something else, having to do with another hot button topic- race) but I was noticing these issues. I saw how my mom – a working professional with a master’s degree – was treated as if she was doing something kind of wrong by working. I saw the way male voices and opinions were privileged and though I was hardly a victim (as a male I was the one being privileged) I also knew something was wrong. I saw confident and highly intelligent teen female friends struggle to cope. Rah is correct, the gender role issues (including modesty, and also power as well as voice) are difficult on men as well as on women. To be frank the stuff we’re talking about here was really making me upset as a teen.

  10. Brilliant, Jacob. Your honesty and sensitivity and insight are appreciated. Deep, slow tendrils of change seeded in these ideas.

  11. JennyP1969 says:

    I really wish professional therapists would be invited to teach a series of classes to train our GA’s about the healthy approaches to sexuality. I wish course material would be made available to parents. I wish we would get out of teaching anything about sex at church. The Savior said everything He wanted us to know in a very few verses, none of which were about modesty. The details should be taught at home. Healthy material about sexuality should be made available to young people. Anthropologically, females are wired to beautify themselves, to make their beauty the best and most desirable it can be to attract the strongest and fittest males. Guys strut and show off to attract attention. They preen their strong muscles and their strength so females will choose them. As a species, we are created in these ways. Yet any such natural expression is deemed evil, shameful, and worldly. Such messages create many big issues and heartache, both in our youth and throughout life — even among many married couples.

    In general, as a culture, we are messed about this. We need help to do better. I know our leaders mean well — I don’t doubt that at all. Many parents do, too. But we seem to be shooting our efforts in the foot. We need some learning — by study and by faith, to reference another recent post!

    I agree with your whole post, Jacob. We can, and must learn from your companion who grew up in Hawaii. And professional LDS counselors.

  12. melodynew says:

    Exceptional post. Really. Thank you, Jacob. . . Also, what EOR said.

  13. An important post. I have seen so much damage done to YM and YW who dare to think that friendships across gender aren’t the always sexual.

    I’m sad that the older I get, the more likely it is that having friendships with men is seen as a suspect thing, unless of course the man is gay. Having a close friendship with gay men is seen as a good thing. I was told by someone in my ward’s leadership that he hoped that I would make sure to, “encourage him to see the advantages of being married to a woman,” when he learned that I am close friends with a gay man that he knows as well.

    I am a sexual woman, but I haven’t ever been attracted to any man at church, no matter how much time I spent with them one on one. I haven’t been tempted to kiss a married man, even when I was single and divorced, never thought of trying to take someone’s husband away from them. I’ve never looked around and thought of the men, in any ward, as sexual objects to potentially have sex with.

    I think that Mormon men, no matter what Mormon women do, will never live somewhere that has no temptation. So I am curious what Mormon men (YM) think they need to “support them,” from their sisters.

    I’m honestly curious; do the men at church see women as sexual objects or people to have sex with? I’m curious about the answers from single and married men. How can we help you see us as people?

  14. I loved this article! Before my mission, I was seriously into dancing ballet, so I grew accustomed to seeing women dressed in clothing that would be deemed “immodest” in any other situation. When I was on my mission (in the hot and humid Panama) I noticed how so many of my companions had a hard time with the way women dressed there. I realized that my experiences had taught me to see women differently and that it wasn’t a problem for me. However, constant statements from companions about women really did affect me, so after a while it started to bother me a little bit too. But this taught me a valuable lesson similar to the statements of the author: that immodesty only affects us as much as we allow it, and that how much we allow it is strongly influenced by culture and our individual attitudes toward women. I think those lessons in YMs I had about “good thoughts” didn’t help much because they made women the problem (that we had to cure with a hymn or something). If we have “bad thoughts” when we see women dressed in a way we feel is immodest, maybe it would be better to teach us to think of them as an individual rather than an object.

  15. Bookmarked this under “All Star Posts” for future and multiple re-readings. Thanks, Jacob.

  16. Interesting thoughts. My mom is from Finland and I served a mission there. When on the beach, the Finns have their children go naked until about age 10. They also take a sauna at least once a week–always naked–but never mixing genders…unless they have little children…in which case all the kids (girls and boys) are welcome. When I speak to other LDS members about these customs they are usually shocked. But, the reality is that mores regarding modesty are largely cultural. For example, in Brigham Young’s time it was considered inappropriate for a woman to show her ankles…yet these days we see ankles all the time without it having any more effect that seeing someone’s hand.

  17. Jessica F. says:

    I really liked this. I am a big believer in the fact that the way we teach sexuliazation in religion is just engaging in the same type of behavior that we are trying to combat. That the conversation needs to be elevated. There is no difference in telling a women her value lies in covering her body as in uncovering it.

  18. stargazer says:

    Any way to help us teach our son this great attitude? I was impressed by all the hundreds of people comfortable with their bodies on the beach in Florida last week. You could totally tell who was and who was not. My son is 9. We want him to have this same ability to hang out and see the girls and women as people and potential friends.

  19. Stargazer – Excellent goal! As an educator I recommend: (a) continual examination of attitudes and behaviors being modeled to and exhibited by your child to make sure that the child is not being modeled or demonstrating disrespect for women or for members of groups who are different; (b) ensure your child is aware of – through spending time with – examples of various women who are positive role models early in life, same goes for members of other minority groups; (c) ensure that you teach your child to learn to respect and appreciate rather than fear examples of women in various situations including on the beach early in life, and again same goes for other men and women in diverse cultural groups; (d) model respect for the customs, languages, cultures, and physical attributes of women – and men for that matter – that are different from your own in various situations including the beach in a way that demonstrates not just tolerance but importance, valuation and honor; (e) early in life remember the importance and value of play in a child’s life in which you or others you trust supervise playtime with girls in diverse settings and experiences such as camps, sports, youth and cultural fairs, that sort of thing.

    Always remember that children are going to be exploring new ideas and new concepts. You have the opportunity to guide that exploration – through mentoring and modeling – in ways that encourages positive views of women as leaders, as intelligent, as capable, and as worthy of respect and dignity.

    Books and conversation are important to. Even in small ways the things you say and read to your child are very important.

    Oh, and I’ll end with a controversial but important note. Your child will see negative examples and negative modeling. You’ll need to be prepared to have conversations about that too.

    Take care and have fun!

  20. Excuse the typos please. I was writing fast.

  21. Excellent, Jacob. Thank you!

  22. Anonymous says:

    As a mother of 3 sons I have been concerned about these very issues, but I don’t feel prepared on a practical level to teach them how not to objectify women. I would greatly appreciate knowing how to teach that in appropriate ways to boys at various ages. In my home circumstances are such that if these things are going to be taught, they’ll probably have to come from me. I can’t rely on my husband to be able to do it.

  23. On a practical level (I’m also the mother of sons, and a daughter; elementary-school aged) I think the easiest things to do can happen in our own home. Be more comfortable in your own skin. Like the Finns above, and Jacob’s example of his companion from Hawaii, if children are exposed to people unselfconscious in their own bodies, they internalize that as normal. Don’t hide your own body in normal activities- this might be hard at first, and make you have to deal with your own issues, but it can be done. Change in front of your kids and don’t act as though you’re ashamed. Don’t draw attention to their bodies in ways that are inappropriate- like telling a girl to cover her shoulders- be aware of messages sons will pick up from parents monitoring girl’s clothing choices. Talk openly, appropriately and frankly about bodies.

    Watch for sexism in the home- as Jacob illustrated, he began to self-consciously label the women as the enemy, utterly objectified and devoid of identity, without even realizing it, because he had been socialized to do so. Make sure your daughters are treated as (and spoken with and of) as individuals on their own right, not just as “someone” in relation to another- eg: someone’s sister, mother, daughter, wife, etc… that dehumanizes girls as well, and makes them valuable only in who they are to another (presumably male) person.

    These are small steps at home, but I hope implementing them while my kids are still young will make big changes over time.

  24. Anonymous – I’ve delivered workshops on cultural diversity in schools and corporate workplaces in addition (as a side/consulting type thing) to my education career. In addition to my earlier thoughts, here are further things I tend to recommend. I draw here largely on the work of Geneva Gay by the way if you wish to look up her work:
    – Acknowledge the value of the cultural heritages and accomplishments of women – from different ethnic groups.
    – Build meaningful experiential bridges (meaning getting out into the community of course) between your home and the cultural realities of a variety of women who are positive examples for you sons.
    – Bring in discussions and literature into your home for your sons that reflects multiple perspectives on lives of women (ideally from various cultural, social, and ethnic perspectives). – – Engage in dialogue with your children about what they read and if age-appropriate engage in shared reading of these books.
    Incorporate even in your home, as appropriate for your home, what Geneva Gay calls the “symbolic curriculum” including images, symbols, icons, mottoes, awards, celebrations, and other artifacts that are used to teach your sons knowledge, skills, morals, and values associated with valuing the intelligence, dignity and capabilities of women.
    Some additional writers you might like to explore who might be of use for you:
    – Julia Wood. I especially recommend “Gendered Lives: Communication, Gender and Culture.” You’d find a wealth of ideas here to build on for dialuge with your sons.
    – Martin Buber. I especially recommend “I and Thou.” If your sons (when old enough, this isn’t for children) read and discuss with you the promotion of equality in relationships and in dialogue described in this book I think it could be very beneficial. Buber is an existentialist philosopher and a Jewish theologian. Buber is not easy reading so this would be late-high school at the earliest for your sons, but you’d find ideas yourself.
    – Martha Nussbaum. I especially recommend her “Human Capabilities” approach. Nussbaum promotes valuing the promotion of human capabilities as a type of human right. This would be more valuable for you as a parent than for your sons at first (maybe your sons could read Nussbaum in their senior years of high school or early college years). I think you’d find ideas as a parent.

  25. Tracy – Agreed 100 percent with all you recommend.

  26. marginalizedmormon says:

    I feel the same way about this that I do about so many things about which I have ‘awakened’–

    if a person is willing to see things in a different light, then everything changes–

    political, social, cultural, spiritual, religious, even dietary–

    but the fact is that some of *us* bought the whole modesty thing and infected our children with it–

    There are other reasons for covering the human body: in hot, sunny climates, it’s healthier to cover the skin–

    in cold climates, it is healthier to cover the skin–

    freezing flesh isn’t pretty; neither is burned flesh–

    as for all the other ‘stuff’–yes, this culture has a warped perspective; there are many things in this LDS culture (and American culture) that are very warped–

    I can remember when a close family member was doing scientific research with a man from the middle east who was all covered in robes and turbans; yes, men cover themselves, too–

    this man mentioned to my family member that he thought it was sad that Americans didn’t know how to keep themselves cool; cotton robes and head coverings protect from harsh sun–

    anyone with skin cancer knows–

    much of this didn’t start with modesty, but with survival–

    and now that our interiors are so artificially controlled, most humans have forgotten–

  27. This is my comment I posted as I shared this article on Facebook,
    ” Should women dress more modestly in public? Yes! This is a matter of respect. Respect for themselves, respect for God, respect for sexuality. But are women’s appearances absolute dictators of men’s thoughts, invariably dragging them down with overwhelming feelings of lust and inappropriate thoughts and behaviors? No! To think that women’s appearances wholly dictates men’s thoughts and behavior is to submit to the lies that saturate our society resultant from pornography, that we are powerless to change and reject what we don’t want. We’ve got to fight inappropriate sexual expression together. This is a big problem that I believe is encouraged to exist by too much negative reinforcement of any sexual thought or desire whatsoever within groups and families who value modesty and appropriately expressed love. Particularly for LDS men, I feel that we only hear about what is forbidden as we grow up, without mention of the proper place for sexuality in our lives. I grew up and felt conditioned to think that anything whatever having to do with sexuality was evil, dirty, revolting, disgusting, sinful, selfish, dark, unhealthy, and unnatural. As a result of this taboo attitude, we men are naturally encouraged to explore and find out why it is so bad. Of course we need to warn about the inappropriate expressions, but we sure as heck better be discussing the appropriate and healthy blessings given to us by God in allowing us to enjoy our sexuality within the proper bounds. Young men and young women need to be taught what is proper and appropriate, with this as the emphasis. Then, all that is wrong and inappropriate will naturally become apparent, and we can view sexuality as the great and beautiful blessing it is. Is it necessary to dominate discussion with explicit teachings or descriptions of the actual physical acts? Of course not! That would be immodest. But it is necessary to allow sexuality to exist as the natural, wholesome, edifying, sanctifying aspect of our eternal existence that it truly is. Yes, it is eternal, and does not merely pertain to mortality. We need to get away from allowing people to think that sexuality is not explicitly discussed and portrayed because it is evil, and help people understand that it is not explicitly discussed or portrayed because it is good. So good that it is sacred in the eyes of God. It is only a tool of Satan if we allow it to be such.

  28. The mission story at the beginning reminded me of this Chinese proverb:

    Two monks travelled together in the woods. The older one had lived for many decades at peace apart from worldly pleasures, while the younger one had just recently made his vows and was still adjusting to the ascetic lifestyle.

    The two of them came to a river, and at the side of the river stood a young, beautiful woman. “I can’t cross the river by myself,” she said, “Can either of you help me?”

    Without hesitation, the older monk agreed to help and, surprisingly strong for his age, he lifted the woman up into his arms and entered the water. Carrying the woman above the surface of the river, the older monk forded across, followed by his younger companion. After placing the woman safely on the other bank, she thanked them profusely and they went their separate ways.

    The two monks continuing walking in silence. Finally, after some hours the younger monk could no longer hold his tongue. “Master,” he said, “you’ve always talked about leaving behind worldly temptations like women and wine. We’ve made our vows to rise above such things. Yet today you held a woman in your arms — the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen! — and carried her across the river without caring in the slightest. How can you explain this?”

    The older monk looked at his companion in great seriousness. “Young one,” he said, “hours ago, I left that woman back there at the river. Did you?”

  29. The last time I went to a church meeting was about 5 years ago. In this meeting, the parents were all in the same class because the bishopric needed to address the parents together with “a concern”. This “concern” was the way some of the young women in the ward were dressing when they came to church functions. The counselor said that parents were responsible for what their children were wearing and it shouldn’t be up to the YM/YW presidency to have to turn them away when they came to the church dressed inappropriately for the activity that was taking place. Many of the parents in the audience were silent and crying to themselves. These are the ones who had teenagers at home that they already struggled with on a daily basis concerning other issues such as respect and responsibility. Other parents, mostly parents of the younger children, were giving advice on how they set the limits in their own home about the acceptable length of a dress or skin showing in various places…In the end the message was, you are responsible for how your kids dress and we don’t want them showing up dressed inappropriately for the situation. HOW ABOUT JUST BEING HAPPY THAT THEY ARE SHOWING UP???? The comment was it detracts from the spirit. Does anyone really think it is the spirit that cares what a teenager is wearing? The lessons these teens learned from being turned away will have much more influence on them the rest of their lives than if they had just been loved and accepted.

  30. Michelle says:

    Thank you! I’ve been considering this topic quite a lot lately. As a woman, I’ve been really bothered by FB posts from well meaning friends about why daughters/friends/loved ones…all of them directed at women…should dress modestly. And always, always the “poor boys who have to look at half dressed women”. It’s a dangerous game to play.

    I believe in dressing modestly, and I do dress modestly. So what was it that bothered me about these articles? I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, other than I didn’t like the blame game going on. I have never and will never have control over someone else’s thoughts. No one has control over mine, unless I choose to let them, anyway.

    However, it is more than that. It has more to do with the way we see ourselves and others sexually. To say that, as a woman, I’ve never had a sexual thought about a member of the opposite gender would be a complete lie. Yet girls are so often made to feel very ashamed of being sexual. I don’t think it should be that way. Nor do I think we should feel justified in going about completely sexualizing whomever we find attractive. The fear driving us is exactly what keeps us from accepting that sexuality is a natural, beautiful part of life, and it keeps us from seeing whoever we find attractive as a person first and foremost. Aren’t the best relationships, sexual or otherwise, based on friendship and respect?

