Last week I wrote about the differences between attraction and lust. And in that post I said that lust is wrong, it is a choice, and it should be avoided. Yes, I know. “Thank you Captain Obvious.”  That said, when we understand the difference between attraction and lust, and we recognize the need to avoid letting our attraction develop into lustful thoughts, questions arise such as…

How do I avoid lusting?

This simple question has provoked a lot of attention over the years, particularly from the Christian community. It has been the subject of countless blog posts, sermons, and books. Some of the answers provided by these authors and speakers have been helpful. Others, not so much. 

In fact, some of the answers I’ve heard do more damage than good. Such as the famous “bounce your eyes” suggestion from the well known book Every Man’s Battle. I’ve written before about why I don’t recommend Every Man’s Battle to anyone seeking sexual integrity and recovery so I am not going to delve into a full critique of that book right now. 

However, when it comes to the topic of “bouncing one’s eyes” it’s important to explain why that strategy can actually be counterproductive and miss the point of avoiding the lust trap. 

As I said last week, the main problem with lust is that we are consuming another person. In essence, we are reducing a human being that God created and loves to a collection of body parts that exist to entertain our sexual urges. It’s not just demeaning, it’s dehumanizing. And so if we recognize that as the primary issue related to lust, then our solutions to avoiding lust can not then be just as objectifying or dehumanizing. 

I call this reverse objectification.

But what is reverse objectification? Well, to be honest, it’s a made up phrase. There is no such thing as “reverse objectification” because objectification is objectification regardless of the parties involved or the nature of objectification.

However, I use this term to allude to the counterintuitive nature of objectification I am referring to.

Usually, when we say objectification (in our context) we think about men (or women) seeing another person as a sexual object. But when we resort to brainless tactics such as an automated bouncing of eyes approach we objectify a person in a different manner. When women are described as “temptation grenades” they cease being an object of sexual desire and become an object of temptation. But they are still objects. And that is why I say “reverse” because while the intent is theoretically good (unlike lust), the method is flawed and leads to the same problem.

Does this mean we are then free to leer and stare at someone we find physically attractive?

Of course not. But the issue with one “bouncing” their eyes as an automated almost robotic reaction to another person is not the action, but the mindset.  Consider the difference in perspective between the following scenarios:  

Scenario #1:

You are in the gym. You see someone working out that is extremely attractive and is wearing something that really catches your attention. You immediately recognize that person as a threat to your “sexual integrity.” So you look away and find a desolate corner to finish your workout in, feeling relieved that you just sidestepped a sexual landmine.

Scenario #2:

You are in the gym. You see someone working out that is extremely attractive and is wearing something that really catches your attention. You think to yourself, “While I do find that person physically attractive, they are a human being that deserves more than my objectification of them so I will choose to avert my stare out of respect for their personhood and human dignity.” Then you pick up your weights and move to a different area of the gym.

Later on you talk to a counselor or accountability partner about the situation and explore why you were tempted to sexualize someone.

See the difference?

In scenario #1 the person is avoiding looking at someone because they see that person as a temptation trap that needs to be avoided. Their actions are motivated by survival rather than love and honor. And so they recognize the issue to be the object of their affection, not their choice to sexualize another person.

In scenario #2 the person recognizes the humanness of someone else they find attractive. They recognize that they are feeling tempted to objectify someone who deserves better. And so out of honor they choose to treat that person with more dignity and respect by not allowing themselves to go down the road of lustful consumption. By doing this, they recognize that the real issue is their temptation to sexualize another person. This is further evidenced by their desire to remain accountable and explore their unhealthy tendencies.

Understand, in a perfect world we wouldn’t sexualize another person at all. 

But this world is not perfect. And for those who have been using porn or sex to deal with life’s challenges, the painful reality is that certain images (or people) are going to trigger a neurological response. And that response may be difficult to manage, leading to further reinforcement of those behaviors potentially contributing to continued patterns of objectification and exploitation.

So then we need to face our lust rather than manage it. We need to own our objectification rather than trying to suppress it by avoiding those we tend to consume. Ultimately, avoidance of lust should not be a mindless activity. It should be a very purposeful exercise where we choose to honor and love others as opposed to reducing them to sexual fodder.

Understand this, if you want to avoid lusting without falling into the trap of “reverse objectification,” be more mindful of what you are doing and why you are doing it. Don’t be so robotic. Don’t fall for the lie that freedom is found in avoidance. Yes, choose to do the right thing. But not because the “right thing” is an automated reflex. Instead, choose to do the right thing because you wish to honor someone else and accept the responsibility of your struggles rather than scapegoating the objects of your affections.