I expected a rage-inducing, PTSD-triggering, high-and-mighty, moralizing, judgmental mess from a headline like MY HUSBAND DOESN’T NEED TO SEE YOUR BOOBS. Instead I got a humble, self-effacing cry for help from a woman I can relate to almost on a molecular level. She is what I intended to become. Her worries were the worries I had when I was active in my Evangelical churches. The author, Lauren, is apparently in Asia on a mission trip with her family. Between that fact and what I read, it appears she’s received teachings similar to those I grew up with.
She frets over the fact that her husband sees so many perfect bodies on display in social media. She assumes that he compares them to her stretch-marked and cellulite-dimpled body, and that he is just that much less satisfied as a result. And, kudos to her, instead of getting angry at or judging the women who happily “show off” their beautiful bodies, she begs them for mercy for the sake of her marriage.
As a teen, I was heavily involved in Evangelical Christianity. The way the church talks about sex and marriage is often called “purity culture.” Part of purity culture is a set of assumptions which I have realized as I’ve grown up and seen more of the world are both wrong and pernicious.
There’s not time to go through everything that purity culture teaches young men and women, or even everything it gets wrong. But I do want to address some of the assumptions that seem to be giving Lauren some unnecessary anxiety.
You see, Lauren is afraid that her husband is less capable than she is of controlling what he looks at, for how long, and what he thinks about afterwards. That’s because Evangelical churches teach that men are fairly helpless when it comes to anything related to sex. It teaches that women are the holders of all things related to sex, which is true up to a point.
Society has taught women to hold sex captive, while men are told to pursue it. So if each gender meets their expectations, women keep the sex, while men try to take it from them. This cultural programming screws up the causal relationship. New science suggests that, actually, women are just as “sexual” as men are. They just have learned to pretend not to be in order to operate without significant social stigma.
But purity culture teaches that this societal construct of male aggressiveness and female passivity is actually biological. And not only that, but that fighting it is doomed to fail. So women are told to fight off advances from men, and men are absolved of their responsibility for maintaining even their own thoughts. Men aren’t capable of controlling what goes on even in their own brains, but women are made responsible for men’s thoughts about them.
Not only does purity culture paint men as victims of slutty women, but it also paints them as incredibly shallow. Not only will seeing beautiful, barely dressed women take over a man’s primitive, sex-obsessed brain. But it will make him not be able to be happy with the way his wife looks as well.
That’s because men don’t get aroused by intelligence or charisma. They don’t get turned on by watching the mother of their children raise God-fearing disciples of Christ. They don’t lust after their wives owning their careers for volunteer positions.
Tits and ass. That’s what turns a man on. Nothing compares to young, fresh, bouncy tits, so the only way to compete is to cover them up.
This is horseshit.
The problem with the purity culture narrative isn’t that it gets everything wrong. Men are more openly sexually aggressive than women currently in our culture. Men do enjoy young tits and ass.
The problem is that it’s an incredible overgeneralization and oversimplification of some very complex issues. And that it paints a picture of marriage and sex that is sad and small and narrow and easily threatened by what really turn out to be non-issues.
Sure, you can find men who believe they can’t control their own thoughts, who will blame their dissatisfaction with their wives on seeing too much of other women’s bodies. But in those cases, the women’s bodies aren’t the problem. The problem is that those men are children. Those men fucking suck, and are to be avoided, not married.
Ladies, you can also find men who take responsibility for what goes on in their brains. You can find men who could give a shit about your cellulite, and find your intellect irresistible.
Lauren, I’m sure your husband finds you beautiful. Not because your body is perfect, but because you’re humble and self-effacing. Because you’re a wonderful writer. Because I bet you’re a hell of a teacher. And if he doesn’t, it’s not because other women are posting pictures of their bikini bods on Instagram. It’s because he’s a fool, and you can do better.
We can all do better than purity culture. Many people think that I talk about slut-shaming and rag on purity culture because I don’t want to feel guilty about slutting it up. The truth is that I don’t feel guilty, anymore, about consensual sexual activity. And I don’t suffer any noticeable stigma for my sexual activity.
I go on about these topics because I don’t want another girl to grow up fighting conflicting stories about her body that put her in a double bind and make her afraid for the future. If you dress dowdy boys won’t look at you because all they care about is tits and ass. But if you dress slutty boys won’t be able to respect you and will just think about sex and you’ll be responsible for tripping them up in their walk with God. Make sure your husband isn’t looking at other women because then he’ll be unsatisfied with you. God help you when you get old and your husband still has porn to look at.
This is all horseshit, and I’m tired of smart, well-educated women getting caught up in it. And I’m tired of smart, well-educated men taking every opportunity to shirk responsibility for their thoughts and actions.
So, while you’re right that your husband doesn’t need to see my boobs (great as they are), seeing them probably won’t kill him either. Far more damaging than boobs are the messed-up messages you and I have gotten about them. That’s really what no one needs.
Cathy Reisenwitz is an Editor at Young Voices and a D.C.-based writer and political commentator. She is Editor-in-Chief of Sex and the State and a blogger for the Huffington Post and writer for Bitcoin Magazine. Her writing has appeared in Forbes, the Chicago Tribune, VICE Motherboard, Reason magazine, Talking Points Memo and other publications. She has appeared on Fox News and Al Jazeera America.
She has spoken on topics of economic freedom, Bitcoin and feminism at CPAC, Tea Party conferences, CryptoCurrency Conference, ISFLC, the Heritage Foundation and various other events.
When not fighting the state, she reads girl blogs, tech blogs, politics blogs and career blogs. She loves non-fiction books (currently on a positive psychology kick) and working out.