    There just has to be a better balance, and that is why I love this post. The dialogue we have with both genders needs to change.

  31. Ellen Hanna says:

    Jacob. I really appreciate your article. It helps me shift my paradigm about men in general. I used to think that men are driven in sex and sex only. You helped me feel motivated to change that paradigm. It helps me not feel fully responsible for the way I look around men. I know now that both parties are equally responsible. Thank you again.

  32. Excellent post. So well-written and so clear about the negative effects for men (and also women) that result from how we often frame modesty, sexuality, virtue, chastity etc. Thanks for giving me a very insightful look into how it affects and damages men.

  33. I think an important part of modesty discourse should be about why you are dressing “That way” are you wearing sleeveless shirts and shorts because you want to draw attention to your body? or is it just because we live in Utah and it’s 82 degrees today. The first is a bad reason to “Dress immodestly” the second is a very good reason.

  34. angelandsimba says:

    Oops. Hit post before I was done. I think in the church we absolutely must do a better job of divorcing Dress codes from the discussion of modesty.

  35. I really am wondering if it’s just the stories that leave young men feeling powerless and full of anxiety when confronted by a young woman not covered in a burka. This is an honest question here because your description of your reaction Jacob and that of other young men to their mental process when encountering women in various states of undress puzzles me. I grew up in the same Church, heard the same messages, and lived in a pretty typically strait laced middle class, conservative Mormon household where sex wasn’t something you really discussed. But I’ve never felt threatened by a young woman who strolled by in a string bikini or a coworker who wore overly revealing blouses. And I’m trying to put my finger on why that is the case.

    Look, I’m a guy with testosterone flowing through his system. I have the same attractions and interests as any other red blooded young man. If as a teenager and young adult I encountered an attractive young woman, she caught my eye and my interest. Sometimes fleeting thoughts would emerge but I always considered that part of my inner desires and something I wouldn’t act upon or even think about acting upon. Women were sexual beings to me, absolutely, but so was I and that was only a part of who we are and therefore only relevant in as much as it represented something we might act upon in the right circumstances (right place, right time, etc. i.e. think temple marriage).

    What I think inoculated me from this experience was potentially four cultural experiences in my young life that shaped me:

    1. My parents taught us to think for ourselves and reason through any particular instruction we encountered. From a pretty young age I took anything I heard at Church or school with a grain of salt and felt empowered to question and consider how well it fit with what I thought was right. Make no mistake, as kids we were strictly taught standards by my parents but we were also given the freedom to explore and understand the Gospel and ask the why question to anything we were taught. It wasn’t heresy to claim, “I’m not sure I believe that.”

    2. I grew up on the East coast and in the Midwest where the vast majority of people I encountered on a daily basis were not Mormon. And therefore sometimes they had very different standards from me but I learned to respect the differences. There were plenty of good people I knew who weren’t Mormon and who happened to wear a bikini to the swimming pool. (And when you spend your entire Summers at the local swimming pool you get used to seeing uncovered bodies.) My Dad was a scientist and my mother a stay at home educator who both grew up in California and once they completed school, in California and Utah, decided to leave the Mountain West because there were “too many Mormons there” and they were needed out East. My parents, knowing themselves, expected their children would question authority and potentially rebel against the majority and they wanted the Church not to be the majority in our life’s experiences such that if we rebelled against the majority, it wouldn’t be the Church.

    3. I had two older sisters who frequently talked with me about their experiences with the boys they were dating and who “brainwashed” me if you will by regularly explaining to me how I should treat a girl when I was older and started taking interest in and dating girls. They heavily shaped my attitude toward girls and women in general. I was a pest as a young boy but I was doted on by my sisters’ friends when I was not yet a teenager and they were.

    4. At a very young age and then again in high school many of my friends were girls. In early years, the only kids on my street were all girls my age. So we spent time together doing the kinds of activities kids do. Later in high school, many of my close friends were girls. We spent time together doing things as a group and while occasionally I found myself attracted to one or another of them it was rare that anything came of that attraction (in the way of a relationship). I apparently was one of the few guys who actually sat and listened to and understood the issues they were encountering: guys, clothes, school, parents, etc. And since they knew I held to a higher standard as a Mormon they felt comfortable talking with me. Since many of them were not members of the Church, it wasn’t unusual to talk about sex and where it fit in a relationship.

    So while I might have been hearing certain messages from the lessons my teachers were preparing for Sunday School and in YM and my parents were sharing at home, it was all filtered through my daily experiences. I think if you want young men and young women to develop healthy attitudes you need to help them understand and see each other as human beings and friends and nothing really quite accomplishes that as well as finding ways to mix them up. And I’m trying to replicate the same experiences in my own children’s lives.

  36. Great post, Jacob. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I think your mission experience you shared at the beginning is really telling. When we men are told and internalize that women are controlling us, it’s a short step to deciding they’re the enemy.

  37. We are all born naked, friend. The demon is not them. The demon is the mind. It is wrong and misguided for one to force opinions – or clothes – onto other people just because we can’t get our act together enough to the task of overcoming our own body/mind. That’s called losing the battle, and making others carry the dead weight. Comfortable enough to bare limbs to the sun and winds of the blessed earth can be not hubris but residing joyously in the divine and rare gift of life in a human body. Beware self-righteousness. Food for thought…

  38. Also, uncontrolled lust is only a mental imbalance. I am happily married, and sometimes a woman can be so beautiful to look at, I can’t help but look at that being… As a serious practitioner, I allow myself to feel the crushing weight of the joy of seeing ‘striking’ beauty in another. This task is not easy, and could bend to lust very easily. Let that joy crush me, and let love of life overtake me! Women do not control us. Women defend themselves against the darkened minds of men. And there are many, including those who strike out blindly at them mentally in displaced shame dwelling in their own fallen minds. That is disgraceful. And crazy! On Namo Narayani! (Victory and blessings to the divine feminine within and without)

  39. ChicagoGal says:

    Excellent article! Love i!

  40. k anderson says:

    I seriously am losing my mind with all the sharing of the ‘jessica rey bikini’ story on facebook. {slowly stepping away from the computer}

  41. Thanks, Jacob. This is the type of post I want when talking about modesty – not something at either extreme.

  42. You are largely missing the point with your essay. It’s easy to point the finger of scorn at isolated quotes cut off from their original context, but not helpful if you’re looking for real understanding.

    I’m all for men taking ownership of their own gonads and hormonal feelings. But let’s not pretend that some — many — women do not dress in an overtly sexualized, intentionally provocative manner. It is this immodest dress that we are typically warned against.

    I have taught my sons that they, and they alone, are responsible for their feelings, actions, and reactions. But I still hope the young women (my daughter included) will dress and act modestly, thus portraying a strong, positive, non-whorish image of females as intelligent human beings and not mere walking vaginas. And I certainly hope that my daughters-in-law will be among that group.

  43. Anonymous says:

    Yes, women with visible shoulders are SUCH whores.

  44. “non-whorish image of females as intelligent human beings and not mere walking vaginas.”

    Unbelievable. This is what you think of women who wear sundresses or t-shirts with exposed shoulders or shorts that don’t go down to the knees? That exemplifies the problem right there.

  45. DoctorD says:

    Rubbish post. Newspaper articles notwithstanding, research is far more supportive of Dalton’s line of reasoning than yours. As a physician at a research hospital, I can tell you that an individual’s dress does indeed induce “desire” in the deep structures of the male brain. When the male brain looks at females in various stages of undress and is imaged by PET and fMRI, noticeable differences are demonstrated. It has also been demonstrated (decades ago) via various neurotransmitters and physiological biomarkers, that men are increasingly ‘turned on’ proportionally to the degree that a female is naked. Of course, you could also read 2400 year old Greek physicians and writers, who would tell you the same. It is true that men and women are generally equal in terms of ‘magnitude of libido,’ but the types of libido are quite different between the sexes. Males are far, far more likely to have sexual responses to visual stimulation than females are.
    Does this mean women are responsible for men behaving poorly? Does this mean it is the responsibility of the women to dress in such a way so as to not stimulate men? Of course not. But Dalton and the woman commenting on bikinis make reasonable arguments.
    A more productive line of inquiry would be to discuss why you felt (still feel?) such guilt, when such feelings of guilt were not warranted.

  46. DoctorD, it wasn’t clear from your comment whether you are recommending the full Burqa or just the Hijab.

  47. Who wants to tell DoctorD that being a physian in a research hospital doesn’t qualify you to speak with the authority of an expert on this matter? Are you really under the impression that the writer of the post doesn’t think that brains react sexually to bodies? Are those the reading comprehension skills I need to cultivate to become a doctor qualified to swoop in and shoot down a strawman while brimming with overconfidence?

  48. Love what KD says: “I allow myself to feel the crushing weight of the joy of seeing ‘striking’ beauty in another. This task is not easy, and could bend to lust very easily. Let that joy crush me, and let love of life overtake me!” I too, like Leonard Cohen, am “oppressed by the figures of beauty.” But we have to bear this beauty, and embrace it, without dragging it with us.

    Reminds me of something Hermann Hesse wrote: “Young woman, fresh face, I don’t want to know your name. I don’t want to cherish and fatten my love for you. You aren’t the end of my love, but its awakening, its beginning. I give this love away, to the flowers along the path, to the glitter of sunlight in my wine glass, to the red onion of the church tower. You make it possible for me to love the world.”

    There is a difference between desire and lust. Lust, as in “whoso looketh upon a woman to lust after her, has committed adultery” is better translated in the Bible as “covetousness.” If we desire a woman, we are human, and healthy, and we should be happy to feel that desire. But to “cherish and fatten” that desire is covetousness. We must not be possessive. The beauty of the woman is ours, ours to enjoy in the moment. But it is not ours to keep. It is also evil to reject the beauty, because we really want to possess it, and we are struggling with that covetousness, so we reject the beauty. This is inhuman and wrong. A beautiful woman is to be enjoyed. To reject her is a sin. But to covet after her is evil.

  49. “A beautiful woman is to be enjoyed. To reject her is a sin. But to covet after her is evil.”

    I’m uncomfortable with this rhetoric because it literally objectifies women. Women aren’t objects to be enjoyed. They are human beings with inherent dignity merely by virtue of being human beings. Add to that their inalienable claim to equality with men by virtue of being human and it becomes difficult to speak of them this way, whether they are beautiful or not.

  50. John f., I do not objectify a woman by enjoying her beauty. Beauty, even physical beauty is a part of the whole, as Joseph Smith said, the soul of man is the body AND the spirit, in harmony.

    For someone to walk by a beautiful woman in a bikini without admiring her beauty is unnatural and miserly, just as it is sad and pathetic for someone who sees a beautiful sunset, and cowers in the shadows before it. The sunset is the only the faintest manifestation of the entire glory of the sun. The body of a woman (or a man) is also the faintest manifestation of a woman’s eternal glory, but it nevertheless is an eternal, God ordained manifestation.

  51. As a woman, I feel objectified when a man “enjoys my beauty.” I get that men might like what they see, but the moment they “admire,” or “enjoy,” or anything that indicates they are dwelling on it, it becomes creepy. A sunset is there to be enjoyed. It IS an object. It doesn’t have feelings, agency, motivations, will, dreams and desires of its own. It cannot be consumed the way women have for nearly the entire known history of mankind.

    The fact that I have a body is divine, but my physical appearance and another person’s opinion of it is NOT, NOT, NOT a part of my eternal glory.

  52. Fwiw, I wrote the following on my personal blog three years ago, and it is one of the most viewed posts I’ve ever written:

    “Charity Thinketh No Evil: Pornography vs. Nudity” (

    In the comment thread, the issue of “walking pornography” was brought up by someone familiar to everyone here, and there is plenty of clarification as a result.

  53. Angela C #6
    “Most of the men in my experience have been more like your mission companion, but this does explain some of the odd behavior I have seen from a handful of men, including some on my mission who seemed to actually hate and mistrust women.”
    This comment really struck a nerve with me. I noticed the same thing on my mission. Most of the Elders were great, but a couple of them really hated sisters and did not hesitate to show it. I could never figure out what my comp and I could have done to merit such disdain other than our very existence. One of these elders even disengaged the breaks on my companions bike as a “joke.” She could have been seriously injured or killed even. All I could think was how awful I felt for the woman/women than ended up with him.

  54. “A sunset is there to be enjoyed. It IS an object. It doesn’t have feelings, agency, motivations, will, dreams and desires of its own. It cannot be consumed the way women have for nearly the entire known history of mankind.”

    Excellent response. Amen. A sunset is an object; not a sentient being. It is there to be enjoyed. A woman is there to live her own life as an agent to act rather than be acted upon.

    On the other hand, if a woman offers herself up as a model for a beautiful sculpture or painting (or photograph) capturing her form, that sculpture is an object that can be enjoyed by all who see it.

  55. meganmneedham says:

    Some good points. There are lots of reasons for women to be modest and for men to control themselves regardless of a woman’s actions. Here are my thoughts:

  56. Silverain says: “my physical appearance and another person’s opinion of it is NOT, NOT, NOT a part of my eternal glory.”

    I find this sad, that one would have such a low opinion of their physical body and it’s beauty that they would not grant that it is a reflection of divine glory. The human body is beautiful, and that beauty is of God. It is an object, but no more an object than our spirit. All spirit is matter. Are we Mormons or what? I thought we were supposed to celebrate the physical. We have a material God, we believe in a literal resurrection, we believe that heaven is “just like this life but coupled with eternal glory,” yet we retain all these medieval notions about the inferiority of the flesh, and it’s “objective” rather than “divine” charachter.

  57. MDearest says:

    Jacob, what a thoughtful contribution to the modesty discourse.

    Best comment so far: OD 19 June 11:19am. This comment reveals a lot about what kind of development creates a guy who is comfortable with his (and others’) sexual nature. I think the key to his healthy attitude has more to do with what he describes in point 3 than anything else: At an impressionable age, as a school age kid and into puberty, he hung out with his older sisters and their friends who doted on him and he thoroughly internalized the idea that women were people first and foremost, no matter what they wore. So that when he was a teenager he was able to have friendly relationships with lots of women and girls, further strengthening his ability to handle himself. So that when a woman walked by on her way to soccer practice wearing shorts and a tank, he could see her as a person, and not have any offense or problem with her attire.

    That’s one of the key ways to help men get healthy, to learn about women as people while a boy is impressionable, not to keep the sexes unduly separated, and not to teach men and boys, and women and girls, from a very young age, that there is something abnormal and evil about their teenage libido such that all hint of it must be hidden or crushed.

    For the record, count me as one of those who rejects the excuses offered by the Christian woman and her apologists, decrying the immodesty of bikinis all over my Facebook. Run those tests on people who aren’t inherently prudish to begin with, like our commenter O.D., or like some cultures elsewhere in the world, and then report the results of those Pet scans.

    However, even though I reject the universality of those “scientific” findings, I do believe that such findings are our reality in our culture, at least for some at the present time, and it’s a kindhearted thing to be thoughtful of some of the men around us with crippled health, and not explode their brains with our bikinis or tank tops.

    And for heaven’s sake, quit teaching little innocent kids in primary that female bodies are sexual! (All bodies are sexual, and it’s a good and normal thing.)

  58. nate, nice mischaraterization of SR’s comment.

  59. Cor Wright says:

    So I guess I am trying to figure out what you are saying? Don’t worry about how people dress? I guess I don’t really care how girls dress, but I have always wondered why we are OK with young teenage girls wearing tiny bikinis at the swimming pool, but we would considered it totally perverted to have older men walking into a girls locker room where the girls are in their underwear? (which cover more than their swimming suits). Men are responsible for their thoughts, but ladies if you wear next to nothing don’t be offended when guys stare and trust me they are picturing you naked! Finally, please don’t tell me that even your companion was not somewhat distracted by half naked women! If he wasn’t he is not human! Bottom line you are responsible for you! It is no ones job but your own to work out your own salvation! So take owner ship and do what you feel is right but own it! Do not blame others!

