There is a story about the author and a missionary companion and how they were differently affected by immodestly dressed women they encountered on their mission. His companion had spent several years living in Hawaii.
his normal sexual desire was disassociated from crippling anxiety and the feeling of losing control, of being everywhere surrounded by harm and threat. He loved girls, he said, and had always wanted to be with them regularly. But he didn't obsess over girls or think of them as sexual objects designed for his own titillation, to constantly flee from until you hopefully found the safe haven of marriage at some point in the future. He didn't think girls could directly and irrevocably cause inappropriate thoughts, but that such thoughts were just part of becoming an adult human being, and needed to be acknowledged and managed accordingly. He said he felt free. And that he was sorry for me that I apparently didn't.
It wasn't fair, I thought, that my companion never appeared to fight any battles, that he didn't even seem to know there was a war going on. He wasn't sexually promiscuous, but neither was he a eunuch. He was a man, it seemed to me, truly and positively empowered.I liked the last two paragraphs.
Two things, then, must be acknowledged. First, it is absolutely a reality for men and boys that sexual desire can feel overwhelming, all-consuming, and thus, unsurprisingly, frightening. I think this is at least one of the roots of the constant need to present virtue and modesty as acts of vigilance and courage–because fear lies at the heart of what we are trying to confront but doing a poor job talking about. My anxiety and feelings of powerlessness in the face of perceived temptation from the opposite sex on my mission were real; there was nothing untruthful about them. The same is true for other men (and women) in that boat, and it’s difficult to appreciate that fact if you haven’t set sail onto uncertain stormy seas in it. What was untrue, however (what remains untrue), and this is point number two, were the stories that had produced that anxiety and powerlessness in the first place. Stories about girls and women being centers of uncontrollable desire and lust that must look and act in particular ways in order to tame the beast within me. Stories about learning to be strong and courageous while surrounded by frightening temptation everywhere I turned, thereby transforming women around me into either enemies or potential enemies (should they choose at some point to not dress according to current acceptable standards, on my behalf). Stories that metaphorically and realistically banish or exile women from thought and place so I could feel safe and powerful. Stories that divided not just women against men in significant ways, but also women against women, in which women saw other women as potential insidious bearers of the seeds of destruction sown in husbands, sons, and fathers.
It’s a daunting thought, to consider telling alternative stories about human sexuality, but because, as I am arguing, the problems are structural, the stories that have built the structure are due for a revision and overhaul. Many will be understandably concerned that a different narrative will simply cause us to devolve into wanton permissiveness and excess on the parts of both women and men. Honestly, I don’t know that that wouldn't be the case for some. The traditional stories are rooted in deep soil and might remain powerful for a long time. But it is an unalloyed good to be able to understand ourselves in ways that allow us as men and women to interact with one another in the bonds of love, confidence, and friendship, not fear, anxiety, lust, and distrust. More than any other thing, it will be a climate of fear, anxiety, and powerlessness that will create dependency in ways that lead to sexual addictions of various kinds, which we know are rampant in our communities. The ways we currently talk about sex an modesty are not accomplishing the healthy and empowering understandings of ourselves and our potential that are necessary for us to truly live together.There must be a path towards a more healthy set of stories about modesty and the building of healthy relationships between girls and boys, men and women. A path that might minimize permissiveness and excess. I do believe that the companion's view is more healthy. Faith is always better than fear.