My Bible College president scared me in dorm devotions. I think my Bible College experience was fairly typical for the time (late ‘80s early ‘90s) in this respect: consistently the guys were warned in chapels and dorm devotions about the dangers of pornography. In fact, it was presented as a characteristically male sin—women didn’t struggle with it. I never heard of a girl student at our college that was into pornography, but too many guys were. Of course it was less available then than it is now. We were warned about magazines, which were more difficult to get and keep hidden. But I remember our college president righteously indignant—probably over hearing of another pastor friend’s moral failure—speaking in our dorm devotions and shocking me about the dangers of porn. It was so formative and shaping that I told my Dad about that dorm devotional. He responded by writing a letter to the college president thanking him for scaring me!
Youth pastors were told that porn is something you must confront for the guys in your youth group, and really only the guys. Teen boys, they were taught, in general were tempted by sight, and teen girls were tempted by touch. It was taught as if it were pretty much an exclusively male temptation, and I believed it was then.
However, for the past three years my wife worked in Student Life at a Bible College counseling young women, and she was surprised how many girls struggled with sexual sins. Others have seen this change too. One of my good ministry friends preaches at Christian Camps and he says it’s almost an equal percentages of males to females who struggle with porn. It turns out it’s not exclusively a male temptation—maybe not even a greater temptation for men than for women. All it took was easy availability on phones for women to struggle with this temptation too. So it was really never a sin that was just for men. Apparently with opportunity it was actually a fairly equal problem.
Yet the Apostle Paul warned Timothy, a young man, to “flee from youthful lusts” (2 Tim 2:22) Does this indicate it’s more a male problem? They weren’t described as “Timothy lusts” but “youthful lusts.” It still seems to me that men are more wired this way than women even though women seem to be catching up.
During this same time in the ‘80s and ‘90s women would be warned about immodesty much more than men. Is immodesty more a female temptation than a male temptation? I would have thought so then. Is it true (as I would have been taught in my college days) that men stumble easier visually than women do? Maybe it’s so, but I’m not sure this is as good an example of a gender-specific sin (either the women’s immodesty or the men’s leering) as I would have believed then. Christian women do think about modesty more than Christian men do. Christian men need to think about it; women struggle with sexual lust too.
Another example from the ‘80s is gossip. I heard preaching then as if gossip were mostly a female temptation, but I’ve attended enough pastors conferences to know that gossip isn’t just for women. Men like gossip too.
So are there some sins that are more tempting to one sex than the other? I’m not asking if men or women are the greater sinners. Scripture doesn’t differentiate between the sexes that way; both sexes struggle with sin equally. I’m asking if some sins are more tempting to men than women and vice versa?
Each Sex Has Role-Specific Temptations
I am a complementarian so I believe that men and women are equal but have different God-given roles in marriage. Genesis 3 teaches us that women and men will struggle with sins specific to their roles.
To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.” Genesis 3:16 (ESV)
The wife will be tempted to resist her husband’s leadership, and the husband will be tempted to be oppressive in leadership. And probably every pastor’s experience bears this out. They counsel women who are not satisfied with how their husbands are leading their families, and they resist the husband’s leadership. But of course submission is not the main problem in those marriages. A wife’s submission almost never is. It is almost always a husband that is an insecure leader, or too controlling, or too passive–a failure to spiritually lead as he’s called to do. The wife’s unsubmission often indicates a husband’s unbiblical leadership.
But even under the best leadership, Genesis 3:16 teaches us that wives at times will struggle to follow their husband’s leadership. And it teaches that men will be tempted to use their role to oppress wives. But even these are not exclusively male or female sins. Men often struggle with submission to authority (think government, employers, and to pastors [Heb 13:17]), and women can be tempted with abusing power they have over others (think children or authority in employment).
Each sex has role-specific temptations that are exclusive to the commands of Scripture. That makes them a kind of gender-specific temptation. It’s not that women can’t be tempted to oppress and men can’t be tempted to be unsubmissive, but those temptations are not natural to their roles. They occur outside of their biblical roles in the family.
And in the sins that are not just sins but also illegal, men are “leaders” in all of them. Men are way more likely to rape, sexually assault, verbally abuse, and murder. None of those are common sins for all men (other than as a form of oppression, which does tempt men), but when those sins are committed, it’s disproportionately by men. So some men are more tempted by those sins than women are. That’s an example of men using their physical strength to oppress others. They have greater opportunity because of their physical power and they use it not to serve, but to abuse.
Men and women both serve lusts but men are more likely to use physical strength/intimidation to serve them and women are maybe more likely to use softer means since they don’t have physical strength.I hesitate to mention examples of those softer means for fear of being misunderstood. However, I’ll let John Piper say it. 😉 “…you might say that both men and women have sexual … Continue reading
All People Have Custom, Individual Temptations
In a section on temptation James says…
But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. James 1:14 (ESV)
“His own” is a translation of a Greek word whose root is idios (ἴδιος). It’s the word we get “idiot” from, but it doesn’t mean stupid in the New Testament text. It means one’s own possession or property. James is saying that we have custom temptations that are individual to each of us. James doesn’t distinguish between men and women even though he claims we have customized desires. The Apostle Paul concurs.
For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. Titus 3:3 (ESV)
We weren’t slaves to the same passions and pleasures. They were individual; they were designer lusts. So each of us has customized temptations. There are things that tempt me that may not tempt you at all, or don’t tempt you in the same way, or don’t tempt you with the same intensity. And that has nothing necessarily to do with gender.
So I am tempted with sins that are different than tempt my wife, but that’s not because of our genders. Don’t read this as me trying to tear down distinctions between the sexes because I also believe we are tempted with sins that are rooted in our gender-specific God-given roles. And those necessarily require them to be gender-specific temptations.
This is barely a beginning word on this, much less a final word. Use the comments to help me refine this.
|↑1||I hesitate to mention examples of those softer means for fear of being misunderstood. However, I’ll let John Piper say it. 😉 “…you might say that both men and women have sexual longings. But their peculiarities will tempt them to pursue those in sinful ways that are different. The man’s superior strength might tempt him to use force to get what he wants sexually (called rape) instead of using his strength to protect and to care for the woman. And the woman, being the “weaker vessel,” as Peter describes it (1 Peter 3:7), might be tempted to be more subtle and manipulative to get what she wants sexually. So, there are differences between male and female. And there are, therefore, different temptations that they might face. Ask Pastor John, Episode 1836, September 16, 2022, https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/whos-more-sinful-men-or-women, Accessed July 28, 2023|