How can I discuss modesty with my girlfriend?
Recently, she wore an outfit that was really hot that included a pair of short shorts, and she could see that I was conflicted. This brought up a conversation about modesty. This seems to be a new concept for her, and I’m having a difficult time discussing it with her. All of the resources I find seem to be geared at educating your kids on modesty. I need help because now she feels like she left the house feeling cute, like she had it going on, and now I have to burst that bubble.
Please guide us to a resource that will help us through this topic in an adult manner and will help her feel like she can catch my eye without being immodest. Thank you so much.
Thank you so much for writing and giving us the chance to have this much-needed conversation. It taps into an age-old reality: Women long to be noticed for their beauty, and men like beautiful things. So far, so good. The problem, as you’ve identified, is when efforts to be noticed and thought lovely (or cute) cross the line into attracting sexual attention and even lust. It’s not that there’s never a time or place for dressing and acting provocatively (see Song of Solomon for more on that), but that outside of marriage — and an appropriately private locale — such behaviors are precursors to sin.
You said that, to you, your girlfriend looked “hot,” but that she thought she looked “cute.” This brings up a key point: Men and women see things differently. I think too often we women underestimate our power to lead men to stumble. We think a little skin here or there is flirty, or even cute. But men go more quickly to hot and sexy.
While I’m in no way saying women are to blame when men behave badly (or criminally), we women do still have a responsibility to be good stewards of our bodies, our beauty and our sexuality.
I think it’s honorable that you were willing to broach this touchy subject with your girlfriend. Lesser men would have just enjoyed the thrill of seeing more of her and letting their minds wander. But such is not the mark of high character. And it falls far short of the biblical mandates to be pure, view fellow female believers as sisters, think on things that are holy, and honor one another above ourselves. All of these exhortations rest on the fact that as beings made in the image of God, we are worthy of one another’s respect. That’s no less true of our bodies than it is of our minds and spirits. And she has an important role to play in fostering your respect. That includes biblical modesty.
As I’ve written before (here and here), there’s no prohibition in the Bible against beauty and physical loveliness. Many of the patriarchs’ wives were so outwardly gorgeous that their husbands lied about being married to them out of fear that some jealous, lust-filled ruler would think nothing of murdering them to get to their wives. Esther, Abigail, Sarah, Rebecca — legendary beauties all. But it’s their internal qualities for which they’re best remembered. First Peter 3:3-6 says,
Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.
I would hope that if you told your girlfriend her outfit was creating an opportunity for you to lust, that she would be willing to change her clothes in an effort to help you flee temptation. Yes, it’s your responsibility to control your thoughts — to take every thought captive — and you are called to that level of vigilance regardless of what she wears. But in a dating relationship that presumably has the potential to lead to marriage, you should be investigating whether the two of you are able to relate to each other biblically: you as sacrificial leader, she as submissive helper. Is her heart inclined toward the kind of godliness Peter wrote about, or did she take offense, defending her right to dress in ways that make her look good with no thought to how it affects you?
This is a really good, though difficult, opportunity for you to observe the health of your relationship and its potential to move toward marriage. How you approach the subject and how she receives what you have to say will indicate if, as a couple, you are committed to living out your faith in your bodies. You have a duty not to lust. She has a duty not to tempt. If what she’s wearing poses a temptation, even as you guard your mind, she should want to stop and dress in a way that encourages righteousness in both of you.
I pray God will use this conflict to bring both of you to an even deeper understanding of what it means to live biblically, in a relationship that is honoring both to Him and to each other.
P.S. Here are a few resources about modesty for adults:
- C.J. Mahaney, God, My Heart, and Clothes
- Nancy Leigh DeMoss, The Look: Does God Really Care What I Wear?
- Christopher West, The Theology of the Body
- Wendy Shalit, A Return to Modesty
Copyright 2008 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Candice Watters is a wife, mom, and Bible teacher. She is the author of Get Married: What Women Can Do to Help it Happen, co-founder with her husband, Steve, of Boundless.org and co-author of Start Your Family: Inspiration for Having Babies. They have four children and blog at FamilyMaking.com.