  60. Heathermommy says:

    Nate – it makes me extremely uncomfortable that you are using religion as an excuse to “enjoy ” the beauty of women. All I can says is yuck.

  61. …please don’t tell me that even your companion was not somewhat distracted by half naked women! There is a huge difference between lusting, enjoying, passively taking it in, and looking the other way. There is even a significant difference between lust and arousal, they should not be conflated.

    When we make women responsible for men’s thoughts and actions we are enabling men instead of helping them understand these differences and getting a grip and we are repressing the woman’s otherwise healthy sexual response by training her to shut it down.

  62. MDearest says:

    Cor Wright – Yup, that’s basically what we’re all saying. Don’t worry about how people dress! But we realize (at least I do) that it’s not so easy for men who’ve been badly trained since infancy to look at women as other than themselves, as an abnormal sex, which leads to thinking of them as objects to be tempted by and energetically resisted. Further, when you think of women as being not fully in charge of their lives, and dependent on men for such things as guidance and judgement, well, you can see how things get out of whack for everybody. But don’t worry, you have my sympathy, and I won’t parade around in a bikini within your sight. But I also won’t defend you if some other woman stumbles across your path dressed in a way in which you and she have a difference of opinion. Her opinion of her own dress takes precedence over yours, and you might as well get used to that.

  63. If “Don’t worry about how people dress” is really the main point here then it is a silly point. Everyone (except perhaps devout nudists) cares to some degree how people dress. That’s why public nudity is banned virtually everywhere. San Francisco recently re-confirmed their ban on public nudity and SF is one of the most liberal cities in the world. So we all have modesty lines. With that fact in mind, these debates are just about preferences regarding where those modesty lines ought to be drawn.

  64. MDearest says:

    Geoff J Please be a pal and don’t put words in my mouth that I didn’t say. I think intelligent people can get my point if they approach it with the same good-hearted manner with which it was stated.

  65. MDearest,

    No problem. That’s why I used that handy copy and paste function — so I wouldn’t misquote anyone.

  66. MDearest says:

    For the record, I don’t advocate for public nudity. But you are correct that the discussion is about, to a large degree, where these lines ought to be drawn. Also whose autonomy should be respected, and whose boundaries should be unchallenged. It’s a worthwhile debate, and not at all silly to me. Nor are the peripheral issues silly to me. I have a husband, and sons, and brothers, nephews, and a whole ward full of male friends who are impacted by this.

  67. Since modesty, at its core, means moderation, of course it’s about where to draw lines – and is true of every topic where modesty is relevant, which is every topic imaginable. It also is about how we view and treat those who draw the lines differently than we do. I actually think the second is more important than the first – except at the extremes on either side of the mid-point.

    More than anything else, I wish we taught true, comprehensive modesty better in the Church – not just a dress code and how to react to it. If we actually taught modesty, and not just the application of it to how we dress, the need for much of this discussion would be moot – since we actually would understand the core issue and not just interpretations of this one small sliver of it.

  68. Kristine says:

    ” these debates are just about preferences regarding where those modesty lines ought to be drawn.”

    No, these debates are emphatically NOT about where to draw the lines. That’s trivial. They’re about who gets to draw the lines, and why, and how they explain it to the objects of their line-drawing.

  69. Humm, what happened to: “I teach them correct principles and they” draw the lines themselves?

  70. Angela C says:

    rk – your story about the elder cutting the sister’s brakes on her bicycle gave me a lurch in the pit of my stomach! I had a district leader who was an unabashed, vocal sister-hater. One evening, my companion & I were both feeling rotten, coming down with a cold, and we went to bed early. We were awakened a couple hours later by pounding on the door downstairs that was loud enough to wake up our landlord. I called down from the window to the elderly missionary couple standing there to see what was wrong. The DL had told them to come check up on us because he thought we had left the mission and gone out clubbing with an investigator because he saw us doing a street contact in front of the church with a single man. He jumped to the conclusion that it had to be sexually motivated for us to give a man a Book of Mormon, and so we had likely decided to leave our calling and whore it up. The elderly couple were both embarrassed and annoyed that they had to follow up on this baseless accusation when they saw we were sick and that they had awakened us at midnight for nothing (they lived a few streets away from us which is why they were deputized). I’m happy to say this DL was an extreme outlier, the worst misogynist I encountered in my mission. Although Jacob’s post leads me to believe there is a lot of hidden sexism that we women aren’t privy to seeing and hearing.

    IMO, the best remedy to this harmful cultural problem is exactly what the church just did – get elders and sisters serving together in nearly equal numbers, and you’ll see a generation of men & women who know how to run this church like equals.

  71. “I teach them correct principles and they” draw the lines themselves?”

    That’s exactly what I meant, but in far fewer words.

  72. Dcsouthgw says:

    Great ideas. I agree completely that men and boys need to own the responsibility for their thoughts and actions. If they can’t look at girls or women without sexualizing them, they are in the wrong state of mind. I do agree that modesty varies by age and location, but not that it is completely subjective. Modesty of a man or woman has little if any to do with protecting others from their own bad thoughts, but everything to do with honoring your own identity as a son or daughter of God. I do have an issue with a married person spending too much solo time with someone of the opposite sex. Every marriage has problems, and having a close girl friend creates options for escape.

  73. Kristine,

    I agree.

  74. Howard: “what happened to: “I teach them correct principles and they” draw the lines themselves?”

    We all do draw our own personal modesty lines. What makes you think otherwise? If you wanted to show up to Sacrament Meeting in shorty shorts and a tank top you are free to do that. There is no bouncer at the door. Or you could show up at your job with those shorty shorts if you wanted. Men and women are free to choose how they’ll dress (or not dress).

  75. Angela C says:

    Geoff J – “If you wanted to show up to Sacrament Meeting in shorty shorts and a tank top you are free to do that.” Funny you should mention that specifically. I was surprised when I saw a sign at a Buddhist temple in Phuket, Thailand that specifically prohibited “hot pants”! So, yeah, we all have different boundaries I guess.

  76. Tyler Lloyd says:

    I have never heard any General Authority teach that men are in any way less than 100% responsible for their thoughts (at least the thoughts they entertain and dwell on, rather than dismiss). But that is not to say that women do not also bear responsibility for the impacts on those around them of the way they dress. There is nothing inconsistent about encouraging women and young women to dress modestly in order to uplift those around them (rather than provide a source of temptation), while at the same time teaching men and young men that they are expected (and indeed are able!) to keep their thoughts virtuous despite whatever they may encounter in the world around them.

  77. Tyler Lloyd says:

    Re: Kristine

    Where the lines are drawn is certainly in some sense “trivial,” but I disagree with your statement that “these debates are … about who gets to draw the lines, and why, and how they explain it to the objects of their line-drawing.” It’s clear that the leaders of the church have the right and responsibility to teach members (and indeed all people) about the principle of modesty. I can guarantee you that the leaders of the church would love it if they could teach these principles in a very abstract, general fashion and have the members govern themselves, but there will always be members who need clear lines drawn, either because they want to be as close to the line as possible (or over it just a little) or because they want to make sure they’re on the right side of it. If that line is drawn in a different place than you like, that is an opportunity for you to exercise faith and practice obedience.

    Allow me to relate an experience from my youth that illustrates what I think is at the crux of these modesty debates. I remember Pres. Hinckley’s talk in which he provided some very specific line-drawing as to modesty, including the standard that, for young women, a single pair of earrings would be considered modest but two or more would be immodest (in the true meaning of the term: moderation). I remember thinking that it was a strange place to draw the line. Why puncture your body anywhere? Why are the ears okay but not anywhere else? Why only one? etc. But that is the nature of drawing lines–they are always in some degree arbitrary. But here’s the important part: a female friend of mine, after hearing the prophet announce this crystal clear standard, went out and — in response to it — got a second piercing. She only wanted the second piercing once she was told not to get it.

    The important thing is not precisely where the lines are drawn. No one’s eternal destiny hangs on an inch in either direction. What is important is our willingness to obey, even — ESPECIALLY — when the standards given are not in agreement with our own personal preferences. I don’t mean to imply this about you individually, but I worry that obsession with “who gets to draw the lines, and why, and how they explain it” buys into the world’s gospel of independence, rather than the Lord’s requirement that we (men and women) be submissive, meek, humble, patient (even with our leaders), and obedient.

  78. Overall, great post. I will say that a woman should have some consciousness of how she dresses. If she exposes her breasts, most men will be drawn to look. How you dress reflects how you wish to be perceived. If a woman exposes lots of skin, then she is drawing attention to her body. Yes, they can still be attractive with modest dress, but she’s still presenting herself in a different way

  79. Antonio Parr says:

    I don’t think it is possible or wise to divorce dress styles from modesty, or to think that if Mormons would loosen up about dress styles that our women would somehow be liberated from objectification.

    We are a minority religion, with a minuscule impact on cultural mores. Everything around us seeks to objectify women and define them by their beauty. Whether it is television, movies, Internet and/or, in particular, the advertising industry, all seek to encourage women to dress and act in ways that objectify them.

    The Church offers an antidote, and tries to impart a message that combats the ubiquitous, highly destructive message that a women’s worth is defined by her sexual allure. We do not live in a vacuum, and the LDS emphasis on modesty must be seen in context of broader societal mores. Like it or not, if we abandon our efforts to promote modesty in dress styles — especially with teenaged girls — then the “World”, I.e., the 99% that is not LDS, will respond in ways that undoubtedly will result in them being objectified in ways that will be harmful to them as daughters of God.

    There is a separate issue about valuing a woman’s ideas in the Church, and I agree that we can and must do better in soliciting and implementing the individual and collective brilliance and inspiration of LDS women. Like many of you, I know of too many stories were faithful, talented LDS women were not given the opportunity to voice their ideas, to the detriment of the individuals and the Church.

  80. Cor Wright said “Men are responsible for their thoughts, but ladies if you wear next to nothing don’t be offended when guys stare and trust me they are picturing you naked!”

    So this goes against everything I believe and teach my children and the youth of our church. You respect women, even if they don’t respect themselves. You treat them as a child of God NO MATTER WHAT because you know who they are, even if they don’t know who they are or have forgotten. You decide to treat people a certain way and then you do it! It doesn’t matter how they look, act, smell or dress.

  81. Antonio Parr says:

    P.S. my prior comment notwithstanding, the OP is thought provoking and especially well written. Thanks for posting.

  82. stargazer says:

    I have 2 early teen daughters, a nine year old son and 2 young daughters. I teach them that they covenant at baptism to make certain choices. Lots of people don’t make those covenants and we still need to have respect for them. I remember a discussion with my grandparents in which my granpa strongly held that there was a big difference between appreciating an attractive girl and picturing her in a sexual way in your mind. Full on debate ensued between my grands.

  83. “I’m happy to say this DL was an extreme outlier, the worst misogynist I encountered in my mission. Although Jacob’s post leads me to believe there is a lot of hidden sexism that we women aren’t privy to seeing and hearing.”

    I also believe this elder was an extreme outlier too. I don’t want to in anyway besmirch the reputation of the wonderful other elders I worked with. I do however agree with you about the hidden sexism part. In fact I know it was there. In our mission it was tradition to have a scrapbook that other missionaries and members would put their pictures and addresses in and sign. One elder in one district wrote something like this, “When I found out that I was going to a district with sisters I was told that sisters would be a ‘big pain’ (nice word) to have around. But it has been wonderful serving with you and Sister X.” I never had any sort of problem with this guy. I am glad that he gave us a chance. Sure some sisters can be a big pain, but then so can some elders

    I also hope that having more sisters in missions will help some of this misogyny.

  84. Trust.

    It’s an interesting word isn’t it. But that’s what much of the conversation comes down to.

    If men and boys in the church aren’t telling women what to do in the ways they dress, think, talk, smile, react, feel, and so forth, can the vast majority of girls and women in church be trusted not to act in ways that are totally inappropriate? I’d argue: yes. That stems from the values instilled by many good and loving parents like Stargazer, from the church and so forth

    If granted men can have the weaknesses in us that we do have, are we also capable of acting with love and kindness toward women even if women might wear a pair of shorts that don’t extend to the knees? I’d argue: yes. Again that stems from the values instilled by many good and loving parents like Stargazer, from the Church and so forth. I don’t view men as slaves to objectifying women even if an initial moment of weakness may occur in a man’s thoughts at times. Men can be loving and kind too.

    Does this mean I’m saying “down with all dress codes?” No, not necessarily. I’d settle for a good start as follows — if we recognize that men and women (and boys and girls) have it in them to be honorable, good, kind, altruistic people even if given the freedom to make choices.

  85. “…The LDS emphasis on modesty must be seen in context of broader societal mores. Like it or not, if we abandon our efforts to promote modesty in dress styles — especially with teenaged girls — then the “World”, I.e., the 99% that is not LDS, will respond in ways that undoubtedly will result in them being objectified in ways that will be harmful to them as daughters of God.”

    Agreed. I’d like to think there could be room for a discussion of the type of things that I and others have been advocating in freedoms for women without being viewed as advocating that the Church abandon core principles and teachings. I would not at all advocate that the Church abandon its core teachings and values. That would be a terrible mistake. I’d like to think those teachings and values could withstand a good dose of feminism.

  86. Geoff J,
    Please, it’s a straw man to counter a position that has not been asserted. You are simply taxing the discussion with unnecessary overhead when you use an example of a man attending Sacrament Meeting in shorty shorts and a tank top. That is just a diversion, in fact little can be learned about the topic at hand from your example. The church does draw modesty lines for it’s members more so for females than males. So instead let’s consider a woman elegantly dressed in tight black pencil skirt to her knees and a black translucent see through cap sleeve blouse with a lace bra and another woman in a red micro mini skirt with black fish net stockings and bra-less with a spaghetti strap camisole. The first is a bar tender at a posh country club or she works in an entertainment studio. The second works as waitress in Las Vegas or Atlantic City. Both women will be going to work immediately after church and plan to ware these outfits to church on-going. According to you we all draw our own personal modesty lines so bouncer or not how do you imaging this plays out in her ward?

  87. I really appreciate the OP. The mission experience was very interesting. We do take it for granted that the average american male response to a scantily clad woman is right or normal. That we are born that way. It is easier than looking at what we do as a culture that needs to change. It is easier than taking responsibility for our thoughts and actions.

    I’m all for modesty. I’m all for dressing appropriately for the occasion. I’m in favor of dressing in such a way that best represents you.

    This does not negate our personal responsibility to look on the heart of those we meet and love them. We are clearly meant to act and not give up that agency, especially for lack of a few inches of hemline.

    I have been fascinated by a book called “Sense of Self” by Susannah Sheffer. It studies homeschooled young women and their sense of self. Homeschooled young women don’t tend to go through the “I’m so ugly” junior high phase. I have found this with my own daughters. The book talks about how we can adjust public school, public attitudes…and looks at assumptions we make in what is “normal” development.

  88. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on this important if under-discussed topic. I felt I related very much to your experiences as a missionary and that I struggled with many of the same demons and much of the same culture in the church that you have. This is a conversation we need more of!

  89. It would be impossible to recall what chain of links led a 20-something atheist European feminist woman such as me to this page, but I’ll have to echo the first comment: this is definitely one of the best articles I’ve ever read on the subject.
    I appreciate your honesty about your temporary resentment of un-modest women and your clear analysis of the though and cultural processes behind it. It has led me to a clearer understanding of the forces at play in a phenomenon that has been puzzling me for quite a while.
    So all in all, quite an enlightening read. Thank you for writing this article.

  90. This is really, really good. Recently, a YouTube video has been circulating among YW leader-types on Facebook. This video discusses swimwear and how women who show more skin activate the “tool and object” center of men’s brains. Of course, the presenter’s answer to this was for women to cover up. I’m not against that, but I was wondering why nobody was addressing the men’s responsibility in this.

