Recently, I’ve written more about Purity Culture (here and here), as well as the calling and challenge to abstain from premarital sex. But I had this post in my Drafts folder and, after re-reading it, realized it was one more point I wanted to add. To make sure we Christians send the right message to youth and singles about God’s design for sexuality, let’s not use a double standard.
And if you were raised with this double standard, how has it impacted your view of sex and your marriage?
The Double Standard of My Youth
I grew up in the 1980s, and sometimes when I go back and watch a movie I liked from that era, I’m taken aback by a scene in which it’s just presumed that a young man will do whatever it takes to have sex with young woman. (For more on that, see this thoughtful article from ’80s actress Molly Ringwald.) The underlying message is one many women heard growing up: Boys will be boys.
What does that idiom mean? Merriam-Webster defines it as “used to indicate that it is not surprising or unusual when men or boys behave in energetic, rough, or improper ways” and includes the example “You shouldn’t be too hard on them for staying out so late. Boys will be boys.”
If only that phrase was merely about staying out late! Unfortunately, it’s also been used to suggest boys will “behave in energetic, rough, or improper ways” regarding sex. I recall despising that message. Sadly, I also believed it was at least somewhat true—perhaps because it was a message conveyed not only in movies but in the overall culture and even in my church.
Here’s what boys will be boys conveyed to teen me.
1. “His sex drive is okay, yours is bad.”
So a teen guy was given tacit freedom to feel and even act on sexual impulses. They were expected to have strong sexual desires, to talk about them, and to push boundaries with girls.
Meanwhile, the freedom girls had to feel and act on sexual impulses was little to zero. If a girl became aroused easily or thought much about sex, she might be considered “easy” or even a nymphomaniac.
You can quickly come up with potential consequences of that thinking. Here are a few that popped into my head right away:
- Girls repressing their sexual interest, only to struggle later to awaken it in marriage
- Boys believing that it’s okay to pressure a girl for sex—that it’s the way things are done
- Girls deciding it’s impossible to ignore their sexual desires and giving up / giving in to premarital sex and even promiscuity
- Boys pursuing sexual arousal and climax through ongoing masturbation and/or porn
- Girls concluding that men are pigs—that they’re interested in sex more than the girl they’re having sex with (as some, quite frankly, are)
- Boys becoming frustrated with the date or girlfriends who won’t “let them” have sex
Fast forward to marriage, and you can also see the potential for distrust, tension, and conflict. The husband, the wife, or both may have absorbed the idea that sex is mainly for him (see The #1 Myth Christian Women Learned about Sex). He may still be treating sex like a consumer. She may have difficulty finding or recognizing sexual desire.
And then there’s all the baggage we enter marriage with, based on decisions we made as teens and young adults infused with this lie.
Truth: Our sexuality is God-given and thus good.
The truth is that young men’s and women’s sexual interest is good. God made us to be sexual beings, so that we can later have the physical intimacy that helps to build a good marriage. And God holds both boys and girls responsible for treating others and their bodies with respect and honor.
Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.1 Corinthians 6:18-20
2. “You are responsible for both of you.”
The overwhelming message I received growing up was that it my responsibility to stop my date and me from going too far. Because it was too difficult for him to stop; after all, “boys will be boys.” But that’s completely unfair! Plus, it’s unbiblical. The Word of God clearly teaches that we are responsible for our own choices (see Deuteronomy 24:16, Jeremiah 31:30, Ezekiel 18:20, John 21:20, Romans 14:12).
Yes, we can cause others to stumble or help them to remain strong in the faith—our actions have an impact on others—but our sin is ours alone. Moreover, those passages about not causing others to stumble (e.g., Romans 14, 1 Corinthians 8) address mature Christians not doing things that cause less mature believers to be confused about the Gospel. Most teen girls who heard these verses used against them were not mature Christians themselves; rather, being told that they were accountable for themselves and their date might be the sort of stumbling block we shouldn’t put in their way.
