This letter is to all you young men who are trying to show care, honor, and respect to the girls and women in your lives—in your actions, words, and in your private thoughts. I know you’re out there because I have a teenage son who strives for that, and I’ve spoken to thousands of you who just want to do the right thing.
I also know the “private thoughts” part of it is not always easy today. Yes, I am a woman, but after 17 years of immersing myself in how men and boys think, I have at least a sense of how real the struggle can be. You’re bombarded with sexually-charged images on social media, shows, movies and ads throughout the day—images that are perfectly designed to stimulate a particular part of your brain (more on that later). You sometimes feel school is a thought-life minefield. Even the nicest girls, your close friends, seem to not always understand why tiny skirts and barely-there tank tops might trigger thoughts you don’t want to have. And that’s just the day-to-day stuff, not even the “special event” stuff like Homecoming dresses that leave little to the imagination. Not to mention that hormones act like fuel on an existing fire.
I get all of that. But there’s no way of getting around this too: It’s one thing to want to treat the girls you know with total respect (outwardly and inwardly), and it’s another thing to actually do it. If you build the habits now—the habit of “taking every thought captive”, the habit of respectful words and actions regardless of what anyone around you is doing—it will not only help you today, but set you up with healthy patterns for the rest of your life.
To help you do that, it might help you to know a few things—about yourself, about girls—that you may not actually know. This is essential, eye-opening stuff. (Which you can find more about in our book For Young Men Only.) And as we dive in . . . thank you for doing your very best to be respectful toward the girls in your life. You can do this!
Let’s look at a few things that might surprise you.
DID YOU KNOW?
You’re not weird or horrible for being tempted, visually.
When you see an attractive girl wearing revealing clothing—whether that’s the girl in class next to you or the actress on TV—you probably feel a twist in your gut and find yourself immediately tempted to have sexual thoughts. Even when you want to honor the girl and don’t want to have those thoughts. That’s because there are physical properties of the male brain that biologically stimulate you, visually, whether you want that or not.
Here’s what’s happening: When you see that image, a part of your brain called the nucleus accumbens is activated. This is the same part of your brain that lights up when, say, you haven’t eaten all day and you walk in the house and see that your parents have just set a lot of awesome-looking food on the dinner table. You have a biological reaction: a craving for that food rises up before you have a conscious thought about it. It’s the same brain reaction as when you visually see the girl who is showing off a good body.
This scientific reality means that visual temptation is part of being a member of the male species.
DID YOU KNOW?
What’s not right is indulging that temptation.
So it’s OK to be tempted. What’s not OK is indulging that temptation. This is where men who want to honor women have to work hard at building good habits—even when you are really tempted not to. Just like you don’t have to rudely indulge in the temptation to eat everything on the dinner table just because you’re hungry, you don’t have to rudely indulge your sexual thoughts. If you want to grow in maturity as a young man who honors women and honors God in your thought life, this is when you have to practice NOT maintaining your gaze, NOT fantasizing about the female in view, and NOT letting your imagination run wild.
Here’s the key: There’s a difference between being tempted and acting on that temptation. So be willing to fight. We’ll get to the how in a bit. For now, know that, like all males, the difficult reality is that in today’s culture you will be tempted visually every day. But you have the power to make good choices in how you handle it.
DID YOU KNOW?
Girls have far more self-doubt than you realize—your future wife included. So the choices you make now will impact the rest of your life.
The choices you make now in coping with visual temptation will impact the rest of your life, especially your future marriage. Because the habits you develop now could either devastate your wife or honor her. I know you’re not thinking about your future wife right now. But you have the opportunity (let me go a bit further—you have the responsibility) to develop good habits now that will impact that most important future relationship.
You don’t realize this, but all the girls around you that you think are some kind of exotic alien species—don’t feel so exotic. In fact, nearly every single one of those beautiful, confident-looking girls doubts whether she’s beautiful. And the problem is that right now you’re not in a lifetime relationship with any of them. But at some point you probably will be. And if your future wife sees your eyes affirming the beauty of other women, it’s going to devastate her. Her sense of self and her feelings of security with you are going to be affected by how you deal with visual temptation. Start now to build the good habits that will allow your future girlfriend, and, eventually, your future wife, to feel safe, secure, beautiful, and loved.
DID YOU KNOW?
A girl’s intent in how she dresses is not what you think.
One of the myths we shared in the book For Young Men Only is this: most guys think girls dress hot because they want a physical relationship. You think she’s saying, “come and get it.” But our surveys with girls found that the vast majority aren’t thinking at all about your reaction to what they wear—they just want to feel good about themselves and how they look.
See, girls’ brains are wired differently than yours. I know you think that when a girl wears tight clothes she knows exactly what she’s doing to you and she knows exactly what rises up in your brain. But trust me, she doesn’t. She has no idea!
