Last Updated on March 11, 2024

Summer is here along with all the fun bright patterns and colors, sandals and pedicures … and swimsuits. When our little girls start blossoming, their natural desire to look more grown up and less ‘little girlish’ entices them to wear trendy fashions, including swimsuits, which have increasingly decreased in the amount of fabric used.

But another aspect of modesty sometimes overlooked by young women is the need to cover up when they aren’t either sunning or in the pool. A friend recently told me about her utter shock when she picked up her high school junior from a boy’s house where a bunch of friends had been swimming and hanging out. All the girls except her daughter were lying on the couch in their bikinis, watching a college basketball game with their guy friends. My friend had discussed with her daughter, in light of my research about teen guys, the discretionary value of covering up with a t-shirt and shorts when not swimming or sunning when guys are around.

You see, what most girls simply don’t realize is that the wiring of the male brain creates a temptation that could take a guy’s thoughts in a direction that most girls would never want – and many godly young men don’t want either! It is shocking for girls to hear, but in the national survey for my book, For Young Women Only, 85 % of the teen guys said that when they see a good-looking girl wearing clothes that accentuate her figure (much less a bikini!), they are really tempted to picture her – um – with no clothes at all. Girls love attention from guys, but most of them have no idea exactly what is going on in his brain. The girls also don’t realize that nearly every single guy we asked said something like, “Oh, they know exactly what they are doing to us.” In other words, when a girl dresses in the bikini, or the bootie shorts, or the tight little mini, the guys assume the girls want this male temptation to arise. And especially in a church youth group setting, the young men are so puzzled why these godly girls would want to create that struggle.

Godly guys try to honor girls, and they try to force their thoughts away from that automatic, biological temptation—but they wish girls would make it easier to avoid the temptation in the first place. They want the girls to cover up more. One high school junior told me, “When I see that bikini I’ll look the other way. I’ll think about cars, sports, whether my baseball bat is coming in the mail today – anything to take those other thoughts captive. But it’s just a struggle.” When I do youth events, I tell the girls how the male brain is wired, and that even at church, the guys may not want that struggle, but they still have a male brain and when those visual stimuli are there, their male brains respond. Once the girls ‘get’ how differently the male brain is wired, they understand how to avoid adding to that struggle.

If you haven’t already, I would encourage you to talk to your daughter not only about the swimwear she chooses to wear, especially around guys, but also the need to cover up even when she’s not sunning or swimming. Let’s train our daughters to be sensitive to the fact that how she displays her body can trigger a visual struggle for guys (and men) and can create a perception that, most likely, she has no intention of creating. It’s just another disconnect between the genders because they don’t really ‘get’ how different their brains function. Let’s help both the guys and the girls have the God-honoring perspective we are all aiming for.

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  1. Thank you, Shaunti! What I love is your research to back it up. This was perfect timing, as I am getting ready to take my daughter on a Passport to Purity weekend and swim suit shopping. She really struggles because right now, her friends’ opinions matter to her more than boys’. And last year her friends made fun of her for not wearing a bikini. She respects your expertise and it is not just ‘Mom being a prude.’

  2. I totally agree with this article in every way but one…why do you discuss covering up when not swimming or sunning? Why is it ever acceptable to wear a bikini? It is the same as waltzing around in underwear. So if you are in water that is ok? Would they swim in bra and panties? Would they lay on a lounge chair in a bra and panties? I have 3 daughters and 4 sons – we don’t do two piece swimsuits – period. My girls don’t need to wear them and my sons don’t need to see them. My girls usually wear shorts over their one piece swimsuits as well. I think it sets a double standard for girls that it is ok to wear a bikini in water but not out of water. It shouldn’t be acceptable in or out. Boys just can’t handle it. I know so many Godly young women that wear them and think nothing of it, not realizing they are causing lots of temptation for their male friends. My 12 year old and I went shopping for a new suit for her last week. We hit every store in town and by the time we eliminated 2 piece suits it left us with about 4 suits to choose from for her – all of which looked like they were designed for 6 year olds. We will have to order one online. That is the state of our society right now. Everyone assumes two piece suits are ok. They aren’t.

  3. Shaunti,

    Thanks for this! I have two girls under pre-school age and I am already mentally preparing myself for the modesty lessons I will have with them. I was 21 or 22 when I realized what really goes on in the head of man/boy, I was shocked and quickly went home and looked at my wardrobe! I, luckily, had a good christian, male friend who filled me in on all the ins and outs of what really goes on in their minds. No mother figure had ever taken me aside to talk to me about modesty, I am not making that mistake with my girls. Thanks for helping mothers equip their daughters to dress responsibly and thanks for helping the mothers to dress more responsibly as well!

  4. Thank you for posting this article, it really helped me to work through some of my own thoughts on this issue… so much so that I wrote out a response on my own blog since it was too long to post as a comment. (link to that post: Essentially I agree with the principles here but I always worry when this topic comes up and we talk about approaching young girls in conversations about the need for modesty by telling them what kind of thoughts her mode of dress elicits in the male mind without explaining to them that the whole point is, that while those thoughts are (very important point) the responsibility of the person having them, it is the compassionate thing to do to choose more modest clothing. The motive should be compassion and purity not fear of male reactions. And we need to make sure to always place equal importance on making sure boys know the way girls think and teaching them how to properly handle their responses…. anyway, the rest is on my blog. Thanks again for the thought provoking post!

  5. Jamie Wyatt says:

    So glad to have found you on this blog! Now I know where I can read your work! I loved your column in the AJC, and still miss it! I think I’ve read most of your books, and especially enjoyed your “Lights of Tenth Street.” I met you several years ago, while serving on the Wellspring Living Board.