Frankly, I'm tired of this "shame on him for looking" mentality that excuses immodesty and let's women keep their consciouses clean for the inappropriate choices they make with their clothing.
I'm going to use a chapter from a great book to expand this topic in better words than I have.
KEEPER OF THE VISUAL ROLODEX
Why it's so Natural for Him to Look and So Hard to Forget What He's Seen
Doug, a successful businessman with a wife and kids, has traveled to California for a business deal. The conference room fills with top executives, so each one can give him a presentation. The first executive, a very attractive woman, walks to the whiteboard. She has a great figure, Doug notices, and her well-fitted suit shows it off tastefully. As she begins her presentation, the woman is friendly but all business.
I'm talking to a series of randomly selected Christian men who are serious about their faith and (if they're married) genuinely devoted to their wives. I describe Scene One above and tell them it is straight out of my novel The Lights of Tenth Street. Then I ask each man a question: "If you were Doug, what would be going through your mind as the female executive makes her presentation?"
Here are some of their answers:
- "Great body ... Stop it! What am I thinking?"
- "I check to see if she's wearing a wedding ring."
- "I wonder if she finds me attractive."
- "I feel an instant tightening in my gut."
- "I bet she's using those curves to sell this deal."
- "Look at her face, look at her face, look at her face ..."
- "It is hard for me to concentrate on her presentations because I'm trying so hard to look at her face and not her body."
- "I have to be ruthless about pushing back these images - and they keep intruding."
- "I wonder what's under that suit? Stop it. Concentrate on the presentation."
- "About two minutes into her talk, I'd be remembering a scene from a porn video I saw when I was fifteen."
- "If I'm not careful, a few minutes later I might be wondering what she's like in bed."
If you had been with me, listening to those men, what would you be thinking? I confess that their answers both amazed and dismayed me. Yet as I heard men I trusted reveal similar reactions over and over, I realized that this must be normal.
Although I'd always heard that men are visual, I had never really understood what that actually meant. I had been totally oblivious.
WHAT "MEN ARE VISUAL" REALLY MEANS
Here's the insight I stumbled on by accident, which had radically reshaped my understanding of men:
Even happily married men are instinctively pulled to visually "consume" attractive women, and these images can be just as alluring whether they are live or recollected.
Two areas of this "men are visual" thing surfaced that I, at least, didn't really get before:
- First, a woman with a great body is an "eye magnet" that is incredibly difficult to avoid, and even if a man forces himself not to look, he is acutely aware of her presence.
- Second, even when no such eye magnet is present, each man has a "mental Rolodex" of stored images that can intrude into his thoughts without warning or can be called up at will.
If you're among the 25 percent of women who describe themselves as "visual," this "revelation" may not seem surprising. But for the rest of us, it may seem a mystery - or worse. We might even experience it as a personal failure on our part (for not being enough woman to keep his attention) or as a personal betrayal on his (why would a loving and committed husband have to push back images of other women at all?)
Thankfully, as we delve deeper, discovering how hardwired this compulsion is - and how little it has to do with us - is oddly encouraging. Actually, it is two separate but related compulsions. Let's keep an open mind and look at them, together.
Compulsion #1: A man can't not want to look.
In the survey, we created a scene similar to Doug's and asked men to predict their responses. Consider the results:
Imagine you are sitting alone in a train station and a woman with a great body walks in and stands in a nearby line. What is your reaction to the woman? [Choose one answer.]
- I openly stare at her, and drool forms on my lower lip: 4%
- I'm drawn to look at her, and I sneak a peek or glance at her from the corner of my eye: 76%
- It is impossible not to be aware that she is there, but I try to stop myself from looking: 18%
- Nothing happens; it doesn't affect me: 2%
The first fact is that a whopping 98 percent of men put their response to an eye-catching woman in "can't not be attracted" categories (only 2 percent were unaffected by a woman with a great body). Interestingly, the results were essentially the same for men who described themselves as happily married believers.
Many men explained the power of this desire to look, even when they tried not to or when the attractive woman in question left their line of sight. One faithful husband whom I highly trust confessed, "If I see a woman with a great body walk into Home Depot and I close my eyes or turn away until she passes, for the next half hour I'm keenly aware that she's in there somewhere. I'm ashamed to say that, more than once, I've gone looking down the aisles, hoping to catch a glimpse."
