Update on 11/29/2016 and 11/30/2016:
I’ve received comments that inspire me to write this update. To understand this post, you must fit the following points into your paradigm:
- There is something that happens between the time a person encounters sexualized imagery and the time that person begins to engage in purposeful thought. The immodesty triggers a chemical/biological sexual response in the brain. This post is not about what people choose to think about after their purposeful thought kicks in. Instead, it’s about how a chemical process has already begun by the time their mindful thinking even starts and how that process increases difficulty.
- Because of this chemical process (which is a natural part of the sexual process), people who dress immodestly undermine the moral agency of others. (Being a moral agent means being capable of acting with reference to right and wrong.) According to God (the same who said lust is adultery), sexuality is for marriage. Sexuality within marriage (as God defines it) is lawful and encouraged (right) and outside of marriage is sin (wrong). Moral agency includes being free to choose whether or not to trigger that specific sexual response, but immodesty may impose the response.
- This is not an attempt to excuse immorality. We are responsible for what we choose to dwell on, think about, and fantasize about. The statement that immodesty violates moral agency doesn’t mean that immodesty forces others to do evil acts (the devil made me do it). Immodesty does, however, add more pressure to people already under pressure and makes relapse more likely. The choice immodesty takes away from others is the choice to look at sexual imagery and activate the chemical process in the brain but not the choice to act out on it. While it is true that some of what constitutes sexual imagery varies from person to person, there are standards that when followed may help the largest possible number of people. Those standards already exist in the teachings of the prophets and in For the Strength of Youth. We just don’t follow them. I’m not arguing for a new law. Instead, this is an effort to invite believing latter-day saints specifically to choose to dress modestly like we already know God wants us to.
- This post did not, does not, and will not focus exclusively on female immodesty. Immodesty is not strictly a female problem. Both males and females dress immodestly, and both struggle with porn addiction. The person quoted below is a straight man, so naturally his comments are about females. If you’re a straight female or a same-sex attracted male or female who wants to give a quote about how you struggle with the same thing, please contact me and I’ll see if I can fit your statement into this conversation.
This post is written to latter-day saints and pertains to chastity, modesty, pornography addiction, and our covenants.
For the sake of both prodigals returned to the fold and long-time faithful currently under intense pressure to depart from it, please take a moment to consider these things.
The Principle of Modesty Is Eternal
“Prophets of God have continually counseled His children to dress modestly. … Your dress influence[s] the way you and others act. … Never lower your standards of dress. Do not use a special occasion as an excuse to be immodest. When you dress immodestly, you send a message that is contrary to your identity as a son or daughter of God. You also send the message that you are using your body to get attention and approval. … Immodest clothing is any clothing that is tight, sheer, or revealing in any other manner.” For the Strength of Youth
Addressing the furor that followed Elder Kimball teaching people to dress modestly, Dallin Oaks (then President of BYU) said, “The principle of modesty—the commandment that you should avoid a tempting manner or appearance—is fixed and eternal and will not deviate. Don’t assume that anyone will be impressed with your experience, or your preferences, or your wisdom on this subject.”
Immodesty Undermines Moral Agency
“But I’m not responsible for what other people choose to think!” Yes, that’s true. You’re not responsible for what other people choose to think. Also, perhaps you’re not quite seeing the point. This isn’t about the choice someone gets to make when confronted by immodesty, it’s about the choice immodesty imposes. And, it happens before conscientious thought even kicks in, or beneath/outside of conscientious thought.
The eye sends images to the brain. When the human eye (especially in men, but also in women) captures a sexual image (immodesty), the brain releases chemicals that prepare a person for a sexual encounter. It’s a trigger. When it happens outside of marriage, I call it a porntrigger.
The person seeing the image doesn’t have a choice in the matter as to whether or not the trigger happens. If it’s going to happen, it just happens. They get to choose what to do with the experience, but they may get triggered regardless of their will. The person who is immodestly dressed undermined the other person’s moral agency, even the choice they should have been able to make for themselves to look at something sexually stimulating. That’s one reason why modesty is part of the essence of chastity and a commandment of God.
Penitent porn addicts who have become self aware enough to comprehend what is going on in their brain know that their brain chemistry is altered within a second of seeing an immodest image. And they didn’t even choose it. All they did was use their eyeballs to see. Yes, they don’t have to then act upon it and engage in abuse, but when you factor in that immodest images infiltrate the brain hundreds or thousands of times every single day, it begins to be clear that every one of them has a major battle—a battle that all of us could help them win.
Within communities of saints, that battle would be much easier if we would help each other by dressing modestly. That goes for all of us—men and women, young and old, me and you.