    I am all for modesty. I think pretty much everyone looks better with a few more clothes on. Do I think there is anything wrong with the occasional bikini or bare shoulder? No, not really. But, generally, I do think modesty is important. Just not for the reasons we usually say it’s important. Anyway, great post. It’s really great to hear a male perspective on this.

  91. Bryan S. says:

    “I’m not against that, but I was wondering why nobody was addressing the men’s responsibility in this.”

    People are addressing men’s responsibility in it. Lot of people are. And they are just as vocal about it.

  92. Angela C says:

    The study referred to by that swimsuit video is pretty flawed. They showed a very specific set of men photos of women’s bikini-clad bodies from the neck down – no faces or heads. Then they noticed that the brain areas associated with “tools” lit up. Well, no kidding. Mine would too. I see a headless torso and I think “forensics.” But using bad data, 50 year old song lyrics, and the world’s most popular dead actress to sell products is the American Way, so I guess rock on fake modesty swimsuit lady!

  93. Kim – read the actual study by Susan Fiske and colleague in which 21 college-aged men at Princeton were participants. Brain scans revealed that when the participants were shown pictures of scantily clad women, the region of the brain associated with tool use lit up. To take the study to mean anything further than that is a misuse of the study by the people who are spamming Facebook and other boards with the video you are describing, and I’ve seen the video. The study does not take into account cultural factors. It does not look into actual behavior. All it shows is that 21 heterosexual male college-age students at Princeton University had various levels of objectification of women in moments in which their brains were scanned as they were shown pictures of scantily clad women, particular when the pictures didn’t include faces.

  94. I’m unimpressed with brain geography.

    What do we know about the commonalities and associations of different kind of inputs that stimulate activity in a generally area of the brain? Are they the same neurons or neighboring neurons or neighborhood neurons? Is this correlation cause? We have a pretty good idea of what a neuron is and we can see areas of activity. What do we know about the logic that connects the two?

  95. Howard – even neuroscientists would argue that such studies should be viewed with caution. For example in my field it’s not uncommon for researchers in education to be interested in brain mapping in relation to brain activity involved in reading, but neuroscientists who know far more than educational researchers like me about the brain urge us to be cautious.

  96. In my field brain imaging related to a child who is reading text is viewed as one facet of studying reading processes and way to improve instructional practices for students who may struggle with reading. No one that I know in my field would take brain imaging results and spam the facebook pages of fellow researchers with a sales pitch video. If someone did that they would lose credibility.

    Same goes for that swim suit video. She and her supporters who are spamming boards are misinterpreting how a study is meant to be used, either on purpose or out of ignorance of the scientific process I’m not sure. It is a quite limited study with limited application intended to be part of a larger conversation in the research literature.

  97. MDearest says:

    My most important takeaway (though not the only one) from the YouTube video of the Christian woman talking about swimsuits and the mens’ brains study, is that she was selling her own line of swimsuits.

    Also, it was 21 men? College guys at Princeton? Shown photos of heads-cropped bikini-clad women? Yikes.

  98. Howard,

    You offered up a drive-by snark. I responded to one of its obvious implications.

    As I said, people can where whatever they want in the church. There are guidelines taught, but no bouncers at the door.

    (Of course as we are often taught, we choose our own actions but we can’t choose the consequences of our actions so we should keep that in mind when we choose what we wear to work, school, or church.)

  99. By the same token Geoff, we should keep that principle in mind when we push people away from the Church because of our rhetoric and modesty discourse. Anything but placing responsibility for men’s thoughts on men plays into the broader societal plague of holding women responsible for policing men’s thoughts through covering up their bodies (though this is often expressed in the opposite way in society today: exploiting women’s bodies in marketing and advertising to sell goods or ideas). The Church should be training its youth and men to look away if necessary rather than to feel empowered or authorized to lecture a woman on her dress and the “effect” it is having on that man. The latter shifts the responsibility for that man’s thoughts onto the woman.

    Simultaneously, we can be teaching the value of “modesty” in dress (hopefully combined with teachings about modesty in all other facets of life, including homes, cars, vacations, toys, politics, etc.) to both men and women on a basis that focuses on each individual as an agent acting for him or herself and not being acted upon. If our young women choose to wear clothing that would cover up temple garments in anticipation of someday wearing them, then perhaps they would be doing so based on correct principles that relate to their own inherent worth and standing before God and not because their bodies are objects that are spiritually harmful to the men around them (as if the men around them couldn’t protect themselves from any such potential harm by the choices that they themselves as Mormon men would need to make when confronted with a sight that might arouse sexual attraction, i.e. look away or bridle the passions or whatever else might need to be done in the context of taking responsibility for those thoughts and desires rather than imputing that responsibility onto the woman).

  100. (the “principle” I am referring to in that comment above is the principle Geoff mentioned of “we choose our own actions but we can’t choose the consequences of our actions” — sometimes in the Church we act like this only applies to the actions of “disobedient” people and is somehow not a principle that applies to all action, including the actions we take when trying to implement a policy that we in good faith think is supposed to put in place a useful hedge around the law.)

  101. Interesting view point. I am a 36 yr old mother of 3 girls. I wear a bikini and my daughters don’t. They are modest mollies all by themselves. (Which I am very grateful for) As for me, I am very comfortable with myself weather I gain 5 pounds or not. I wear a bikini for me and not because of looks I may or may not get. I am on the lake often as I rent and teach paddle board lessons. I wave and talk to most of the fisherman and lots of boaters. I honestly feel that me smiling at them first and engaging in regular conversation keeps us all comfortable. I may be wrong from a mans point of view but I feel that the fact that I not seeking attention makes a difference. I love your companions out look on it all.

  102. Geoff J,
    The truth is, acceptable choices in what we ware to church are narrowly culturally limited. Yes, you may choose to step outside that cultural boundary but if you do there are consequences that tend to increase the further outside the limits you choose to go. You may also walk into church carrying a concealed weapon and open fire, there are consequences to that as well. Your point is a distortion.

  103. Jessicamidan says:

    We have been asked to live a modest life. I feel like that is reason enough to dress modestly. We have been asked to follow the example of Christ. Christ loved women and never objectified them nor was afraid of them. He saw them as what they were inside and what they could become. He also saw men as leaders not animals. He saw them as confident faithful fathers, sons, and husbands and that’s what he expected of them. He saw the women as virtueous bearers of light and truth. I agree that our views of this modesty issue have become skewed. I dress modestly because I have been asked to. I feel like we need not add any other reasons. It’s not for the males or to show my personal righteousness or anything silly like that. I do it because that’s what has been asked of me by leaders of this church who love an care and I am not blindly following. I thought about it and looked at what sacrifice it would be to dress in such a way and saw it was something simple I could do and wanted to do. I chose that because it felt right for me. For others things may be different. Everyone has their agency. Same with our thoughts. I choose not to harbor thoughts that are not appropriate even if they naturally come I have been advised that this is a good moral thing to do and it felt right to me so that’s why I do it. :) we are all daughters and sons of God and he all loves us and we are all NOTHING without him. That’s really all that matters. We cannot control others dress or thoughts. We can only control ourselves in which ever way feels right to us and makes us happy. We must still love others even if they are different from us. Believe it or not everyone is different from you but we are all not perfect. Lets cut each other a little slack and stop expecting others to be perfect. :) I liked this article because he brought up some good points. This all comes down to following our savior and feeling his love (charity) for others. :) God is good and we are so blessed to have the chance to come down here and receive our bodies. Lets not forget that when discussing these “issues” :)

  104. MDearest says:

    Jessica, one of the points of this whole discussion is that a woman can wear a bikini, in public, and still be a modest, righteous woman. Rachel, two comments up, is a perfect example. At least, that’s how I view her, and that’s how Jacob’s companion in the OP would view her.

  105. MDearest says:

    If I misunderstood the intent of your comment, Jessica, I apologize. After a second, more attentive reading, I find much to agree with in it.

  106. The Other Brother Jones says:

    This is a great thread! I think the original post is great and true and realistic. I appreciate the opinions of the dissenter also. But here is my take:

    It is true that some men are turned on by thinking about women in a sexual way. And some men don’t need much provocation to go there. That is the man’s problem. But this tendency comes in large part, from our attitudes in the church which are pretty puritan. We don’t talk about sex at all if we can avoid it. Especially at church. And when we do it is always negative. NO Sex. No Touching! Don’t be alone together any where ever! Don’t go into her room! Don’t don’t don’t. That is the church’s problem. but I see them working on it.

    I think it is reasonable to see a beautiful thing (woman, sunset, corvette, whatever) and appreciate it. Enjoy it. It is possible, expected that this can happen with a woman without it being an inappropriate, lustful thought. But I hear woman saying that this is objectifying, belittling and hurtful. Certainly it can be, if the guy is having lustful thoughts. But unless the guys is following her and trying to look down her blouse I don’t know how the woman can make that judgement. I think woman have been trained that men are uncontrollable sexual beasts, and if he is looking at you he is thinking of sex.

    Men get the same message.

    What I got form the original post is that it is possible for a man to see a woman as a daughter of God, an intelligent person, someone who has a lot to offer on a lot of different levels, and appreciate her for that all before he sees her as a sexual being(which she also is). But by seeing her in a balanced way he can appreciate her beauty as part of a great package, and not as a threat to his sexual feelings.

    however he got that way, that is the way to be. But there is a lot of distrust of immodest women from men who have been sexually repressed, and a lot of distrust of men from women who have been trained in a negative mindset.

    Just my 2 cents.

  107. Heathermommy says:

    Don’t you see the irony when you say you are not objectifying us in the same breath that you compare us to a sunset or a corvette??

  108. Tyler Lloyd says:

    I’m tired of reading the same old arguments based on false dichotomies. Men are impacted by immodest dress, but are still capable of (and are expected to) controlling their thoughts and behaviors. Women ahould dress modestly out of obedience and a sense of their own worth, but it is also worthwhile for them to appreciate and understand the effects their dress can have on others. All people deserve respect and love as children of God, but beyond that base level, respect is earned by our actions and behaviors. We welcome all people into the church despite their shortcomings, but we also strive to teach all Saints to follow church standards.

    If your posts engage in “either this or that” logic with regard to any of the above, you are part of the problem rather than the solotion.

  109. Tyler Lloyd says:


  110. “I’m tired of reading the same old arguments based on false dichotomies.”

    “If your posts engage in “either this or that” logic with regard to any of the above, you are part of the problem rather than the solution.”

    Was this an intentional object lesson?

  111. I’ve recently been doing some reading on the “quadrune” model of the brain, and how at the most central and basic structural components of the brain are wired to seek after food, protection, and sex. Can’t deny it. We’re hardwired for it. It doesn’t mean we aren’t responsible for our actions, it just is a frank understanding of the underlying forces and impulses these bodies come with. The constant struggle between our divine nature as children of a Heavenly Father and our animal instinct/”Natural Man”/default behavior/physiology is already shaky at best – the last thing any of us needs is someone tipping the scales by walking up and flashing as much skin as is culturally acceptable, (which is becoming more accepting of wearing less). Just because someone may be “used” to something, or may not feel effected by something makes no difference; our conscience is like our sense of smell – hang around something stinky long enough and you stop noticing it smells bad. “Sex is a river of fire that must be banked and cooled by a hundred restraints if it is not to consume in chaos both the individual and the group.” (Will and Ariel Durant). To place the blame solely on males is like parading trucks full of beer and liquor in front of a recovering alcoholic and blaming their relapse solely on a lack of self-control. If males act upon their impulses and don’t override them with a greater understanding of the divinity of women, then they should be ashamed of themselves, but if women are revealing more skin to the general population than is appropriate for their divine role just for a false sense of power, freedom, fashion, acceptance, etc., then you’re darned tootin’ they should be ashamed too.

  112. Hue Man says:

    Comparing men to Christ is a bit unfair. To the best of our knowledge, Christ loved women in a non-romantic way. He wasn’t dating them, trying to get their attention, wooing them, courting them, much less marrying and eventually having sex with them. Yes, men don’t need to see women as “objects.” We all know that. Modesty helps with that. But there is no way to completely eliminate the sexual aspect of male interaction with females. But, let’s play fair. What do we have to do so women will stop objectifying men?

  113. “We don’t talk about sex at all if we can avoid it. Especially at church.” Says someone who has obviously never sat through certain RS lessons.

  114. For what it’s worth, I wasn’t trained in a “negative mindset” at all. It was men who taught me to distrust them. Men who think that seeing something and liking it is an invitation. Men who think that it is their right to consume and “enjoy” a woman without being expressly and clearly invited by her to do so. Men (such as you) who compare us to things to be used. It doesn’t matter much if the usage is passive or active.

    Is it any wonder that we are afraid, disgusted, or turned off by this? We women know, as a gender, that we are weaker than men. We know that if a man, in general, feels sufficient deserts, he can take what he wants. We know that historically, they often do. So no, a man has NO right to entertain notions of a woman as a sexual being until and unless she invites him to do so. Her beauty (or lack thereof, because that is the other side of this bright, shiny coin) is not HIS to be enjoyed, is not HIS to dwell upon, is not HIS in any way. It is an intrinsic, biological, imbalance of power which makes it inappropriate for a man to entertain thoughts of a woman’s beauty at all until she invites him to do so. Completely. Mind you, thoughts pop into a man’s head. There is nothing wrong with that at all. But that is a far cry from “enjoying” or entertaining those thoughts.

    I sometimes wonder how the world could be different if men realized and truly understood how much our female vulnerability (speaking in general, and not specific because there are many naive women out there, even experienced ones) colors our lives. It’s not just about rape. It’s about everything, every aspect of what we do and how we think when around men who think that our appearance—our very existence—is there for them to “enjoy.”

  115. I have faith in men: that not all are like this. I have faith that men can control themselves and learn to respect us female counterparts. I have faith that men are capable of understanding the power they have over us, and refusing to use it.

  116. “Comparing men to Christ is a bit unfair.” – This is a straw man because no one here is saying that you are a expected to be sinless. You are asked to follow the path as a Christian, I will grant that.But no one in this discussion is asking you to lead Christ’s specific lifestyle of celibacy or to be without sin.

    “But there is no way to completely eliminate the sexual aspect of male interaction with females” – This is a straw man too, no one is asking you to do this.

    “But, let’s play fair” – Agreed, please recognize what it is that people are actually saying and don’t create straw men to defeat.

    “What do we have to do so women will stop objectifying men?” – Ah, the “you too” fallacy.

  117. “… wired to seek after food, protection, and sex. Can’t deny it. We’re hardwired for it.”

    There’s more to cognitive science and cognitive functioning than this. This is argument is made based on lack of apparent study of cognitive sciences.

    “…flashing as much skin as is culturally acceptable ….” Straw man. That’s not what is being asked by people here.

    “our conscience is like our sense of smell – hang around something stinky long enough and you stop noticing it smells bad.” On what grounds do you say this? For some people this may be true but is isn’t necessarily true for all people, we can rise beyond that.

    “To place the blame solely on males …” Straw man, that’s not what is claimed here.

  118. No one is denying that there’s hardwiring to seek food, protection and sex. But to say we’re slaves to basic drives is scientifically wrong.

  119. Enjoying a woman’s beauty does not necessary compel a man to objectify her or lust after her.

  120. “To the best of our knowledge, Christ loved women in a non-romantic way. He wasn’t dating them, trying to get their attention, wooing them, courting them, much less marrying and eventually having sex with them.”

    We have nothing (absolutely nothing) to tell us one way or the other whether the assumption above is correct or not. Given our actual historical record, “to the best of our knowledge” can mean that Jesus did every single one of those things – and every argument I have heard that claims he did none of them is based on prior assumptions and not grounded in historical reality. Sure, he might have been celibate and lacked natural attractions – but that would deny an important part of how we view and talk about the Atonement, imo.

    Thus, I reject it and the argument flowing from it.