On the practical side, if both he and she think she is the who needs to stop sinful behavior from happening, then a girl has few options to keep up her sexual integrity:
- Suppress her sexuality altogether, not acknowledging normal physiological and emotional responses to romantic attraction
- Become the gatekeeper in any relationship, expecting him to try and you to be the maintainer of sexual integrity for both
- Avoid dating and men as long as possible
- Marry quickly to preclude a long period of having to fight off her own urges and his
Can you see how these choices could lead to poor outcomes both in the present single life and one’s future married life? For example, plenty of spouses have written to me and shared how the wife suppressed her own sexual desires so well before marriage, she didn’t know how to awaken them once married.
But also, some husbands never learned how to manage their own sexual behavior, because they didn’t have to. She stopped things from going too far before they got hitched. Yet, developing self-control of our sexuality before marriage helps form the character needed to challenges regarding sexual intimacy in marriage. Nearly every marriage will have a struggle in the sexual arena at some point, and youth and singlehood is when we can begin to develop the spiritual mindset and emotional skills to address and resolve them.
Truth: We are each accountable for ourselves.
Men don’t need women to be their human-sized conscience. God gave them a conscience of their own. Yes, let’s help each other to maintain sexual integrity, but that calling is mutual, and we are each responsible for our choices.
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.2 Corinthians 5:10
3. “He’s justified in behaving badly, because God made him that way.”
One of the phrases I hate most is this one: “Men are pigs.” It gets thrown around a lot among women to express that men should be expected to behave badly. Also, it’s not that men behave like pigs, but that they are pigs—as if it’s just a state of their existence. Instead of cogito, ergo sum, it’s sum homo, sum porcus.
Now I know a lot of amazing men—faithful husbands, great dads, compassionate citizens, spiritual leaders. But too many guys out there, and too many women as well, have absorbed the idea that men can’t help being a bit sexually wayward. If that weren’t true, I doubt we’d have such a high use of pornography among male believers. Yes, some would still struggle, but if we communicate that men will be constantly tempted and can’t really win, then even more will wallow in that mud.
But wait—some say—it really IS difficult for men!
If you’re a man out there saying that I, a woman, don’t understand what it’s like to deal with the intensity and urgency of sexual desire and the pull of visual temptation that surrounds you, I would answer that you’re right—I’m not a dude. But I have lived with one for nearly 30 years, raised two of them to adulthood, have invited numerous conversations from men about their sexuality, and read up on the male experience many times over.
And the upshot from everything I’ve learned from men themselves is that if you consistently grapple with controlling your sexual urges like you’re in the fight of your life, then you have some issues to address. You may need to mature more in your faith, address emotional wounds from your past, deal with the drought of intimacy in your relationships, and/or learn how to better control your thought life.
But what you don’t need is to hear that you’re made that way and cannot change. If it feels nearly impossible, please get help. That’s the courageous step for a man to take: to enlist the help of others in a battle worth fighting.
Truth: Boys will become men, if we teach them how.
Even if boys will be boys—behaving in more “energetic, rough, or improper ways” when young—by the time puberty kicks in, they should be learning how to be a man. It won’t always be easy, but it will be doable and worthwhile. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:11: “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”
Men themselves lead the way in teaching men how to be good men. Godly men. But by not buying into the idea that men cannot really control themselves, women can focus on developing their own sexual integrity while expecting men to do the same. We each take the responsibility for ourselves in the way God called us to do.
Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. All that you do must be done in love.1 Corinthians 16:13-14
A Better Message
While I’ve ranted today about the boys will be boys message too many of us received, I want to end on the positive note that better messages are getting out there. From more quality resources about sex in marriage, to shifts in how youth pastors teach sexual integrity, to the many-front pushback against pornography infiltrating our ranks, to #ChurchToo, Christians can see many hopeful signs. If we will look for them.
We also be those signs. We can be the voices that teach God’s truth: We are sinners who face temptation, but by God’s grace, there is a path to pursue holiness. It can begin when we are young: “How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word” (Psalm 119:9). And we, the Body of Christ, should there to teach, encourage, admonish, and pray for our brothers and sisters.
Forget “boys will be boys.” Let’s instead embrace that God will be God. And we are called not to be just us, but to be like Him.
But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”1 Peter 1:15-16