The Mailbag: Is lust a sin for women, too?

Originally published September 17, 2018

In the past, I’ve had lots of trouble wondering about my desire and tendency to look at, and get excited by, physically attractive men, especially men who reveal a lot of themselves in underwear modeling and soft-core porn. I think this is a sin, but I’m not sure.

I’ve gotten mixed reactions when I’ve mentioned this to people. There are some who say that, yes, this is the sin of lust. Yet there are others who have told me that women cannot possibly struggle with lust, only men do. I once dealt with one particular man who was very dogmatic that God created men and women to be tempted differently, and that lust is not a temptation women deal with, so he dismissed my struggles with this subject.

When I tried to search Scripture, using Matthew 5:28, it would also seem that this is a male-only sin. So is it OK for me to keep looking at male models, including underwear modeling and soft-core porn?

This is an awesome question for three reasons. First, you’re concerned about whether or not you’re sinning with the aim of mortifying this behavior if it is a sin. Second, you’re not relying on your own feelings, opinions, or experiences to determine whether or not this is a sin, you’re turning to Scripture to find out. Those are both very encouraging things. They demonstrate that the Holy Spirit is working in your heart to sanctify you and make you more like Christ. Third, it gives us an opportunity to take a look at the Scriptures in more depth and give an example of handling God’s Word correctly and in context for everyone reading this article. So, thank you for asking!

The short answer to your question is, yes, lust is sinful for the women who experience it just as much as it is for the men who experience it. But I don’t want you to just take my word for it, so let’s look at why.

The Scripture you’ve cited, Matthew 5:28, is definitely one of the passages that addresses this issue. It says:

But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

I suspect this verse might be the reason the man you spoke with said that lust is a male-only sin, because this particular verse speaks to men lusting after women. However, to make a blanket statement that because God created men and women differently, lust is never a temptation for women is foolhardy and shows a lack of biblical knowledge and understanding as well as a denial of reality.

Let’s address reality first. It is true that God created men in such a way that they are more likely to be sexually stimulated by what they see than women are. However, that does not mean that no woman anywhere has ever experienced lust. God also created men in such a way that men are usually taller and stronger than women and women are usually more emotionally expressive than men. But we can look around us and see that some women are taller or stronger than some men, and some men are more emotionally expressive than some women.

Furthermore, while you really can’t do anything about how tall you are (and, to some extent, how strong you are), lust is something that can be introduced to women and encouraged in women by culture. A hundred years ago, it would have been unthinkable to see advertisements featuring nearly naked men, or strip clubs with male dancers, or pornography aimed at women, so readily available and with so little shame attached. And at that time there were probably far fewer women who struggled with the sin of lust.

These days, it’s right there on your phone or computer or TV or at the bachelorette party for your friend. Lust, lewd behavior, and lurid talk by women are actually encouraged by the feminist movement. (If men are going to objectify women with lust and porn, we’re going to objectify them right back. Really? This is equality? The right to sink to the same depth of degradation as the scuzziest of men? No thanks.) Watch any sitcom or drama on TV. You’ll see it soon enough. And, of course, there’s money to be made by making women into consumers of porn and other sexual material, so the businesses that peddle these things encourage women to lust as well. All of which means that today, just a hundred years later, far more women are struggling with the sin of lust.

So we can see that the reality is that lust is a temptation experienced by some women, even though men are more prone to it.

But is lust a sin for women if Matthew 5:28 is speaking in terms of men lusting? Yes. There are a couple of different reasons for this, one cultural, and one biblical.

Let’s go cultural first to understand more clearly why this particular verse is addressed to men rather than men and women. We start off with the knowledge that men are much more likely to experience lust than women. Then we take the culture of the time into account.

Jesus spoke these words in a patriarchal society. In His culture, there were no women in positions of authority and power. Men ran the political system, the religious system, and men were the heads of their households. (By the way, despite what our culture today would say, this wasn’t a bad thing in and of itself. In fact, most of this was perfectly biblical.) Normally, women were not educated, and they depended on men – first their fathers, then their husbands, and finally, their grown sons – to take care of them their entire lives.

So when Jesus was teaching to the crowds as with the Sermon on the Mount (which Matthew 5 is part of) the cultural understanding was that He was primarily teaching the men, and any women and children they brought with them were basically along for the ride. Indeed, many would have thought the women incapable of understanding teaching (since they were intellectually inferior to men) or unworthy of receiving teaching (because God had created them as “lesser” than men).

The Jewish understanding that Jesus was primarily teaching the men would have been similar. Rabbis didn’t teach women, they taught men. Any intentional biblical instruction women received would have been from their fathers or husbands at home. We can see further evidence of this cultural and Jewish understanding in several different Scriptures. A few examples:

At the feeding of the five thousand, the feeding of the four thousand, and some other New Testament “crowd scenes”, the crowd is numbered by the number of men present.