We Have a Covenant Duty to Help
Dressing immodestly has become normalized in our culture even though immodesty clearly pushes out the spirit of the law of chastity. We’ve been taught over and over and over to dress modestly. And the immodesty is hurting people. Is that hurt tuned out by disbelief or distraction or disdain for truth?
God hears the cries of the striving men and women wrestling in agony, and I shudder to think of the recompense due if we ignore our covenant duty, putting the weak in peril.
What covenants am I talking about? There are sacred covenants made in the temple that apply. But beyond those, we learn from Mosiah 18 that members of the church make a covenant at baptism to do the following:
- Bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light.
- Mourn with those that mourn.
- Comfort those that stand in need of comfort.
- Stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things and in all places that ye may be in, even until death.
- To serve him and keep his commandments.
Why? “That ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life,” and, “. . . that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you.”
In Doctrine and Covenants Section 20, we learn, “All those who humble themselves before God, and desire to be baptized, and come forth with broken hearts and contrite spirits, and witness before the church that they have truly repented of all their sins, and are willing to take upon them the name of Jesus Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end, and truly manifest by their works that they have received of the Spirit of Christ unto the remission of their sins, shall be received by baptism into his church.”
Can you identify the covenants that we tread under foot through immodesty?
Faithful People Are Hurting
Consider this quote:
“I first saw pornography when I was very young. I wasn’t even looking for it, but I was immediately hooked. I spent the next decade battling addiction. When I finally overcame it (with a lot of help), I felt free. It happened through the atonement. After that process, I was excited to fellowship and to serve the Lord.
After a few years (and a lot of study), I realized that the apostles had been teaching modesty for decades, but it seemed like many of us weren’t listening. I occasionally overheard some members say that the teachings about modesty were silly or offensive.
What they didn’t seem to know or believe is that immodesty is a stumbling block for many porn addicts. We hear it all the time with things like swim-suit magazines, the underwear stores at the mall, and risqué magazine covers at the grocery store, but the same effect takes place with ordinary immodesty in day-to-day life. And it’s so pervasive in our culture.
While I may choose to overcome the triggers by turning my thoughts to Jesus Christ or another potential antidote, it’s important to note that the trigger itself is not my choice. And each trigger places a heavier weight on a back already overloaded. Without Christ’s grace, I’d fail every single day. Even so, some days it feels like too much. The pain is overwhelming.
I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to tell them my struggle in a way that helps them understand and know that I don’t hate them and am not trying to judge them, so I just don’t say anything at all. I just want to be able to fellowship with the church without being reminded (tempted) of pornography all the time.” – Anonymous Addict (some parts changed to preserve anonymity and for clarity)
I feel certain that many of the hardest challenges we face come from within part of the culture, because fellowship with the church is perceived as a safe haven (and it ought to be one) yet may be riddled with triggers.
Said Heber C. Kimball, “The Saints will be put to tests that will try the integrity of the best of them. The pressure will become so great that the more righteous among them will cry unto the Lord day and night until deliverance comes.”
There are penitent men and women (you likely know some of them) who are crying out day and night today because they can’t find respite and refuge from the world in their fellowship with Christ’s covenant people.
Fortunately, Christ is there. His love may fill the heart of even the loneliest disciple as He gives them patience and helps them hope for the day when fellowship embraces discipleship.
Men are, that they might have joy. Joy is a product of faithfulness and overcoming tribulation through Christ. The knowledge of future joy provides hope and the will to continue on. Our duty as latter-day saints is to help others be faithful and overcome tribulation so they’ll obtain true joy, but our own immodesty undermines that effort and is a stumbling block to others.
During His mortal ministry, Jesus of Nazareth was a humble and obedient Son of God. He obeyed the Father perfectly because He loved perfectly. He taught us that when God gives us direction we should receive the witness and follow. In all things He leads us out of sin and into faithfulness and joy. And He leads us in the same way today. We may each repent and, through Christ, receive a fullness of joy.
I witness that the direction we’ve received through prophets concerning modesty comes from God.
Someone must have shared this article with an anti-mormon or pseudo-feminist group, because I’ve received a lot of comments from that ilk. Even though many of the commenters may have resigned from the LDS church (some of them saying so), they still found the time in their busy day to share their feelings on a blog post written to LDS folks. That’s dedication.
Some of their feelings were very interesting. Because I learned quickly that responding to these comments only fostered contention, I’ve decided to extract relevant portions and frame them as questions and then comment on them.
Doesn’t it support rape culture to say that immodesty undermines moral agency and that sexual imagery contributes to addiction and relapse?