I'd love to think that this man was an aberration - except that all the men I shared his quote with said, "That's exactly right!"
Another husband with a happy twenty-year marriage described another typical scenario: "My wife and I recently went out to dinner at a nice restaurant with some friends. The hostess was extremely attractive with a great figure and that spark that reaches out and grabs a man's attention. For the rest of the night, it was impossible not to be aware that she was across the restaurant, walking around. Our group had a great time with our lovely wives, but I gaurantee you that our wives didn't know that every man at that table was acutely aware of that woman's presence and was doing his utmost not to look in that direction."
Now, think back to the opening of this book. These examples clarify why Jeff would suddenly turn his head as we walked the streets of New York: He was choosing to honor me. He had just seem an attractive woman and was forcing himself to look away so the image would not linger.
And that brings us to the second fact.
Compulsion #2: A man has a mental Rolodex of sensual images.
We've all heard that the male half of the population thinks about sex a lot. What I didn't realize was that they aren't exactly thinking about sex (as in, I wonder if my wife will be in the mood tonight). Rather, they're picturing it, or picturing a sexual image. And those pictures aren't necessrarily of their wives. They are often images that have been involuntarily burned in their brains just by living in today's culture - images that can arise without warning.
You might be wondering, What kinds of images? Apparently just about anything: the memory of an intimate time with you (good) or the memory of a Playboy magazine (bad). It could be a recollection of the shapely woman who walked through the parking lot two minutes ago or an online porn site he saw two years ago. These images often arise without warning, even if the guy doesn't want them. Or specific images can be recalled on purpose. As several men put it, "I have an unending supply of images in my head, stretching back to my teens."
The survey results were clear:
Many men have a mental set of sensual images that rise up or can be conjured up in their minds. Does this apply to you? [Choose One Answer]
- Yes, and these images are regularly changing; for example, the great body I just saw in the train station could be recalled hours or days later: 62%
- Yes, but they are mostly images from years gone by: 25%
- No, I don't have a mental set of sensual images: 13%
In total, 87 percent of men say these images pop up in their heads. When you break down the demographics, it is roughly the same across the board - whether men are old or young, happily married or single, religious or not.
[We women tend to not understand this because in the same situation we wouldn't have the same response. When we see a movie with an attractive leading man it's safe to assume that for most of us the image of him will not pop up in our minds the next day, especially not involuntarily!]
It's a minefield out there ...
For those who aren't visual, it's hard to imagine that a man could have no control over something popping up in his head. We also may not recognize that in our sex-saturated culture, the very act of living is a minefield of possible triggers and potential images that could recalled days or years later.
To use a common example, prime-time television commercials often flash sensual two-second images - say, of woman undressing - that are up on the screen and gone before the man can look away. Nothing he can do. Boom, it's added to the mental Rolodex, whether he wants it or not.
Mental Rolodexes on speed-dial
When I asked men how often a sensual thought or image barged into their consciousness, many of them said something like "all the time." Of course, I wanted to know what "all the time" mean!
"If you're talking about a teenage boy, 'all the time' means all the time," one forty-year-old man explained. "It would be fairly unusual for a teenage guy to go a couple of hours without an involuntary image - and then when he does, he could spend half an hour straight on the subject. A twenty-something man also has a pretty difficult time. Once you reach your thirties and forties, you're a little more settled and those thoughts are more often triggered by something."
But once those thoughts are triggered, he and others clarified, an image could rise up two or three times a minute! And they also said that if the man is highly visually oriented, and if that temptation is entertained at all, it is even more difficult to get rid of.
THIS IS NORMAL?
Before we go any further, we should make a critical distinction: Temptations are not sins. (The Bible states that "Jesus was tempted in every way.") What we do with those temptations is the issue, and we'll get to that in a moment.
For now, let's sort out the progression of male responses to see which are involuntary and which most definitely are not.
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So, are you still ok with laying all the blame on the man whose eyes are stuck to you? Or even the man's eyes who glance but who is desperately trying to erase the image of you in your micro-mini and low-cut shirt?
I'm not. And I'm not ok with my husband or other men who are desperately trying to honor their wives being blamed for having roving eyes!
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I will edit and add more later. :)