  121. There is too much here to respond to directly, so let me add some additional thoughts.

    My companion was not perfect by any means. Obviously. And this one conversation we shared about women, sex, temptation, etc, was not the sum total of either of our experiences or completely representative of either of our ways of thinking. Clearly I used this experience as a jumping off point to a much larger issue, but it would be unfair to be reductive one way or another about what we derive from his advice to me. He was a normal man as far as sexual desire was concerned. Of course his level of awareness of women (physically) would increase the less dressed a woman would become and he could become distracted just like any man might in particular situations. The point was that fear, anxiety, and powerlessness (and the concurrent thought that he didn’t need to do anything “extra” to ward himself off from danger) were not associated with any of these normal male responses. And that they simply are with a large number of men in our culture. Was I saying that a demand that women do their part so that men can do theirs is a direct result of feeling this way? Absolutely yes. The mutual responsibility that Elaine Dalton spoke of may or may not be synonymous with this idea, but the mutual responsibility that I’m talking about is a responsibility to ensure that we and others can actually become responsible for our own thoughts and behaviors, a responsibilizing of responsibility. As men and women we are responsible for building relationships of trust, friendship, and self-worth, according to agreed-upon scriptural models of community, so that we can become free to truly be free, and all of the good we can do with such freedom.

    Which leads to point number two, where we encounter a completely dichotomous view of how that would go down–the moment we cease stressing modesty discourse, women and girls will immediately turn to miniskirts and tankinis in an orgy of hysterical mass immodesty. Not only do I think we can trust our good people not to do this, even if it did happen, it’s neither here nor there, which is at the heart of my post. My experiences as a recipient of modesty discourse and the ways we sexually narrativize women and men were what was largely responsible for me breaking women down into sexual parts in a Law of Moses-like set of codes and standards that focused explicitly on specific bodily parts and therefore prepared me to efficiently zero in on those parts as a way of sizing up (mostly subconsciously) every woman I would encounter. Most men do that of course, as has been noted here multiple times, but the goal of the sizing up was to anticipate a potential threat to personal purity, which itself wasn’t even close to successful, since as I said in the post, there is little women can do to make men forget that they are in fact women. Works the same for women assessing other women, assessing them as competition or threats to male loved ones. So as a result we see people thinking that children can be immodest ( because children (well, girls) have many of these same parts and must be treated accordingly (covering up legs, shoulders, etc). In answer to this, I think Angela’s recent post on BYU’s Honor Code (, particularly her suggestions at the end, applied culture-wide would work wonders.

    Creating new stories and new emphases would be a very long process, at least a generation long. But we can start now. Many have commented that they grew up in the same culture I did but not with the same negative effects. But there was always a caveat–parents who consistently taught them in more healthy, mature ways, de-emphasizing particularly harmful ways of speaking about women, etc. There are better, less destructive, more holistic, and more realistic ways to teach and model sexuality, ways that bring out the best in both sexes.

  122. Tyler Lloyd says:

    Ray — there are valid dichotomies. Your snarky reply to my post is a perfect demonstration that one can in fact be part of the problem and not part of the solution. But if it helps I’ll restate: using the false dichotomies I listed is unhelpful, generates more heat than light, and evinces a desire to argue rather than a desire to seek mutual understanding.

  123. Tyler – Then be part of the solution yourself, please.

  124. Tyler, my response contained no snark whatsoever. None.

    I reject the statement I quoted simply because it is based on an assumption that is not supported in the scriptural accounts we have. There literally is no way to say one way or the other, or anywhere in between, what Jesus thought, felt and did in regard to sex and all things sexual, since there is no context given of his life prior to his ministry. In fact, without the reference to Peter’s mother-in-law being sick, we would have nothing whatsoever about the private lives of any of Jesus’ closest disciples. We simply don’t know, and we ought to admit that rather than claiming we do to some degree.

    In other words, there is no “to the best of our knowledge,” since there is no knowledge at all about those specific things. Lack of knowledge does not equal knowledge of anything except its lack – so there is nothing that can be extrapolated knowledgeably about things for which we have no detail.

    Thus, “to the best of our knowledge” is useless when talking about how Jesus approached women romantically or sexually. The best of our knowledge in that field is the same as the worst of our knowledge – non-existent.

  125. I mistyped in my last comment.

    should have said we would have nothing whatsoever about the sexual / romantic lives of any of Jesus’ closest disciples.

  126. *sigh*

    Whenever someone writes in absolutes, there always will be exceptions that destroy the absolutes.

    Before anyone mentions it, I know that Jesus condemned adultery, for example. What we don’t know, to any degree, is how he felt about the non-extreme aspects of what Tyler said – the issue of how he loved women (romantically and/or non-romantically) and how he felt about “dating women, trying to get their attention, wooing them, courting them, much less marrying and eventually having sex with them.”

  127. Hue Man says:

    Writerteacher11-I see your straw man and raise you a heartless tin man who ogles women.

  128. And that would be a red herring.

  129. Hue Man says:

    WT11- Do your research. Herrings are not red. More like a silver, slightly blue even.

  130. Bro B said:

    To place the blame solely on males is like parading trucks full of beer and liquor in front of a recovering alcoholic and blaming their relapse solely on a lack of self-control. If males act upon their impulses and don’t override them with a greater understanding of the divinity of women, then they should be ashamed of themselves, but if women are revealing more skin to the general population than is appropriate for their divine role just for a false sense of power, freedom, fashion, acceptance, etc., then you’re darned tootin’ they should be ashamed too.

    Brother B, who decides how much skin is “appropriate for their divine role”? Because these guys make the EXACT SAME ARGUMENT that you’re making (“Don’t be a trial for the brothers, have pity on them.”) to say that women need to wear floor-length shapeless robes and headcoverings down to their belly buttons (as opposed to those shamefully revealing ones that only go to your collar bone).

  131. Cynthia L –

    Here are some good guidelines to start with:

    Spencer W. Kimball (President)

    I wonder if our young sisters realize the temptation they are flaunting before young men when they leave their bodies partly uncovered. They frequently wear short skirts and body-revealing blouses and sweaters that seem to be worn to draw attention to the form of the girl and to emphasize sexuality. (Faith Precedes the Miracle, p.163)

    Dallin H. Oaks (Quorum of the Twelve)

    Young women, please understand that if you dress immodestly, you are… becoming pornography to some of the men who see you. (Ensign, April 2005)

    Mark E. Petersen (Quorum of the Twelve)

    Is there any reason why Latter-day Saints, nearly three million strong, have to go around like sheep, following the disgusting fashions of the world? Why should Latter-day Saint women and girls expose themselves by immodest dress, either in short skirts or tight blouses or however else you want to mention it.

    I tell you, ladies, you are not made lovely by short skirts; when you stoop over or when you sit down, especially, are you not made lovely by short skirts. It is a very serious matter. Many a boy who has lost his virtue has confessed to me that short skirts and other exposures gave him the temptation that started him on his way down. No woman—certainly no Latter-day Saint woman—has the right to tempt any young man. You don’t have the right; and if you tempt others by exposing yourself, God will hold you to account for it. (Relief Society Conference, Hyde Park Chapel, London, England, May 27, 1967)

    Since the sanctity of the body is so related to the sanctity of sex, why make the body so common? Why expose to the public eye this sacred thing which is the temple of God? I tell you, girls, when you expose your bodies, whether on the dance floor, or otherwise, you do yourselves a great injustice, and you likewise do your boyfriend an injury. I wish you girls could sit behind the curtain sometimes when we have private interviews with boys, and these boys really express themselves, man to man, about how they feel concerning modesty of dress. I have talked to many of these boys. Some of them have told me that their moral downfall began with a girl’s immodest dress. They were tempted, right on the dance floor, just by what they could see, just by what was not properly covered up. (Toward a Better Life, p. 125)

  132. I think this is a perfect example of one of my favorite quotes from C. S. Lewis:

    “He (the devil) always sends errors into the world in pairs–pairs of opposites…He relies on your extra dislike of one to draw you gradually into the opposite one. But do not let us be fooled. We have to keep our eyes on the goal and go straight through between both errors. We have no other concern than that with either of them.”

  133. Bro. B, if you are going to remove a portion of a quote, at least have the decency not to remove the portion that directly ties the quote to men and changes it to appear to put all the responsibility on the women (or, in this case, the young girls).

    I find it interesting that the only time you did it was to remove a mere three words. Seriously, you deleted only three words – and those three words are the exact words that put Elder Oaks’ comment in the context of something he had spent his entire talk up to that point emphasizing as a problem with men. In context, he spent a long time calling men to repentance and then mentioned, in passing, that “some” men turn immodestly dressed women into pornography. That means those same young women, dressed in the exact same way, do not become pornography to some men – most men, I would argue. It isn’t the young girls who dress immodestly that is the core issue; it is the men who turn them into pornography.

    I don’t like the wording of that sentence – not one bit, but I am willing to chalk it up to bad phrasing, given the entirety of his talk.

    Also, it appears you simply cut and pasted the excerpts, in that exact form, from somewhere else that had done the editing. At least that is the charitable view. The uncharitable view is that you deleted those three words intentionally – and, if that is the case, it is despicable.

  134. And, since nobody here is advocating any extreme, the quote from C.S. Lewis is totally irrelevant – except, perhaps, ironically, to refute the extreme position you might be taking.

  135. Two rejoinders: First, the most effective and potent sexual communication is accomplished with the eyes alone, so how a person is dressed is really beside the point. In fact, THAT look, coupled with “modest” dress, can be just this side of irresistible.

    Second, I get lots of attention from the sisters in my ward. Not all of this is spiritual. Generally speaking, when I go to church on Sunday I am clothed foot to neck.

    So obviously there’s much more to this game than just skin.

  136. Howard,

    My point about you being free to wear hot pants to church if you want is in direct response to your point. You said “Humm, what happened to: “I teach them correct principles and they” draw the lines themselves?” My response is that the church does teach what it believes to be correct principles regarding dressing modestly, then lets us decide what we’re going to actually wear all by ourselves.

  137. Just to say it clearly, Jesus offered the definitive statement in this regard, I believe, in Matthew 5:28:

    “But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”

    There are no qualifications or disclaimers in this statement that apportion some or all of the blame on the women after whom the men are lusting – and there also is no condemnation of men who look, recognize, appreciate, respect, etc. but do not “lust after”. In fact, there is implicit acknowledgment that righteous men will look on her and not lust after her – that the responsibility for the response is on the man alone.

    That is the principle I want taught – and I would love it if a traditionally dressed prostitute could walk into one of our Sacrament Meetings and not have a man in the congregation “lust after her” – but be grateful she found us, no matter how she was dressed. I wouldn’t want anyone to chase her away or wish she had stayed outside – to judge or “disfellowship” her, as a person, in any way just because of the way she was dressed.

  138. Ray –

    I did pull those quotes from another page. They were sufficiently cited, so I didn’t see the need to cite the page itself, but here it is:

    As far as taking Elder Oaks’ words “out of context”, that’s the thing I really like about his style of writing. He presents small nuggets of doctrine that are separate, distinct principles which are presented within the context of other doctrine, but can be removed and preached as individual principles. Who the bulk of the message was intended for is only loosely coupled to the principle quoted above, and thus I don’t think the abbreviated version loses any credence or power.

    I wasn’t saying that any extreme is necessarily being preached here. The mere fear of the extreme is all that it takes to get us to slide ever so slightly to one side of the straight-and-narrow or the other. Adversary doesn’t care which side, as long as we’re not smack-dab in the middle. That’s what Lewis was warning about, and that is what I see happening and the most concerning part of this conversation.

    I see it as going to rights vs. responsibilities – there are some who fight for the right to dress how ever they see fit, but ignore the responsibility they have to “dress and beautify” their bodies in a way that is modest and pleasing to the Lord without going too far one way or the other.

  139. “Adversary doesn’t care which side, as long as we’re not smack-dab in the middle.”

    Sometimes, there simply is no adequate response – and the last paragraph describes perhaps nobody on this site, in this thread.

    I think it’s time we call this quits. Good night.

  140. Antonio Parr says:

    All of the comments that attempt to reduce the issue of modesty to its impact on Mormon men are missing the mark. We are a tiny minority, and women who choose to dress in ways that are universally understood by current societal mores to be sexually provocative will usually provoke a sexual response.

    To those who keep insisting that the average man is capable of responding in a chaste way to provocatively dressed women, the multi-billion dollar porn industry and the multi-billion dollar advertising industry would suggest otherwise.

    I realize there might be some academic intrigue to this issue, but at the end of the day are there really any of you who are not teaching your daughters to dress in ways consistent with general LDS teachings on modesty? There is a battle out there for the hearts of our children, and it would be foolhardy to fail to recognize the absolutely evil forces in this world that would seek to sexualize our children at increasingly younger ages. This is the context in which the LDS Church offers guidance regarding moral issues.

    Here’s a thought: maybe the Holy Spirit is working in and through the LDS Church, and maybe its teachings on modesty are given to strengthen our children for the battle that they are waging against forces that don’t give a damn about their hopes or dreams or souls.

  141. WT11 – Check out “Bonds That Make Us Free” by C. Terry Warner or any of the self-deceit ion books by the Arbinger Institute for a primer on just how corruptible and dynamic our consciences are. Shoot, we can even lose the Light Of Christ. And how can the hearts of men fail them unless their “hearts” (i.e. conscience) by their very nature are malleable?

  142. Ray –

    See below RE: “falling off the path” –

    “How proud we ought to be to belong to a church that makes specific demands of us and gives us specific things to do and marks the strait and narrow way, lest we fall off one side of the precipice or the other. I am so grateful that God loves us enough to teach us specifically. Had secularists written the Ten Commandments, they might have said, ‘Thou shalt not be a bad person.’ Note what the Ten Commandments say: ‘Thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not covet, thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain, thou shalt not commit adultery,’ and so on. The gospel of Jesus Christ is specific because God cares specifically for each of us and, caring for us, will mark the way carefully lest we fall out of happiness.” – Neal A. Maxwell (“But For A Small Moment”, BYU Devotional, Sept 1974).

  143. Can’t. Stop. Need. Help.

    “And how can the hearts of men fail them unless their “hearts” (i.e. conscience) by their very nature are malleable?”

    So now we need harder hearts. Some things simply boggle the mind.

    Antonio, I have four daughters and teach them modesty as a comprehensive principle. Those four young women differ in exactly how they dress, but not one of them is immodest in my opinion. Interestingly, however, the one who is the most stylish has been accused of dressing like a slut on occasion by members of the church (particularly while living in Provo)- even though her clothing was appropriate to attend the temple and, as she now is doing, serve a mission.

    Let me repeat that:

    My daughter currently is serving a mission for the LDS Church, and she has been accused of dressing like a slut on occasion while wearing clothing that she now wears on her mission.


    Solely because she has a noticeable figure and doesn’t want to wear baggy clothing to hide it. She is a beautiful young woman, and some men blame her for that and their reaction to it.

    We’re not talking about reasonable standards of modesty. We are talking about the message that is sent too often to my daughter that she is dressing like a slut when what she is wearing is fine to wear as a missionary. We’re talking about my and your and every other man’s responsibility as a son of God to quit blaming my daughter for looking attractive and encouraging her to stop being so attractive, because of what it does to the men who see her and can’t look past her body and see the wonderful person who is that living soul. We’re not talking about my daughter; we’re talking about the men who turn her into pornography and who are so scared of lusting after her that they won’t look at her unless she makes herself look uglier or plainer.

    And we’re talking about those men even if they are looking at a prostitute on the street corner.

  144. Bro. B, stop with the quotes. Please. The last one has absolutely nothing to do with my comments in this thread. Nothing.

    Seriously, I’m done.

  145. Antonio Parr says:

    Ray –

    Move back East, my friend. The Latter-Day Saints with whom i worship are absolutely nothing like the people you describe. They are, for the most part, a kind and balanced and forgiving bunch. Sorry that your family’s experience has been otherwise. Best wishes to your daughter on her mission.