I’m not all that familiar with rape culture, but I assume what you’re referring to is that there are rapists who refuse to take responsibility for their crime and instead blame it on the person they raped.
It’s important to note that this blog post isn’t about rape, which means that you’re taking the things I wrote about sexual imagery and its connection to the chemical processes in the brain and that connection to porn addiction and applying it to something far more extreme, presumably in an effort to shut down a conversation you’re uncomfortable with.
I have heard that most (if not all) rapists used pornography. Is it a causal relationship with pornography triggering a latent tendency? I don’t know. I have read that rape is commonplace among pornographers, but I’ve also read that most porn addicts have never committed rape, even if they do lapse into fornication, promiscuity, and/or various forms of abuse and self abuse.
But I want to pose a question to you. What if there was a rapist who later deeply regretted what they did and, while incarcerated, went through a process of deep introspection and of learning from their crimes. I wonder if, in the interest of protecting victims from a similar fate, you’d listen to what they had to say about why they did what they did. Or would you discount all of it on the grounds that because they did something terrible, they are incapable of telling the truth about their experience?
That would be a foolish and dangerous way to go about learning about what contributes to rape. If you really care about protecting women (and children and men) from rapists, you’ll listen to any who are sincere about their penitence and who are eager to help others avoid the same downfall.
Jesus states very clearly in Revelations 3 that we must overcome (our fleshly desires) to sit at the right hand of God. Isn’t it true that your blog post basically says that porn-addicted people don’t have to work on themselves but that it’s only the immodestly dressed people that need to change?
No. If you read this blog post with a mindset open to understanding its points, you saw that penitent porn addicts already are working on themselves and working with Christ to overcome the carnal man within. What they’re looking for in the faith is a helping hand. They’re recovering and they’re asking for help from their fellow saints, which is a group that has consistently been chastened and instructed by God to dress modestly and has covenanted with God to “bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light.” (Mosiah 18)
While those with tendencies toward porn addiction have work to do, so do those of us with tendencies to desire to dress immodestly. Both are in the wrong and both need to change. One big difference between the two is that it’s still culturally and politically correct within the culture to teach repentance to porn addicts. It’s not, however, politically correct to teach modesty, as is very clear (especially if the words “leggings” or “yoga pants” are mentioned). Whenever someone dares, there’s pitchforks and fire.
In our culture, why have women been so pressured to dress modestly while men run around (exercise) or mow the lawn without a shirt on?
This is a wonderful question that I don’t know the answer to. The modesty commandment clearly applies to both sexes. In what I write, I always try to make it very clear that I am addressing both men and women. Even with my extra care to make that clear, most of the comments I’ve received still say I’m targeting women. I’m not. What I am targeting is immodesty.
What about the poor or other cultures where immodesty is normal?
Give the poor some clothes. And teach the other cultures the gospel. For those who sincerely accept the gospel, modesty will become their cultural norm.
The apostles have set a simple standard that can be applied across the board.
“Prophets of God have continually counseled His children to dress modestly. … Your dress influence[s] the way you and others act. … NEVER lower your standards of dress. Do NOT use a special occasion as an excuse to be immodest. When you dress immodestly, you send a message that is contrary to your identity as a son or daughter of God. You also send the message that you are using your body to get attention and approval. … Immodest clothing is any clothing that is tight, sheer, or revealing in any other manner.”
Isn’t there more to us than sex? Isn’t it satan that wants us to wear clothes? Doesn’t God want us to be proud of our bodies?
There is more to us than sex, yes, but sex is one of the more powerful aspects of our nature (as it should be), as we are driven to procreate and connect with an Eternal companion. It is a gift from God and is meant to be powerful, but it’s also meant to be sacred, as are our bodies and the way we present them. We are meant to be beautiful and attractive to the opposite sex, but God commanded that sexuality be exclusive to a man and woman lawfully married.
Satan wants us to value gaudy and/or expensive attire and to dress in revealing clothing. And he tries to get us to cover up our sins so we won’t repent. He wants us to hide them from God. And let’s remember that God made Adam and Eve clothes. We learn in Moses 4 that, “Unto Adam, and also unto his wife, did I, the Lord God, make coats of skins, and clothed them.”
And does God not wear clothes? If Christ was the great exemplar, why did He not carry out his ministry in the nude and teach others so to do? If modesty is not important, why does God keep telling us to do it? Are you saying that the guidance we get from God and His servants actually doesn’t come from God?
The truth is that choosing to dress immodestly while being aware that doing so is against God’s will sends God a message. The message is this: I don’t believe you, and I’m going to do what I want regardless of your will. In so doing we embrace pride.