It sounds kind of bad when you put it that way, doesn’t it?
Our culture has adopted lust, casual sex, and pornography as normal and expected behavior, as if there are no consequences attached. Meanwhile, each of us deals with the litany of consequences that these behaviors bring with them, both internally and affecting our society at large.
If you’re a man who inadvertently sees women as sexual objects, I have good news for you. First, let me explain who I’m talking to.
Your eyes inadvertently fall to a woman’s chest rather than to her eyes. Though you’d never pursue it, your flesh gets revved up by these women’s curves and you can’t get them out of your head. These are the women you interact with on a regular basis and you always wonder if they notice your fidgety eyes and thoughts, or if you are covering your tracks well enough. You wonder if your wife notices. You figure they have to notice eventually and shame swarms over you.
You don’t desire these behaviors. Sure, there have been times you have intentionally binged on porn and maybe even in darker seasons, visited strip clubs or other similar pursuits. But you’ve grown and changed and been convicted of your sins. You’re not the man you used to be. You don’t want to desire women as sexual objects anymore, yet you can’t stop. You have stopped the conscious choice, but the undercurrent of your subconscious desires is winning the day.
It happens before you can think. The fantasy draws you in like a Star Trek tractor beam. It just feels like you are hard wired for this. You put on a good front. You don’t want a double life, but it’s there, just beyond your reach to stop it. You go to church, you’re in a small group, you love your wife, or if you’re single, you try to respect women and keep God first in your dating priorities. But you can’t stop your eyes and your mind from doing what they do.
If this is you, there is hope. There is good news.
First and foremost, you can get to the point where you don’t desire pornography anymore. This is a true level of freedom, compared to simply stopping the behavior through physical force and restraint, but still being consumed with desire for it.
You can also get to the point where you see women as real people, as God intended. Where you aren’t constantly forcing your eyes to go to her eyes and forcing your mind to stop fantasizing, longing, and wishing. You can get to the point where you are content in your marriage or content with your singleness, regardless of surrounding circumstances.
I’m not pitching a quick fix or an overnight change. I’ve written about this before, and it’s worth building more and more layers and strategies on to as it’s a journey we’ll be on for a long time. This is a change I have experienced, continue to grow in, and have seen many other men experience on this journey as well.
It all starts with Jesus. Don’t tune me out here. I’m not prescribing some spiritual pixie dust or magic Bible verse that will instantly cure you. I have used the Bible and spiritual disciplines in behavior-based, symptom management ways in the past, and this is not that. This is about your heart’s desire.
Your Heart’s Desire
It will look differently for each of us, but one of our core desires is to be accepted and approved. For someone to tell us we are valuable. For someone to love us.
For some of us, our parents did a woeful job at this, leaving a gaping void. For others, an abuser took this from us. And for those of us who grew up without blatant trauma, the very world we all live in did its own number on us. We’ve all watched enough TV commercials, seen enough red carpet walks, and read enough self-improvement magazine covers to know that there are perfect people out there, and we ain’t it. Not to mention the many break-ups, heartbreaks, and rejections that have been experienced in desired romantic relationships. All of these experiences shout that something is lacking in us, setting us on a lifelong search to make the grade.
For some, this search leads to the endless pursuit of money, success, and achievement. For others, it is simply numbed with entertainment or more blatant addictions like substance abuse. But for many men and women, the magical chalice of acceptance and validation is believed to be found in sex. We are duped into believing that the next man or next woman will make us feel whole, valuable, and accepted. Or we know that mythical person doesn’t exist, so we settle for the faux feelings of approval we can get from lust, pornography, or fantasy.
The wholeness, approval, and validation we are looking for from men or women can only be found in the wholeness, approval, and validation we already have in Jesus. Two halves will never make a whole, but Jesus can make you whole (in fact he already has if you are a Christian) all on his own. Whether married or single, you can be a whole person, fully satisfied in the value you have in Christ, no longer thirsting for this rush from fantasy and sexual sin. I write more about Jesus as the solution to our desire for sexual sin here.
Let’s now talk about how to view women as people instead of objects. Without having your wholeness grounded in Jesus, none of this will matter, so please don’t gloss over the points previously made. The reason it won’t matter is because our unquenchable desire to feel that rush of feeling good will always flood the new brain patterns we are working to develop. But if we satisfy that desire in Jesus, the flood waters will drop, and we can learn how to view and think about women in the way God always intended.