  146. Thanks, Antonio – and I have seen much less, personally, than my comment made it sound, especially since I have lived outside of Utah for nearly all of the last 26 years (including “back East:). I just know way too many other women like my daughter who have had similar experiences.

  147. Ray –

    I must have misunderstood you quilting my line about the Adversary not caring which side of the path we fall off of, and threw in the Maxwell quote about “lest we fall off one side of the precipice or the other”. Must have misunderstood you.

    As far as conscience goes, it isn’t matter of “harder hearts”. Conscience must be malleable because of our agency and the power to change our minds. Like any other navigational device, it must be constantly tuned and calibrated, or else it will no longer point you in a reliable direction. Why else would we need to have it be tuned to the Light of Christ right from the factory, and how else could we lose the Light of Christ if it can’t drift over time without proper and regular tuning?

  148. Wilfried says:

    What is worrying is that the Utah “modesty obsession” is being brought to Mormons worldwide, in cultures where the problem was unknown. Conference talks and Church magazine articles about modesty, translated in other languages without any understanding for cultural differences, make some members abroad become obsessed with dress norms which did not exist before and never created problems. Then these members start to judge others. Pressure mounts. Slow talibanization.

  149. Ray and Antonio Parr – Thank you. You both give me a sense of hope. I like to think of both of you having positive impacts within your wards and elsewhere. And Ray my heart goes out to your daughter, and to you, as well as my respect to both of you for courage and perseverance.

    Wllfred – You raise a very importan tpoint of concern which goes to the discussion of modesty and what it is that I think Jacob, Ray, and so many others including myself are trying to say here.

  150. I think it’s safe to say no one I have observed on the thread, to my knowledge, would disagree with the following point by Antonio Parr – “There is a battle out there for the hearts of our children, and it would be foolhardy to fail to recognize the absolutely evil forces in this world that would seek to sexualize our children at increasingly younger ages. This is the context in which the LDS Church offers guidance regarding moral issues.”

    Likely we also agree here with Antonio Parr – “Here’s a thought: maybe the Holy Spirit is working in and through the LDS Church, and maybe its teachings on modesty are given to strengthen our children for the battle that they are waging against forces that don’t give a damn about their hopes or dreams or souls.”

    Not being a father I had to start there because I’m unable to say anything about a daughter I lack at this point. Otherwise I think the gist of Antonio Parr’s comment represents core common ground here in the “sides” of the discussion.

  151. But what is meant by modesty is informed as much by culture as by theology, and here we run into issues relevant to Wiliford’s point.

    The quality of what is meant by being “modest” is shaped by cultural factors. What someone in Salt Lake City thinks is “modest” might differ from Brazil or Moscow or Paris or London or Johannesburg. That doesn’t mean it isn’t to be encouraged at all, it means we should be sensitive to this. This thread is filled with people stretching what others say to ridiculous extremes and I’m not responding to that. Clearly I’m not advocating people attend church wearing bikinis of short-shorts or muscle-shirts. Dressing for the House of the Lord means what it means, clearly you dress with decorum, modesty and care. And if you live your life in a Christian (and Mormon) manner clearly there is a path set by Christ that is implied here which includes modesty.

    But we should recognize that for instance simplicity and lack of pretense in speech, dress, and actions can be very much in the eye of the beholder and influenced by cultural factors. There’s no way to pretend that modesty in 2013 Salt Lake City means the same as modesty in 1850 London, to draw a blatant example . To draw another fairly absurd example, compared to Gandhi of Francis of Assisi, the current Church President and Prophet might seem to be living a highly extravagant life, though he wears more clothing than Gandhi or for having more luxuries than Francis of Assisi would have likely deemed as modest. It would be absurd and ridiculous to condemn him for not weaving his own clothing like Gandhi. Does that mean I’m disrespecting the prophet? No way. That’s not at all my intent. Does that mean I’m saying the church shouldn’t encourage simplicity and lack of pretense? Not at all. But again a little bit of cultural sensitivity and sensitivity to the impact on women wouldn’t hurt. We are not perfect and what is deemed modest in Salt Lake City 2013 can be problematic when important to other cultures.

    In some ways our dominant culture would seem extravagant. Look at the church-owned City Creek Mall. Would a person living in poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa consider a Mormon customer spending $300 at a $1.5 billion mall with 18-foot water fountains to be living modest lifestyle? Who are we to think our cultural values are so inherently superior in so many ways?

    A focus on actions seems important as Christians that we likely all are on this board. No one in this thread would likely advocate disregarding that as a basic principle, with Jesus as an exemplar . There are of course some cultural factors to consider here too – tone of voice or eye contact can have different implications in different cultures for instance. As a teacher I need to be aware that some students might consider it quite disrespectful and immodest to look me straight in the eyes at first during conversation.

    A bit of self-reflection wouldn’t hurt here in so many ways. That’s the key thing I’ve been saying all along.

  152. Jacob, thank you, It’s very difficult to think through a nuanced view of human bodies, and I commend you for a difficult job well done.
    However, towards the end of your article, and throughout many of these comments, I think we have slowly stopped differentiating between immodest dress and inappropriate dress.

    At least as I view it, dressing immodestly is dressing in a way which suggests that perhaps the dresser values most highly what other people think about them, while inappropriate dress is clothing which is simply unsuited to the occasion. Whether or not you think a tank-top and shorts is modest, I think everyone can agree that they would be totally out of place at a fancy wedding.
    And so “dress codes”, while they may be motivated by guidelines of modesty, are about regulating the appropriateness of the attire for the location (I’m sure I wasn’t the only student to have weekend clothes and school clothes while I was younger). This is a not a debate about whether or not institutions have the right to request particular attire form their participants.

    This is about our bodies, and how we view them, and how we submit them (or don’t submit them) for the tacit or explicit approval of others.(Not always a bad thing, by the way. Fashion is one example of a place where we embrace the idea of submitting our external appearances for other’s approval!!) Which leads me to Kristine’s beautifully articulated point: “No, these debates are emphatically NOT about where to draw the lines. That’s trivial. They’re about who gets to draw the lines, and why, and how they explain it to the objects of their line-drawing.”

    I hope I’m not misunderstanding her when I extend her thought as follows: The disconnect comes about when we artificially connect “why there must be lines” with “and so these are where the lines are”, instead of working as individuals to better understand that lines fluctuate as we grow and as we move and as we come to known ourselves better.

    Because at the end of the day, everyone decides for themselves where the lines are, and why……

    P.S. I apologize for the awkward phrasing. I did my best to keep this post utterly gender-neutral

  153. Thanks, Jacob. OP was A++.

  154. Hannah and Thomas – Well said. Agreed.

    “The disconnect comes about when we artificially connect ‘why there must be lines’ with ‘and so these are where the lines are’, instead of working as individuals to better understand that lines fluctuate as we grow and as we move and as we come to known ourselves better.”


  155. Trapped says:

    OP was great and thought provoking. Most of the rest of the comments were less useful to me, as a 40 something American male, who struggles not to objectify women. I don’t hate women. But I am afraid of them sometimes because of how I do tend to notice their attractiveness. Even if I am not thinking about them sexually, I am thinking about them as appearing sexy or not. It is something I don’t want to be distracted by, but I am. And so I struggle against it, mostly in vain. I think a lot of the back and forth in the comments reflects a world in which many of us, like myself, are trapped by these same objectifying tendencies that were acknowledged in the OP.

    If the truth is to set us free, what is the truth that will set me free from these thoughts and feelings? Frankly and sadly, reading Buber isn’t going to do it for me when I see hundreds of women each day that I am attracted to, but don’t want to think about, or the 17 year old girl walks into church with a cleavage revealing blouse.

  156. There are quite a few LDS cultural norms that we encounter that are just not correct, and can be detrimental as we pass them on to each generation. Many of these result in living in fear instead of by faith, this fear in turn leads to anxiety. I really liked the way you voice your anxiety and fear, and the effect it had on your life. Anxiety if not addressed can be the underlying cause of many disorders including pornography that Church leaders are so concerned about right now. Applying Gospel principles, having discreet, open, honest dialog with our children and others will prevent fear/anxiety and heal. Learning to live by faith and not fear can gives us freedom and courage to face the many challenges of our time. For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7

  157. Trapped – None of the comments in this thread were intended to help a person become set free.

    Buber described dialogue in the book I named, not ascetic denial.

    You do have free will about how far you allow thoughts/fantasies to progress (see the passage referred to earlier by Ray within the New Testament when Jesus discussed lust). You have free will in your actions and choices. And you are responsible for how you exercise this free will.

    Ultimately this being a Mormon blog “what is the truth that will set me free?” Keep studying your scriptures and praying. Jesus in particular had quite a bit to say that may help. The truth you are looking for won’t be found in comments on a blog. I can’t give it to you. You may find it in prayer, study, self-reflection, and self-discipline.

  158. Trapped, I think the answer is that we’ve improperly demonized all such sexual thoughts and feelings in what can basically be described as simple overkill. The modesty discourse that has prevailed for decades essentially goes too far and makes us feel guilty and dirty for spontaneous thoughts that are simply a function of our biology. Not evil, just natural. Our work is to overcome the natural man. Part of that entails taking responsibility for ourselves. To me that means that if a sexual thought comes unbidden into our mind, we acknowledge that it is a part of our biology to think that way but then focus our thoughts elsewhere, not deeming ourselves evil because we had the thought in the first place. So, cutting ourselves a bit of slack while at the same time taking responsibility for our thoughts (meaning, we don’t blame an attractive woman for “causing” us to have a sexual thought), we can all move forward.

    As Latter-day Saints we are all trying to be righteous and create the conditions for Zion to exist. But we create obstacles to both of these goals when we react so negatively to our simple biological programming. Those thoughts are there for a sound biological, evolutionary reason. Our task is simply to learn to live with them, channeling them in appropriate ways. We could even celebrate them, perhaps turn our attitude about this whole topic around and the toxic feeling surrounding it might dissipate.

    The problem is that our culture currently in many ways prevents boys and men from taking responsibility for their own thoughts and actions. If a boy has a sexual thought and dwells on it instead of refocusing elsewhere, his reaction is not “oh man, I suck, need to do better” but rather “that woman is distracting me! she’s too sexy! she needs to cover up to protect my thoughts!”

  159. Trapped…why is it wrong that you notice the attractiveness (sex appeal) of women? It’s natural. Whats not natural is when that is ALL you notice!

    The church does everyone a disservice when it makes any sexual thought a “sin”. No, acknowledge that hey she is attractive and move on with your thoughts. If you sit there and fantasize about the 17 year olds cleavage all church long than yes your the one with the issue not her. That’s how i think we often set people up in the church to fail.

    Never have a sexual thought, oh crap I noticed her shoulders, wow now I’ve “sinned”, damnit she should HAVE to wear something else. Now I can’t stop thinking about it! It’s all her fault that I’m having these thoughts. The spirit is gone and her body is what caused it to leave!

    Pretty damaging BS to keep spreading throughout the church! Talk about teaching girls/women that there bodies are ALL they are period. So sad!

  160. Trapped, the downside of our current modesty discourse and its trajectory over the last many decades is that it could be described as simply being overkill. We perhaps unnecessarily demonize perfectly natural biological processes instead of teaching that such thoughts or impulses are natural and not in and of themselves evil and to control or refocus them if we are tempted to escalate them to where they become inappropriate. So you feel ashamed or evil by something that shouldn’t be regarded that way.

    When Jesus admonished that a man commits adultery in his heart when he looks upon a woman to lust after her, that, to me, seems to be describing a much more active thought process than encountering a random thought of a sexual nature that is provided to us unbidden by our brains. The trouble comes in running with such a thought and entertaining a fantasy based on the natural impulse. Each of us is in control of whether we escalate the fleeting sexual thought. We need not fear such thoughts or feel ashamed about them but we just need to develop the ability to refocus our own attention when they come so that we don’t begin to “lust after” someone.

    As Latter-day Saints, we strive to live righteously and to establish Zion. In doing so, we need to work to overcome the natural man. In the context of modesty discourse, I think this means that if a sexual thought enters our head as a result of simply being human, we take responsibility for it and refocus it. The original post suggests that if we were to step back and re-calibrate our discourse and our attitude about sex and sexual thoughts, both of which are part of our biological programming for essential biological and evolutionary purposes, then we would perhaps feel less “trapped” as you have described.

    Unfortunately, the outcome of our current modesty discourse could be seen as tacitly discouraging boys and men from viewing our biology realistically and from taking responsibility for failing to refocus a natural sexual thought when they occur. In other words, a boy or man who has a spontaneous sexual thought (something inherently part of our human existence) and dwells on it or progresses it in his mind is implicitly supported in not taking full responsibility for dwelling on it or escalating it in that way and, as a result, does not say to himself “oh man, I suck, I need to work harder on that next time” — which, to my mind, would be an appropriate response because it takes responsibility, aims to improve, and does not wallow unduly in shame or self-loathing for something that is a very natural part of life.

    But instead of fostering that particular internal reaction to an unfortunate episode of escalating a fleeting sexual thought into a fantasy, the result of our current modesty discourse is that he says “that woman is distracting me! she is too sexy! she needs to live her life in a way that does not distract me!” The boy or man feels an unwarranted measure of shame and self-loathing and couples that with blaming the woman for causing him to think such thoughts. That doesn’t seem healthy and your comment seems to substantiate that, at least as far as you are concerned, since, as you said, you feel trapped.

  161. Trapped, you sound like you’re doing a great job! When women -or any group, really- complain about being objectified, we are not complaining about being viewed as objects, but being viewed as nothing but objects. Anyone with a body in the material world is, in fact, an object, I have breasts, a uterus, hands, teeth, all of it. But women also have thoughts, feelings, desires, morals. The problem with patriarchal societies is that their rules governing women tend to view them as simply as set of body parts that perform certain functions (the function being discussed here being “visually arouses men for the purpose of reproduction”), and nothing more. I personally don’t know why we think modesty doctrine will change such biological truths. Most men have little trouble imagining what women look like naked, no matter how much they wear. Seeing women this way is inevitable. But you can choose to see women as both sexual creatures AND children of God, fellow citizens, friends, thinkers, doers, etc.

  162. Haha! I left my comment of June 21 at 9:05 am 45 minutes ago but got an error message saying my server was undergoing maintenance so I thought the comment was lost. My comment at 9:40 am was an attempt to recreate the first comment but I literally could not remember what I had written because I wrote the comment while also mediating multiple issues between my 2 and a half year old and her three year old cousin who is over to play with her. So my attempted re-creation was very clumsy compared to the first version. Just goes to show a lack of presence of mind–to be able to forget so entirely what you’ve written only a couple of minutes previously.

    All that is to say that I like my first comment (June 21 @ 9:05am) better.

  163. Briefly I want to agree with what John F, Suzy, and Dax have said and to congratulate you, Trapped, for your honesty and openness.

    About the teenage girl, clearly in my work when I was in the classroom full-time before becoming a researcher (currently I’m writing this comment from my apartment while taking a break) I would have met hundreds upon hundreds of teenage girls in my classrooms. My secret, Trapped, in addressing the thing you mention, was to focus on my work. There were activities that I was guiding students through, I was mentoring students, or demonstrating for students how to take on a challenging activity, and so forth, I simply had to much important stuff to do to allow myself to be distracted. Same goes for you in church. Even if you’re sitting quietly in a church pew, think of yourself as having too much important stuff to do (prayer, listening to the talk, contemplation of God and love and service to others, singing a hymn, etc) to get distracted. To draw on an intellectual tradition outside of Mormonism, I think Gandhi had a good point when he said “If you want to find yourself, lose yourself in the service of others.” The more actively, purposely focused your thoughts are on a task, it will help you to have self-discipline.