Here’s why: Unlike in your brain, when a girl sees a very attractive guy showing off his body, her nucleus accumbens isn’t activated. She doesn’t feel that twist in her gut. She doesn’t feel a temptation toward sexual thoughts rising up. A different part of her brain is activated instead: the cortical or thinking centers. And she thinks to herself, “Wow, he’s attractive.” And . . . that’s about it.
In other words, most girls and women simply don’t have those sexual thoughts tied to a visual image—so they have no idea that you do. That girl next to you in class wearing the short-shorts or the clinging shirt is just thinking she looks cute! (Which is why we wrote a letter to the girls explaining all this as well.)
So guys, the vast majority of girls are not dressing to say “Come and get it”—even when you think they’ve picked a super-hot outfit.
Even when your self-control is put to the test, that doesn’t give you or any guy an excuse to treat them without respect. Let me say this very clearly: There’s never a valid reason for a guy to act on his desires with a girl he isn’t married to, to be disrespectful in his words or thoughts, or to take advantage of a girl. Every young man is responsible for his actions and for making wise choices, even in very tempting situations.
So how can you fight the daily battles of temptation and make those wise choices? I thought you’d never ask! Here are some practical strategies to cope with visual temptation.
Strategy #1: Redirect your view.
Develop the reflex action of quickly shifting your eyes somewhere else when an enticing image appears before you, whether it’s in real life or onscreen.
Over and over, guys tell me that this technique of “bouncing your eyes” really works! It becomes a habit that is a whole lot easier to maintain than trying to pull back thoughts that have already been spurred by a prolonged look.
When Jeff and I were newlyweds in New York, my husband used to look up to the sky periodically as we walked along the sidewalk. I couldn’t figure out what was going on until he finally told me he was making an effort to respect me by redirecting his view when a temptingly attractive woman passed by.
There also might be times when you need to “bounce your eyes” by changing channels or leaving a website until a certain scene or commercial is over.
Strategy #2: Redirect your thoughts.
Just like you can change your view, you can redirect your thoughts. Instead of letting your imagination take over when you see an attractive girl, use a principle from the Bible by “taking your thoughts captive.” As a wise person once said: Your thoughts become your actions; your actions become your habits; your habits become your character, and your character becomes your destiny. So take immediate control and shift your thoughts somewhere else when you start to think about a girl in ways that are not in her best interest—or yours.
We’ve heard a lot from different guys about how to do that, but the key is to think about something that will take your mind off of it (football, your math test, whether your brother has fixed the gaming console) and not keep it going on the track it might have gone otherwise.
Yeah, we know that is challenging. But millions of teenage guys have been able to build this habit—and you can too!
Strategy #3: Fight peer pressure and lies.
Fight the peer pressure that comes from talking with other guys about girls. You know what I mean: rating girls, talking about how hot so-and-so looks in that short skirt today or how far things went with a certain girl on Friday night. Fight the lies you hear from other guys and from TV, movies, and websites that tell you to take in everything that is available for you to view and to go ahead and indulge your fantasies.
Don’t listen to the lies that say no one gets hurt if you’re just looking and not actually doing anything. Because you get hurt, that girl gets hurt, your life with God gets hurt, and your future gets hurt. Stay strong, guys.
Strategy #4: Enlist support.
Talk to a pastor, your parents, or another trustworthy authority figure who will understand what you’re going through and support you in your quest to be respectful towards girls and women. In fact, your mom, your dad, or your youth pastor may already be talking with you about this issue. If so, open up. Don’t think you’re the only guy who’s facing these temptations or the only guy who wants to do the right thing. Older and wiser men can be a great support—they know exactly what you’re up against, and they’re there to support and encourage you, to bolster your determination, to provide accountability, and to lend a listening ear.
Be a hero to the girls you know.
I have one last piece of advice, guys: Be a hero to the girls you know. Every girl wants a guy who will treat her with the respect she deserves. Despite movies that glamorize the “bad boy,” that isn’t what a girl really wants. She wants to be treasured and treated well. She wants to be appreciated for everything she is—not just her physical attributes. Set yourself apart by being a true gentleman, a young man who is strong and kind and good. I know you want to be that kind of guy. I know you’re trying to be that kind of guy. I respect that! Keep doing your best to always keep their best in mind as you continue striving to honor the girls and women in your life.
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Shaunti Feldhahn loves sharing eye-opening information that helps people thrive in life and relationships. She herself started out with a Harvard graduate degree and Wall Street credentials but no clue about life. After an unexpected shift into relationship research for average people like her, she now is a popular speaker and author of best-selling books about men, women and relationships. (Including For Women Only, For Men Only, and the groundbreaking The Good News About Marriage).
Her book for teenage boys, For Young Men Only, focuses on helping every teen guy who wants to know how girls are wired, what they want, and how they really think .
Visit www.shaunti.com for more.