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5 Ways Christians Sexually Objectify Women

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell." - Matthew 5:27-30 (NKJV)


In his classic "Mere Christianity", C.S. Lewis writes:

"The Christian rule of chastity must not be confused with the social rule of ‘modesty’ (in one sense of that word); i.e., propriety, or decency. The social rule of propriety lays down how much of the human body should be displayed and what subjects can be referred to, and in what words, according to the customs of a given social circle. Thus, while the rule of chastity is the same for all Christians at all times, the rule of propriety changes.

A girl in the Pacific islands wearing hardly any clothes and a Victorian lady completely covered in clothes might both be equally ‘modest,’ proper, or decent, according to the standards of their own societies: and both, for all we could tell by their dress, might be equally chaste (or unchaste)…. When people break the rule of propriety current in their own time and place, if they do so in order to excite lust in themselves or others, then they are offending against chastity. But if they break it through ignorance or carelessness they are guilty only of bad manners. When, as so often happens, they break it defiantly in order to shock or embarrass others, they are not necessarily being unchaste, but they are being uncharitable. (83-84)"


Contemporary America is one of the most sexualized cultures in the history of the world. Sex is everywhere, no matter how hard you try to avoid it, and the objectification of women in virtually every form of media is a commonplace. In this context, it is easy to see why many Christians react by placing tremendous stress on women’s modesty, not only in principle, but in terms of a system of rules and practices designed to cover and obscure the skin and curves of a woman’s body.

In certain conservative circles, the rhetorical and moral condemnation of those women who do not conform to the strict (and sometimes arbitrary) standards of others is quite intense. In many ways it is analogous to the fundamentalist approach that Christians took toward alcohol in the early twentieth century. The cultural problems caused by drunkenness and strong liquor were tragic and required a response, but the response of many Christians was more legalistic than realistic, more about control than about the gospel.

Of course, the problem with an issue like modesty is that one can always take a stricter, more modest position than the next person.

  • Person A says women should always wear skirts, never pants.

  • Person B says women’s skirts should always extend below the knees.

  • Person C says women should never show their ankles or hair.

  • Person D says why not just put on a burqa? Men don’t lust after women in burqas (or do they?).

On the other hand, once one opens the door to Christian wisdom and liberty, where do you stop? In some cultures women freely show their breasts, even in church. Even in Victorian England it was suitable to show significant cleavage but not your ankles.

Image credit: Evans

Here are five ways Christians sexually objectify women… and they just might surprise you:

#1 — Modesty Rules

Exactly why do we require women to cover this or that body part? Because those body parts are “sexual,” Right? That perception is sexually objectifying. Women are not a collection of “parts”—some sexual and some not—they are whole persons. As soon as we legislate that one body part must be treated “sexually,” we are sexually objectifying the whole woman.

#2 — The “Men Are Visual” Myth

Contrary to what we’ve all been told, God did NOT make men as primarily “visual” in their sexual interest and arousal (see this article). What we observe in men today is entirely conditioned behavior. It is our culture’s expectation that every man will treat the simple sight of a woman’s body as a sexual event and respond sexually, so that’s what they do. This false yet pervasive conditioning has normalized the sexual objectification of women, weaving it into our cultural fabric and, sadly, into Christian teaching and practice. The widespread adoption of visual stimulus for sexual arousal has paved a highway for the porn industry to explode, and has resulted in rampant sexual bondage even among those who desire to live a life pleasing to God.

#3 — Every Man’s Battle

Because the church so completely embraced #2 above, a new book and strategy invaded the Christian world a few years back… claiming that it could help men overcome sexual bondage. The core strategy from Every Man’s Battle tells men that they must constantly guard against any sight—in person or just an image—which might trigger lust. When it happens, they are instructed to “bounce their eyes” away from the sight so as to keep their heart pure. This means that every woman or image they see must be evaluated for its impact on that man sexually! If a man is sexually evaluating every woman he sees, he is most definitely sexually objectifying them.

#4 — A Wife’s “Sexy” Lingerie

Every wife longs to feel beautiful, attractive, and desirable to her husband. So, the use of seductive lingerie might seem like a good idea—and a lot of fun—to capitalize on the conditioned “visual” response in her husband as a part of sex play. However, I would suggest that by doing so, she is sexually objectifying her own body and serving to further reinforce the visual response in her husband to certain body parts of a woman. Much better and healthier would be to cultivate a relational-based sexual arousal and fulfillment… which will serve to keep the couple’s sex life vibrant into their twilight years (see The Renewed View of the Body).

#5 — "Media "Normalizing Sexiness"

Besides social groups, peers and families, media images of women are one of the primary culprits in teaching girls to self-objectify. Images from television, video games, films, magazines, and many other sources disproportionately use female bodies to hock products, and the camera frame often focuses on female body parts rather than the whole picture in an objectifying manner. Researchers suggest that mere exposure to objectifying media plays a significant role in the initiation of a self-objectified state along with its attendant psychological consequences for women.

In the context of objectification and violence, little attention has been paid to the perception neuroscience of how the human brain perceives bodies and objectifies them. Various studies point to how external cues such as appearance and attire could play a key role in encouraging objectification, dehumanization and the denial of agency.

Share your thoughts via comments below. And please do not forget to share. You can make a difference to a confused mind. God bless you.



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Matthew J. Tuininga is the Assistant Professor of Moral Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan.


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