    What I’m describing comes down partly to the difference between psychic negentropy and psychic entropy, relating to the level of focus without our thoughts, and this is basic psychology here. A state of psychic negentropy involves purposeful thinking toward a goal, your thoughts are more likely to be increasingly orderly and logical. A state of psychic entropy involves a lack of purpose or goal, you may be bored or listless, your thoughts may drift into disordered jumble. You’ll have a better chance at self-reflection and self-discipline in your thoughts if you aim for a state of psychic negentropy, or order, and purpose.

    And in religious terms if that order and purpose is focused on God, on love of God and love of one another in a spirit of service to others, and it includes faith, that would be helpful toward the question you ask about I think.

    Hope what we each said helps some. Take care. I better focus on work now myself!

  164. This is not a simple issue, and we do it a grave disservice when we treat it as if it is simple and look for simple solutions at the extremes.

    It’s all of the following:

    Evolutionary – There is a survival of the fittest instinct for women to attract men and ensure protection and a pride instinct with both men and women that equates the physical beauty of a companion – a cultural construct – with other signs of self-worth (Consider middle-aged men and women, divorce and younger trophy spouses.);

    Cultural – Look at the fashion and celebrity industries, where “innovation” and “attention” are paramount, so boundaries naturally get stretched toward extremes;

    Biological – There is a physiological difference between women’s breasts and men’s chests and what can be done with clothing to accentuate them;

    Power-political – Most communal leaders throughout history have been men, and they think more about women’s bodies than about men’s bodies.

    It’s a complex, fully human issue, and it is influenced by just about every aspect of communal life.

    It’s not a simple issue that can be fixed easily, but I like the concept of leadership teaching the correct principle, without specifics (modesty meaning moderation in all things, not just those related to sex and our bodies), and governing ourselves. In that way, this topic is no different than tithing (individuals determine how to pay, based on a general principle), Word of Wisdom (individuals determine how to be spiritually and physically healthy without unnecessary addiction), wearing the garment (individuals determine how and when to wear it, based on the foundation of not defiling it), church attendance (individuals determine how much time they can spend in church-related meetings while maintaining a proper balance with family, job, community, personal health, etc.), and on and on. Generally speaking, all of those examples are what the official LDS Church position is in each case.

    True modesty allows us to do and be more than we can at any extreme – and that’s interesting to consider when our ultimate goal is to be “perfect” – meaning “complete, whole, fully developed”. Extremism (which includes obsession) inhibits that type of perfection, while modesty allows it.

  165. @Ray, excellent comment! Modesty as a principal, i.e., not flaunting our privileges and gifts, is very important. I think the problem in the church right now is that instead of teaching the principle and allowing the members to govern themselves, we are teaching specific practices and not the principle. I recently sat through a YSA Relief Society meeting where we were given a handout with very specific guidelines, more detailed than FTSOY, about what is and is not modest. This is problematic because as far as clothing goes, modesty varies from culture to culture. Lands where the women wear nothing over their chests have so far not consumed themselves through lasciviousness and rape (which sounds like an inevitable end to hear some people talk about it) because the sight of topless women is so commonplace that, like the companion in the OP, the men become accustomed to it and it carries much less erotic charm than the sight of cleavage in Western society. We are not allowing the members to commune with God to make their own decisions when we spell out obedience in such detail.

  166. Excellent post. I recently addressed modesty in a blog post about breastfeeding.

    As an LDS woman, I cover myself for me and my God, not because I might cause a man to have wayward thoughts about me/my body. That’s their issue.

    I think we would do so much better to teach that modesty is about respecting our bodies and not about not causing others to sin.

  167. You make a great point. There is another side to this coin that is left out of the common ‘mythology’ surrounding modesty.

    Why is this only a “men’s issue?” Can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen 22-yr-old men playing basketball shirtless at the church. Or are women assumed to be sexless beings who don’t notice? The assumption that sexual desire is primarily a male phenomenon and women merely the objects of it flies in the face of medical knowledge,the words of modern prophets, and plain biological facts. It also causes frustration in marriage when women have been conditioned with that attitude.

  168. Lisa – Fair points.

  169. I was impressed with the perspective taken in this article. Certainly there’s some truth that we need to adjust our sociality, especially within the LDS or other puritanistic conservative groups, to mitigate this sense of fear of the opposite sex.

    An interesting story from my own mission. I noticed it regularly that when my companion and me would approach a woman who was less than modestly dressed and begin to share the Gospel with her, she would instinctively and subconsciously begin to adjust her clothing in attempts to be more modest – closing a shawl or pulling up a low-hanging neckline. I found it fairly amusing and attributed it to the influence of the Holy Ghost.

    One last note. The responsibility to control my thoughts and actions is mine and mine alone. Though how a woman dresses around me may influence the relative difficulty of meeting that responsibility, it changes nothing about that responsibility being solely my own. Women (and men) have a responsibility to dress modestly, not to avoid affecting the thoughts of others, but out of respect for themselves and the tabernacle which God has given them.

  170. Lisa, I think it’s because we expect women to subdue those thoughts. And I think that people want men to receive that same treatment — that the expectation would be that they refocus their thoughts productively if they happen to see something about a woman that attracts them sexually.

  171. Thomas – I would not discount the possibility of the Holy Ghost.

    Just please keep in mind something too. You were likely a pair of 19-21 year old young men knocking on a woman’s door (single woman or married woman) at a moment when she wasn’t expecting to talk with a 21-year-olds about religious matters. She likely was self-conscious about this. Depending on your age, you may not be aware of this, but a 19-21 year old begins to look really young by the time you’re in your upper 30s so I can imagine women my age feeling awkward when missionaries come by their houses unannounced.

    On a recent unannounced visit from missionaries at my own apartment, though I’m a heterosexual man, I felt awkward about my sloppiness (wearing T-shirt with a tear in it while working; books/papers strewn all over the table and sofa) so I straightened up and changed shirts just out of awkwardness. I don’t really consider myself to have been sinning by having a slightly sloppy T-shirt on while working without expecting the missionaries to arrive. But I did feel self-conscious. Maybe it was the Holy Ghost, I don’t know. I’ve experienced the Holy Ghost on other more life-changing type occasions than this.

  172. MDearest says:

    Trapped, your honest description of your struggle inspired more sympathy in me than all the GA quotes in Bro. B’s arsenal. I also think your noticing attractive women and being somewhat distracted is normal. When this occurs with my husband, (often enough for me to notice,) I accept it as natural and an indicator that he has good hormones at play. What I wouldn’t accept is if he chose to act further in some way he shouldn’t. But merely noticing is a great big meh, and certainly not evil.

    In fact, your shared thoughts inspired this comment thread to go to a much more helpful place than where we were last night with the admonitions and warnings about parading trucks of beer past an alcoholic and whatnot. I found all that pretty discouraging, and find redemption for this thread in the many kind and thought-provoking responses to your comment.

  173. I love that there is dialog in this vein! I have felt this way since I had enough awareness to realize it was a problem…although real recognition of the root has come only in the last few years. I have lived in Las Vegas most of my life and objectifying women is, unfortunately, big business here. As a youth I was taught the very traditional view of modesty but as I thought about what that really meant, it didn’t sit well with me. Why was I responsible for another’s thoughts? Then it hit WHY I was uncomfortable: at the root, that line of reasoning is BASED on the idea that women ARE objects. It’s just the opposite side of the coin. It’s taken me a long time to really be able to let go of those beliefs. Ultimately, we have to ask ourselves: is our worth based solely on the fact that we are children of God or not? If all we see is a scantily clad body, what are we really valuing in that person? If we are ashamed of our bodies, what are we really valuing in ourselves? Do I agree that modest dress is appropriate and should be taught and encouraged? Absolutely. But let’s find a new way to do it – one that focuses on valuing each other as people. Quite honestly, a lot of chastity issues would, by and large, take care of themselves if we REALLY believed in practice that each and every person is valuable ONLY because s/he is a child of God and we put our focus right there.

  174. Thanks for your insight. As a mother of two boys & two girls, under 8, this is something I’ve thought a lot about. I believe the human form is a beautiful work of art and function & because of this I openly talk to them about their bodies in real, no slang, terms & share with them what a marvelous creation they are. As they get older I plan on teaching them that sex is a wonderful thing but that it is like dessert, a nice addition to a healthy lifestyle but not only can you live a fulfilling life without it but that too much focus on it can be devastating. We can die a miserable and early life if all we eat is dessert but no one has died or suffered unduly without it.

  175. Mother-of-Three-Sons says:

    Thank you for this topic. As a mother of three sons, two of which are now married, I know the goal to help them respect women and themselves. Recently, my son finished a mission to Peru. His native companions from various parts of the country seemed to look passed half-dressed or ‘what we consider -to-be-immodestly-dressed-females’ and stay focused on their work as missionaries. The American, especially, Utah / Idaho natives serving missions there were in a constant state of anxiety and fear. The Peruvian native missionaries revealed their secret.

    It is reverence and respect.

    The body is a beautiful masterpiece. It is deserving of reverence and respect. It is most beautiful as it comes into the world, naked, newborn, fresh from Heaven.

    Have reverence. Respect your feelings. To look, turn your head, and stare at anything God has created, because it is so beautiful, is healthy.

    As a young teenager, at age 16, I was banned from the end of summer – Seminary Swim Party — unless I came wearing a thick, long t-shirt over my one piece bathing suit. My swimsuit was a very modest, racer back, high necked bathing suit made by Speedo. I was a surfer, and a gymnast, but had large breasts. The mother’s of the guys in my seminary class complained about the size of my breasts and how I was immodest in anything I would wear.

    When I received the message from my seminary teacher, I cried. I loved to swim. The guys in my seminary class were all good friends. None of them ever made flirty or lascivious, or even remarked about the size of my breasts. They were respectful. They taught me to surf.

    I went to the seminary party, but decided to wear a new dress I had bought for the coming school year. I sat at a table poolside and watched with incredible jealousy as other girls swam, played and had fun with all the guys. That fall, my senior year, I was nominated and came in second place for ‘best figure’ among the girls in my class. I dreaded that title. I wished so badly, I had been voted, ‘most talented’ or ‘most likely to succeed’.

    I am 50 years old now, and a grandmother of four. I hope to continue to teach reverence and respect. As an artist, my favorite study has been portrait and drawing the human figure.

    God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

    And they were naked.

    And not ashamed.

  176. Mother-of-Three-Sons, thank you. That was beautiful.

  177. Saw this on facebook, it seemed relevant:

    “Princeton University … Brain scans revealed that when men are shown pictures of scantily-clad women, the region of the brain associated with tools, such as screw drivers and hammers, lit up. Some men showed zero brain activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, which is the region of the brain that lights up when one ponders another person’s thoughts, feelings and intentions. Researchers found this shocking because they almost never see this part of the brain shut down in this way. And a Princeton professor said it’s as if they are reacting to these women as if they are not fully human…

    I don’t have time to fully follow up on it, but the second experiment in this paper may have something to do with it.

    Click to access Sexist-Attitudes-and-Neural1.pdf

  178. TMD, read the following comment earlier in this thread, and a few right after it:

    Been there. Discussed that.

  179. Just saw that. I don’t know about the video and all, but I the criticisms of the underlying study are poorly founded indeed. Fiske is a top scholar and the piece was well published. The methods used are fairly well established.

  180. TMD, I don’t have major problems with the study. I have huge issues with how I’m convinced it will be interpreted and used by lots of people.

  181. Angela C says:

    Mother-of-Three-Sons: “The mother’s of the guys in my seminary class complained about the size of my breasts and how I was immodest in anything I would wear.” That is a heartbreaking message for any girl to hear, especially when she knows she is a person with actual thoughts in her head.

  182. Indeed, Ray, unless you or the other commenters are social psychology researchers or have had recent graduate level courses in social psychology, I’m pretty sure it was not actually understood. I’m pretty sure those who claim to have methodological or theoretical problems with the study aren’t actually qualified to have problems with it.

  183. TMD, the study was understood by the only person about whom I can speak with any degree of certainty.

  184. TMD – Please point to where I “claim to have methodological or theoretical problems with the study” since you seem to refer to my comments. You seem to be making a general accusation without a basis in specifics.

    Please point to something specific I misunderstood.

    Pointing to the limitations of a study does not mean I’m saying the study is poorly done. Studies do have limitations. Responsible discourse about a study acknowledges those limitations.

    I doubt that you’re going to check people’s transcripts so challenging people on that ground fails on a blog like this. I have no clue what the educational background is of various commenters. Yes, I have had recent doctoral level coursework, training, and participation in research related to social psychology. You can believe that or disbelieve it.

    My point is that we shouldn’t extend the implications of the study beyond its limitations. Those limitations are clearly spelled out, as they should be, in the research, to wit in the study you linked: “our findings applied only to the sexualized female targets.” The results are further viewed as “unique to the combination of sexist male perceivers viewing sexualized targets.” That limitation is important.

    Further, the study is relaying results based on surveys of attitudes and brain imaging. That’s solid research. But it is relavant for me to point out that there are limitations involved in a study related to cognition.

  185. David says: You had better keep your minds and actions in tow. We are all still learning and should not be scorned for trying to learn. Listen to the comments made, hang them on the tree of your mind which we all have been given. Call them up when needed and add more as you go on in life. Just about the time you think you have everything figured out, someone comes along with another bright and helpful idea. Stand on your own two feet and listen to the Lord for further instructions. Amen

  186. Redcordelia says:

    I used to very seriously consider my role in protecting men from their own desires, and I carefully chose my outfits for years out of respect for men. But after a time, when I found the courage to admit that I also had sexual desires, I found that this respect doesn’t go both ways. If I said to a man, “The sight of an undressed male chest turns me on. Would you please put a shirt on?” he would laugh and tell me I was sick. The other women of my community would stare at me in horror and tell me I was gross. All because I was making the exact same request that men had been making of me all along. When I realized that men would not give me the same respect I was giving them, I quit. Now I wear whatever I want, an I’ve discovered that the feeling of a gentle breeze is absolutely wonderful on my bare arms and shoulders.

  187. Bare arms and shoulders????? Oh no!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! How could you make men unable to think like that???? Don’t you want men to be able to think????? The modesty police are coming to get you!!! They’re coming to take you away, ha ha, they’re coming to take you away!!!!!

  188. plumblossom says:

    The OP was great but a lot of the comments went where so many of these modesty threads go–guys arguing on behalf of women wearing less. As a woman I get a little tired of men announcing that I am free of arbitrary cultural standards and can–nay, should!–wear a skimpy bikini in front of him anytime, because he has consummate respect for women, and their gorgeous, gorgeous shoulders.
    I guess this may sound liberated and enlightened to some people. To me, it just sounds like philosophies of Cosmo mingled with scripture. Yay, one more man telling me to show off my body. I guess I can laugh that some people can look at our culture and conclude we are TOO modest. Wow. Really? Yes, too much modesty must be the problem. I now have the assignment to help in the desensitization of future elders by showing off my breasts at every opportunity, so they will be able to be sophisticated in their appreciation of feminine beauty. Yes, thanks. Now, finally, I am free of male dominion and objectification. Thanks.

  189. Sometimes I wonder how some people can read the same things I read and interpret them in such different ways.

    I guess we really can read into something anything we want to read into it.

  190. I am afraid you missed the point entirely Plumblossom. Mr Jacob is in fact arguing that young men need to be taught to view women as people not objects or temptresses, to view the human body regardless of gender with respect and reverence as God’s masterpiece. He was not arguing for women to wear less clothing rather he was arguing that men should take responsibility for their own thoughts and actions regardless of how much or little a women wears.

    He was in short expressing ideals I formed and have held since my early teen years much to my Mothers displeasure…that I should have the ability to walk down the street nude if need be without any man looking at me as an object of lust or any women thinking I am out to get her man. Would I ever appear nude in public, not by choice. I have in fact never worn a two piece bathing suit & it is not for fear of causing impure thoughts in the males around me as those occur even when I am in a modest one-piece.

    Mr Jacob is in fact even pointing out his inability during his mission to see women as people first and sexually desirable creatures second was it was in fact hampering his ability to love as Christ has loved to the point that of nearly hating them, the exact reverse of what Christ had taught. He is pointing out that he was not educated in a manner that would allow him to embrace this Christlike love has his young companion was able to do.