Do you remember being given double vision by an optometrist while your face is smushed up against the large binocular-like eye exam apparatus? Or even right now, what happens when you put your finger in front of your face, then look past it and focus in on your computer screen? Your one finger turns into two. You wouldn’t want to go through your whole day like this, so to get your finger back, you focus your eyes on it and the two parallels images merge back together into one. Optometrists call this fusion.
It’s one thing to want to see women as people and even coach yourself in this. But here I want to give you a tangible strategy you can use to help carry this out whenever temptation comes your way.
I want to propose that when you lust over a woman, it’s like having double vision. The woman is in front of you, but you’ve split her into two. Let’s call one of these blurred images her personhood and the other her body. When you lust, you are only looking at a woman’s body, as if it were really her. We are deceiving ourselves and living in a false reality when we do this. You can’t separate a woman’s body from her personhood. Every woman in existence is a full, whole person. She has all the things that make a person a person: opinions, a personality, flaws, ideas, priorities, goals, and the myriad of other things that all of us have as human beings. Lust doesn’t see these things, it only sees a body, which it turns into a sexual object to be consumed, filling in the blanks on all the rest.
If you are married, think of it as the difference between your wife and a woman you just met, or maybe even never met, but are very attracted to. In your mind, you fill in all the blanks about this new woman. She must be charming and friendly and always in a good mood and most important to your fantasy, want you. But none of that is real. If that new woman were married, you could interview her husband and he’d laugh at your fantasized view of her. Because he knows her as a whole, real person. And she would do the same about him, if the roles were reversed. If you are married and I was fantasizing about your wife being a utopian person, you’d likely do the same. This is not a bash your wife, or the woman you’re lusting over, it’s just reality. It’s the same reality that is true for every man and woman on the planet: what people see on the surface is maybe 2% of who we really are. The double vision of lust takes this 2% and runs away with it, as if that 2% were the woman. But it’s not and we all know that, we just need to be consistently reminded of it.
When we are stuck in the 2%-double-vision-mindset, our only defense is behavior modification. Our eyes go inadvertently to her chest because we see women as bodies-only. We are left to tell ourselves to stop, to bounce our eyes, to look at the sky, etc. These tactics are certainly better than indulging, but we’ve all experienced that they aren’t sustainable, nor do they address the deep desire we still have to consume her body as an object. We’ve said no to the desire, for now, but it’s still there, trying it’s best to suck us back in to its trance.
Here are some simple lines you can tell yourself when you’re tempted to lust:
She’s a (whole) woman.
That (what I’m currently seeing) is not her.
Meaning: that body, that one side of the double vision, that 2% is not her. My brain is telling me that what I’m seeing is a woman, but I’m not. She’s there, I’m just not seeing her.
The solution: fusion. See the whole woman. Let the two pieces of double vision merge into one. Literally do this in your mind, watching the two images join in the middle as one. Add the 98% to the 2%. Now you’re seeing 100% of her. It doesn’t deny the body’s existence, or even its beauty, but it combines it with everything else that makes this woman a woman. This is why the Bible tells us the design for sex is a “one flesh” relationship, because you don’t get to have just the body without the rest of the person (for better or worse) coming along with it.
When you see a woman you’re tempted to lust over, rather than berating yourself for being attracted to her or trying your best to look at the ceiling, look into her eyes and see her as a whole person. This means see her as a normal person. See her as someone who is a daughter, a sister, and potentially a mother and wife. See her as someone who is not your soul mate and has no interest or romantic business with you. See her as someone who has to get to her doctor’s appointment, has to pay her rent, and has to resolve conflicts in her work relationships, some of which she is causing. See her as someone who might struggle with depression, anxiety, worry, or any number of heavy burdens to carry, things you are in no position to help her carry. And if it helps, see her as someone who does not share your worldview, someone whose personality does not jive with yours, and someone you wouldn’t be so interested in if they weren’t physically attractive. But see her. See fusion. When you do, you won’t be able to see her as just a body anymore.
I’m not saying this is a light-switch solution and that since you’ve read this blog post, you’ll never have this issue again. Far from it. You have been conditioned almost your entire life to see women with double vision, objectifying their bodies. It will take a while to unlearn these patterns. But it’s up to us as men of God to go beyond behavior modification and address the root of the problem. To let Jesus be our cure, and then to allow God’s design to rewire the way we think, see, and feel, being realigned back to his design. If this strikes a chord with you, I want to invite you to join a 7-week online small group with me, going through material that has helped many men get on this journey of lasting freedom, the journey of being rewired to see women as people and not as bodies to be consumed. Groups are forming now.
The freedom to see women as people is out there. Don’t settle for anything less.