Men are bombarded 24 hours a day with images of attractive women. Shaunti Felhahn explains why mental images don't mean moral failure.
Within days of releasing For Women Only, based on my research study of the inner lives of men, my husband Jeff told me it was all his male buddies wanted to talk about. Not because their wives could finally understand them… but because they could finally understand themselves.
The most popular topic of discussion? The “Visual” chapter, where I explained that even the most honorable, happily-married men are confronted every day in this culture by dozens of attractive, sexualized images of other women that they don’t want to have rattling around in their brains. They have to spend time and effort tearing down those images and taking those thoughts captive. And it can be exhausting.
The reaction from some of Jeff’s friends? Immense, explosive relief.
I was really confused, but Jeff explained:
Guys don’t generally sit around and talk about this kind of internal stuff the way women do, so how would they know that other guys are the same as they are? It’s not like you sit around at Starbucks going, “You got images?” “Yep, I got images.”
So some guys have been feeling shame for years because they thought that the temptation itself meant that they were failing and sinful. It is a relief for a man to know that just having an image pop into his head doesn’t mean he’s a failure. For him to know that “Yeah, I don’t like that it confronts me, but what matters is what I do next.”
In the years since that conversation, my research has continued and I’ve heard Jeff’s point of view from many other men I’ve interviewed. Now, just to be clear: I’m talking here about men being attracted by an image, not being attracted to another woman as a person — as in, that female colleague at the office. Further, what I’m discussing here only applies to men who are generally making the right choices and are trying as best they can to keep their thought lives pure.
But there are way too many of these honorable men – truly good guys – who have been feeling shame (or made to feel shame) because they instinctively want to look at the hot woman at the grocery store who is falling out of her top. They feel a gut-level desire to savor the sight of the lithe twenty-something at the gym who is showing off all of her assets. The type of man I’m talking about will generally try to wrench his head away… but deep down inside, there’s a part of him that would rather look.
Guys, is that you?
Ladies, does this describe your husband?
It’s important to say this: it is normal to be attracted to an attractive image. There is literally nothing wrong with that part of it. In fact, a man’s brain is so hard-wired for visual processing that it is almost impossible for a man to not find that image appealing. I would argue, in fact, that his brain is functioning in precisely the way God designed.
It is even more important to emphasize this: being attracted to an image and doing something about it – such as a lingering look or thought about that other woman — are two very, very different things. In the Bible, God clearly says that a man must not allow himself to take that lingering look. He must not allow his thoughts to go in a lustful direction. Those go beyond “attraction” and into “action.” And the actions of lust, in God’s economy, equal a heart of adultery.
Yes, it is normal to want to look – but the only time a man can indulge that desire is when he is with his wife.
There’s no way to know this for sure, but I think God designed the male brain to be attracted to an attractive image on purpose – and that that purpose was to bond a man to his wife. Remember, Adam’s first words when he saw Eve were essentially, “Hubba, hubba.” I’ve been investigating this topic for years as Craig Gross and I have been writing our new, more in-depth book on this topic, Through A Man’s Eyes, and neuroscientists have found that the visual male brain wiring has a direct tie to a man’s emotional connection to his wife.
Guys, your visual temptations are not abnormal. They are challenging, and you all have told me that you wish you didn’t have them. But you need to know that they exist for most men in this culture.
The key, of course, is what you do about it.
As a woman who understands this topic, I want to thank those of you who are making those right choices every difficult day. You are trying as best you can to live pure, in an impure culture. There is no way to express how much that means to me as a woman, and – most importantly — to the woman in your life.
And to the men who perhaps haven’t been making the rigorous choice to keep your thoughts for your wife: can I challenge you?
Please. Step up to the high calling that God has for you.
Make the godly choices.
If you need help to do so, get it. Rigorously reserve those thoughts and actions, for your wife (or future wife). Because when you are home with your wife, the attraction and the action are, finally, allowed to be one and the same.