    I am aware of the studies that confirm that parts of the male brain shutdown when presented with a half nude women but that is not the women’s fault nor does it excuse any offensive behavior on the man’s part, that is no different than telling a girl or women that it is her fault she was raped. I am not responsible for the sins of those around me, it is hard enough just trying to correct my own thank you.

    And yet I do dress ‘modestly’. I do not do this because it is socially expected of me…there is always someone who thinks you should cover up more believe me…nor do I dress thus because the church leaders have told me to…I am not a mindless sheep and until the same standards are applied to males in equal measure they will hold no sway with me. I chose to dress in a manner that shows respect of self and a willingness to own my own sexual power. I dress in a manner that clearly tells men that I expect them to approach me as a person first while embracing my own sensuality rather than hiding from it.

    I have always been a Tom-boy yet I never divorced myself from my natural girlish-ness and would often be found up a tree or playing war in my lacy dress’. It was extremely hard for me to hit YW and suddenly not be allowed to play with those whom I had always connected to so easily and for a long time I did not understand why the new boys were so unwilling to even talk to me; as a late bloomer I did not realize my overtures of friendship were being seen as attempted seduction as I had no such concept within my understanding. I still can not flirt to any effect except laughter. Perhaps had I been plain or flat or less female it would not have been a problem but quite frankly I do not think it should have been an issue to begin with.

  191. plumblossom says:

    Tanit, if you reread my reply you’d see I liked the original post. What I disagree with–well, more clearly, what I agree with is Kristine: who’s drawing the line, where, for whom? Maybe some men feel very enlightened and magnanimous when they inform women that they are experts on feminine modesty, and that they are giving their personal official OK to ladies wearing less, but I don’t find that helpful. Guys, you’re missing the point. By telling me I’m allowed to wear more because you’re in control of your thoughts and ready to tell other guys they’re animals for noticing what girls look like, you’re still framing feminine modesty as an issue of what men want and what men permit. And a lot of it can sound pretty laughably creepy–like when people excuse ogling as appreciating the beauty of God’s creations.

  192. How is it that men have been medical doctors for centuries giving women all kinds of health exams and they seem to be able to control themselves just fine? It sounds like LDS men could not possibly be male doctors and have female patients.

  193. Antonio Parr says:


    You write that you dress in a manner that clearly tells men that you expect them to approach you as a person first while embracing your own sensuality rather than hiding from it. Isn’t that the message behind the LDS teachings on modesty? That is, isn’t the Church teaching our daughters that by dressing modestly, they are telling boys to approach them as persons, first?

    I have mentioned this previously, but the patently immodest attire worn by most girls at high school proms almost always results in them being gawked at by boys and, unfortunately, clearly tells these young men that these girls expect them to perceive them as sexual objects, first. If these girls are lucky, maybe the boys will notice that there are people inside those bodies, with ideas and hopes and insecurities and a need for friendship and love unfeigned.

    LDS modesty discourse is not all about how attire influences LDS men. I couldn’t agree more that, no matter how a woman is dressed, my call as a Christian is to remember that they are daughters of God, and to avoid lust in the same way that I would avoid adultery. Jesus was very clear about this, and that is how I am called to act. However, the entire world is neither LDS nor Christian, and we have to be realistic enough to know that immodest attire is going to result in the sexual objectification of our daughters by a large number of men, whereas modest attire empowers our daughters by forcing men to deal with them as persons, first, which, of course, is who we are and how we deserve to be treated.

  194. Angela C says:

    “isn’t the Church teaching our daughters that by dressing modestly, they are telling boys to approach them as persons, first?” No.

    “the patently immodest attire worn by most girls at high school proms almost always results in them being gawked at by boys and, unfortunately, clearly tells these young men that these girls expect them to perceive them as sexual objects, first.” I agree.

    “modest attire empowers our daughters by forcing men to deal with them as persons, first, which, of course, is who we are and how we deserve to be treated.” Not necessarily. As we’ve been discussing, the objectification of the “good girl” is as real as the objectification of the “bad girl.” It’s still a standard based on male sexual response, not necessarily valuing women as real people. But I appreciate that you see that as the aim. Browbeating girls into an increasingly stringent code of modesty, sexualizing shoulders and knees, and instructing them to stay in the home are not actions designed to treat women as equal contributors.

  195. Angela, I like you, have a real problem with the way the The Church implements teaching the principle of modesty. The lack of equality and emphasis on the female dress while glossing over the male attire and conduct has always been a sore point for me. That said, let’s not confuse intent and outcome, the brethren have always shown the utmost respect and admiratio n to all women and the intent of their advice has always been to help others to hold us in that esteem as well as to help us see ourselves that way.

  196. Let’s not suggest that they had the design to create an unequal and unfair outcome, it is the traditional way of handling modesty, let us instead recognize that although well intended, there is a better and more all encompassing way to teach this principle and implement that in our own homes while still appreciating the loving intent of the Church leaders.

  197. Angela C says:

    Andrea, I agree that intent is positive, and outcomes are accidental. The browbeating I’m describing is mostly downstream.

  198. I just want to clarify something that I think has gotten a little obscured in the mass of comments. Saying that men have responsibility for their thoughts and actions is only half the vision. That proposition is absolutely true, BUT my point was that the stories that inform an contenxtualize thought and action are what make responsibility true in theory by difficult in practice. Just because a man becomes convinced that women should not be sexually objectified a that he alone is responsible for his thoughts does not mean that it won’t be difficult for him (sometimes supremely so), and this is largely BECAUSE of the ways that modesty had been narrativized in our culture. For boys and men formed by those storie responsibility is no easy task, and here we can have a little sympathy with women wanting to make it “easier” on the mn by dressing modestly. Which is all well and good, but it is a bandaid on a sucking chest wound as long as the stories about male and female sexuality remain the same. Those are what principally must change.

  199. I have trouble reading discussions of modesty without having flashbacks to the family ward in Hyrum that my wife and I moved into right after we got married. They were hyper-vigilant about it there, equally upon the boys and girls at least. No one was allowed to come to YM/YW during the week without full length pants. If you came in capris or shorts, you would be sent home to change. There were several who didn’t come back. We also had a talk from a high councilor about good choices and better choices where the example was that some Mormons feel comfortable wearing shorts. The speaker though had committed to a better choice of not wearing shorts, though. We also had a special fireside about modesty where the bishop instructed them to never use the word hot in reference to a person, because it indicated to a person that you found them sexually desirable. If the youth needed to compliment a person’s appearance, they should stick to words like “looking well” and “you look nice”.

  200. I really wish we could “like” or thumbs up on comments.

  201. TwoCentsWorth says:

    This is such a hot issue (and by that I DON’T mean that I find it sexually arousing) and I fear stepping into it because of my own baggage from my youth. My father enforced modesty to the extreme, yelled at me whenever he saw an immodestly dressed girl at church–“I suppose you would wear short skirts like that if I let you”–so I got lectured not only about my own modesty but also yelled at for the immodesty of others, all the while because he was experiencing sexual feelings towards me, some of which he began to act upon. Sparing you the details, it was my mother who believed me and not the bishop and made it stop by issuing an ultimatum.
    As an adult, therefore, I am ALWAYS suspect of men who are too militant in their enforcement of modesty or who seem to have this as a pet issue, and I can’t help but wonder what they are revealing about themselves and their own inability to control their thoughts. Red flags go up when I hear of bishop who lectures the youth on this at every opportunity or a father or stepfather militantly enforcing modesty standards on his daughters. Can you imagine the confusion of a young girl being sexualized by a father at the same time that he is preaching and enforcing the standards of “the gospel?” I read a book recently that dealt with many less-than-perfect situations members may face and when it came time to address the subject of sexual abuse, they pulled out the example of the Catholic church and its problems with this issue. I wanted to go give that ostrich with its head in the sand a sound kick in the exposed buttocks.

    As a single adult, after the loss of my husband, I had a male friend who stopped by my home one day and told me that the dress I had worn to a dance was so lowcut that it had made him embarrassed to dance with me. He took the liberty of going to a hall closet visible from my living room (not quite brazen enough to go into the closet in my bedroom) and began to pull out my outfits and tell me that they were all designed to emphasize my figure, i.e. bustline. In turn, I went into the bedroom and came out with several outfits and asked him if he considered them modest. When he told me they were better, I pointed out that those were my maternity clothes, from back in the day when we tented ourselves for termites as opposed to the more form-fitting maternity fashions prevalent today. (Has anybody addressed that issue? I’m sure there are some opinions out there about that.) Then I told him that my V-necked dress was modest enough to be worn by a woman who had been to the temple, and that if he could not handle the fact that a dress with a waist revealed the fact that I had breasts, it was his problem, not mine. Rather like the BYU students who complained about girls having a purse strap across their chests, emphasizing the existence of their breasts.

    That said, I feel we need to teach our daughters to have respect for their bodies and to dress to reflect that respect. And we need to teach our sons to respect women and that there is a difference between appreciating their beauty and lusting after them. And it all gets mixed up when we try to be the modesty police and enforce standards and pass judgment. And yet we don’t want to let the pendulum swing too far the other direction and have no standards. I remember when a newly-baptized member of our ward came to church in sleeveless dresses and to RS homemaking meetings in shorts. One of the ladies mentioned that someone should talk to her about her dress. My opinion was that she would likely gradually make the changes herself and make more conservative clothing choices over time. I said, “The main thing most of us women object to about her dress is that she has such killer legs and looks so good in those shorts.” I hoped nobody said anything to her and caused her to stop associating with us and growing in the gospel.

    I have seen women dress down (no pun intended) other women for what they are wearing. I personally don’t think I have the right to speak to another adult about their dress. My children, yes, I have the right to give guidance to, but I would never presume to tell another adult how to dress or that they were dressed inappropriately. My main job is to govern my own actions, my own thoughts and perhaps in the process, I might be an example of someone who values her whole self and knows that one can also garner attention by being intelligent, well-spoken, and an interesting person to know. Perhaps what is needful is not more lectures about modest dress for our youth, but more activities where the boys and girls work together painting scenery for a play, cleaning up someone’s yard or otherwise interacting in ways that build friendships and foster conversations and build healthy relationships.

  202. Angela C says:

    My sister was told in a TR interview in Mesa that she was not worthy because she was wearing bermuda shorts, even though they covered her garments. He accused her of not being dressed modestly.

  203. I found this post very interesting. If you are prepared to do more research on the subject I would recommend observing religious Jewish Modern-Orthodox communities. Some have very strict rules regarding modesty in cloth for men and women and even include men and women not being allowed to touch each other until married. In some ultra-orthodox communities there is a complete separation of genders in schools and work places and everywhere else. I think you might find it interesting to see the effect it has on men and women in those communities.

  204. Shoshanna says:

    Like Sara, I am coming to this blog post from the Orthodox Jewish perspective. Our community also has an interest in women’s dress, its effect on men, and how to deal with the “modesty police”. I found your post very interesting and intelligent and it helps to reinforce my own feelings as a woman who dresses modestly but doesn’t want to be told it’s my job to control men’s thoughts. Thank you for sharing your reflections on your own experience.

  205. LDS are hardly extreme in modesty standards, and it is one of few cultures where it applies equally to men and women. Think of temple garments- they are nearly identical except for slightly longer sleeves and smaller necklines on men. It makes life easier for both women and men if we just dress sensibly and in a way that doesn’t have to be debated. Clothes aren’t that important, there are better things to talk and think about. Let’s get over clothes, dress reasonably, and move on.

    See tumblr cartoon, “What a cruel male-dominated culture”

  206. Richard says:

    Very interesting article. Can we as men and women give ourselves as gifts to others? This was what Christ did. He did not use the other for His own self gratification or the furthering of His “career”. And that is surely what we do before and during marriage. We give ourselves as free gifts to the other. God made our bodies to worship him – there is a theology of the body. I have found no greater summary of this than Edward Sri’s book “Men, Women and the Mystery of Love”. Another great summary can be found at www dot christopherwest dot com. Take a look and in my opinion the teachings of the theology of the body would cause a total revolution in our thinking, perceptions, habits and the way we treat each other. Both Sri and West are summaries and distillations of a masterful set of discourses. But I found the summaries much easy as a start than the source.

  207. Something to consider.

    If men, and boys, from an early age associate certain clothing with sexual arousal (such as the first time they see porn, the first time they see a character on TV wolfing over a girl, sex scenes on television) then their brains are going to be programmed with seeing that as arousing. For instance, the Playboy symbol can actually get some men a bit excited. Or a man wearing a pair of pants and a bowtie with no shirt can get some women very excited, even though nothing else is shown. The fact is that previous sexual experiences and programming our brains can make it so that just seeing a bikini on a doll as sexually stimulating.

    The companion in the story had seen bikinis on everyone, and so didn’t look twice at them. It didn’t mean that he couldn’t have programmed his brain to look twice though, he certainly could have. If he had taken to looking at the swimsuit issue and going to his room for self exploration every night then it’s likely the beach would have been harder for him to endure. And that is one of the dangers of porn, because as boys are told that masturbation is acceptable to do whenever they become aroused by someone in a bikini, then ignoring the bikini and focusing on the person becomes more and more difficult.

    The brain is also forever evolving. Just because something is difficult to handle now doesn’t mean it will be in the future for you. Reprogramming the brain is not impossible. It takes time and patience, but it’s very possible.

    As far as whether women should or shouldn’t dress modestly and how much responsibility they have for a man who may not be able to look away, consider this analogy.

    You have a friend who is on a diet. They have gone through their home and thrown away every junk food they have. They are doing their best to stay on this diet. You have a day off and together you’re going out on the town. Do you a) take your friend to maybe a fresh food place with a wide variety of healthy choices, then hike and look at the stars, or b) go to a chocolate store for a tasting being held there, then to a fast food place with their favorite junk from the past, then veg out to a movie with lots of chips and soda available. I would venture to say that even though they should be responsible and not fall off the wagon no matter where you take them, choice b is not a true friend because it doesn’t take into account the weakness of that friend and try to help them in making the right choices, at least when they’re together.

    There’s an interesting experiment everyone’s heard of, the marshmallow experiment with children. Results varied on how well the kids could hold out. But when you put two children together, and they encouraged and helped eachother, they were more likely to wait than if they had to endure it alone. When I dress modestly it’s because I know that there are guys out there who are trying to hold out, trying not to be inappropriately aroused, and trying not to lust, and I want to be their friend. As a Mormon, we believe Christ and God would never lead someone into temptation that they cannot withstand. As a friend, we should be trying to not lead others into temptation that tests their limits, but trying to help them avoid it. It’s still their fault if they fall off the wagon, and they can still be strong enough not to, but I don’t need to dress in a way that I know would tempt them. It’s just not what a true friend would do.

  208. MayIContribute says:

    Great thoughts – I (M) had a similar transformation serving in Paris, France, and now I get very upset about the lack of personal responsibility of men in the church in regards to women’s dress and temptation. We’re focusing on educating the wrong gender when it comes to feminine dress standards.

    I really like the irony in this “Top 5 Ways LDS Young Women Can Avoid Tempting Men Inappropriately” list, because it reverses responsibility to the appropriate gender:

    1. If you are in an elevator and a scantily-clad female gets in, don’t think inappropriate thoughts about her.
    2. Never walk outside after getting ready for the day, and begin thinking inappropriately about women because you falsely assume that the amount of clothing they decided today is a form of permission to sexualize them.
    3. Carry a temptation whistle. If you find that you are about to fantasize about a woman based on her clothing, blow the whistle until someone comes to stop you.
    4. When you’re on the beach, the safest course of action is to remember that none of the women here chose their swimwear in an effort to tell you that they are interested in you physically.
    5. Use the buddy system! If it is inconvenient for you to stop your mind from drifting to inappropriate thoughts around women, ask a trusted friend to accompany you at all times.

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