Last Updated on March 20, 2018

I know we’re at the end of the summer … but it finally happened. We had to replace my 13-year-old daughter’s bathing suit, during a season where she’s been surrounded by friends and family with different swimwear rules. So: “Please, Mom? Please can I have a bikini too?” Understanding our “no” was even more difficult, when all she has been seeing is what she’s not allowed to wear.

It was highly ironic that I just debated this exact subject on a Moody radio program about whether we as Christian women should wear (or allow our daughters to wear) bikinis. Because of my research, and because I know how men (and teenage boys) think, how their brains are wired, and how so many of them hate the temptations of this culture, there was only one answer for me. I told my daughter (and the radio listeners) that I know many will disagree with me, but I personally think we simply have to be willing to honor men and how God wired them, rather than do anything that makes their struggle even worse– a struggle they were never supposed to have to face.

Essentially, there’s a part of the brain that, in men and boys, views an attractive and mostly-undressed woman in a very sexual way, even if they absolutely do not want that temptation. And those images come back to them, even if they don’t want them to. Over and over again those males who want to keep their thought lives pure have to wrench their thoughts away from the initial, biological temptation to linger on that image. And countless men have wistfully told me they wish women would support their efforts, rather than dressing in a way that makes things even more difficult.

But how do I appropriately explain this to my 13-year-old daughter? I could get some of the concern across. But when it comes right down to it, how do I explain what a godly teenage boy is tempted to do (and what many average teenage boys will do) with that sensual image of the bikini-clad girl that is now in his mind, when he gets back to the privacy of his room? “Honey, when you wear that … um … you see, guys’ brains store these images and they … um … never mind …”

In the end, even though I can’t quite explain the awkward details to my daughter (or a live radio audience!) there’s no one issue that makes me want to bury all bikinis in the sand. I just feel sad for all the men and boys who already face too many images in this culture that they were never supposed to face. Just as we ask them to do what they can do to keep their thought lives pure and respect women in the process, I feel like we should do what we can do to support them.

All of this is a difficult road to walk in a culture where we’ve been so desensitized. But in my mind, that gives us even more reason to teach our kids to be willing to do the difficult, selfless thing; even as we have grace with those who simply don’t agree.

Moody’s program was inspired by a great talk by Jessica Ray on the “Evolution of the Bikini” at the Q conference, which has been viewed nearly one million times on YouTube.

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  1. I don’t see this as an issue that revolves around men at all. I feel it is an issue of modesty and self-respect.

    1. This is what my wife and I both say: When a female is coming of the age thirteen or older, by all means, she should be allowed to wear a bikini. Yes, my wife and I are both Christians, 100%. We have three daughters, and three grand daughters, and two great grand daughters. Let’s not tell them its a sin of some kind or how young male adolescents are thinking, when they have eye contact towards a female, that’s wrong.

  2. As a Momma to a tween girl and two teen boys, I see both sides of this issue. For my boys, they are inundated with scantily clad women…online, at the mall, at the pool. It’s in their face all the time. ‘Avert your eyes’ has become an oft-spoken phrase.

    To make it easier for my 10yo girl to understand, I’ve put it in this context…your body is a gift to share with your husband. Your clothing is the wrapping paper. Do you really want others to take a peek at it before you share it with your future husband?

    It’s a battle for both sexes, and we must equip them to fight it. Great post! Thanks for sharing. I look forward to reading all the commentary, too. 🙂

  3. Shaunti, thank you for your work on this subject! I am a big fan of your books and your heart. I have a beautiful 24 year old daughter who has never asked me for a bikini. She was my most compliant child but she is smart and understood the values of modesty and not stumbling her brothers. She has also purposed to save her physical affection for whoever she marries. We homeschooled our kids during their elementary school years and established a close relationship w them. We made sure that peers did not take a dominant place in their lives during the formative years. I found that being consistent was one of the best tools I had: whether it was in television, movies, books, and magazine choices. I set the example by dressing fashionably but did not compromise at the beach or at dinner parties. Some of my family has had a no bikini rule but they approached it half heartedly and the rule no longer holds. It was hard work to keep the standard consistent but was well worth it.
    I wish the church talked more about the value of modesty.
    I love what Larri said about the wrapping paper!

  4. You may as well let your daughter walk out of the house in her panties and bra. There is NO DIFFERENCE.