Both the woman at the well herself and the disciples “marveled” that Jesus was speaking with a woman.

Due to Martha’s cultural and Jewish understanding of women’s roles, Jesus had to explain to her that it was OK – even good – for Mary to sit at His feet and learn.

At Pentecost, Luke refers to the “multitude” as “devout men“, and Peter addresses this crowd as “men of Judea“, “men of Israel“, and “brothers“.

So, in Jesus’ secular and Jewish cultural context, He was understandably speaking to the men present. (And what was He telling these men who lived in a world that taught them that women were inferior to men, and that men could regard and treat women any way they wanted to? Jesus elevates the status of women by telling the men they’ve got to respect women even in their hearts. They’ve got to respect their wives by not committing adultery with other women in their hearts, and they’ve got to respect those other women by not using them as objects of sexual gratification in their hearts.) It would have been an unnecessary distraction from His message to address the women directly, and it would certainly have been viewed as inappropriate, maybe even perverted, for Jesus to have suggested that women lusted after men.

So Jesus’ culture, and the fact that lust is largely a sin committed by men, required Him to address this remark to men. But those two things do not have any bearing on the intrinsic sinfulness of lust itself, and they do not mean that this instruction applies only to men. In the section of Matthew 5 preceding the section on lust, Jesus deals with the sin of being angry with your “brother”. Does this mean anger is only sinful if you’re angry with a man instead of a woman? The section of Matthew 5 immediately following the section on lust says men may not divorce their wives except for unfaithfulness. Does this mean women are free to divorce their husbands for any reason? Of course not.

But it’s important to remember that Matthew 5:28 is not the only passage of Scripture that deals with lust. Let’s look at some others.

These passages describe lust as female attribute:

a wild donkey used to the wilderness, in her heat sniffing the wind! Who can restrain her lust?
Jeremiah 2:24a

Oholah played the whore while she was mine, and she lusted after her lovers…everyone after whom she lusted…the Assyrians, after whom she lusted…Her sister Oholibah saw this, and she became more corrupt than her sister in her lust and in her whoring, which was worse than that of her sister. She lusted after the Assyrians…all of them desirable young men.
Ezekiel 23:5a,7b,11,12a,c,

Ezekiel even describes Oholibah viewing pictures of men lustfully. Doesn’t it sound like a woman viewing pornography?:

But she carried her whoring further. She saw men portrayed on the wall, the images of the Chaldeans portrayed in vermilion, wearing belts on their waists, with flowing turbans on their heads, all of them having the appearance of officers, a likeness of Babylonians whose native land was Chaldea. When she saw them, she lusted after them and sent messengers to them in Chaldea.
Ezekiel 23:14-16

In the Jeremiah passage, the lusting woman represents Israel. In Ezekiel, Oholah represents Samaria, and Oholibah represents Jerusalem. So these are not individual women lusting, rather, God is using the illustration of a woman lusting after her “lovers” to describe the unspeakable abomination of Israel’s idolatry. He was using the severest language He could to disgust His people over their sin and move them to repent and turn back to Him. God could have chosen any sin – male lust, robbery, murder, etc. – to represent how horrific their idolatry was to Him, but what did He choose? Female lust. Let that sink in.

Romans 1:18-32 clearly refers to the sins of both men and women, with verse 24 stating:

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves,

These passages speak of lust in neutral, rather than male or female, terms:

and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion
2 Peter 2:10a

For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.
1 John 2:16

Lust is a form of coveting – the greedy yearning to have something that God has not given to you or has given to someone else, and that is certainly not limited to men. Also notice in these passages that you can covet a person, and that coveting is often linked to sensuality or sexual immorality.

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.
Exodus 20:17

coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.
Mark 7:22-23

But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints…For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.
Ephesians 5:3,5

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.
Colossians 3:5

Finally, lusting after another person – adulterous coveting – is not loving your neighbor:

For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Romans 13:9

When you look at another person with lust, you are loving yourself. You are thinking selfishly about how that person could gratify your base desires, make you feel good, serve you. That is the antithesis of everything Jesus taught and stood for. Our Master, the One we follow and strive to be like, said:

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
Mark 10:45

Jesus came to die on a cruel rugged cross to pay for the sins of the flesh. He would never have thought of using another person to gratify His own selfish desires. How could we?

Is lust a sin for women too? Absolutely. Stop it. Repent. Receive the merciful grace and forgiveness Christ offers.

Additional Resources:

Just Stop It: Instructions on how to repent at The Cripplegate

Hey, Porn Addict: Stop It by Gabriel Hughes

God Over Porn (for men and women)

Every Woman’s Silent Struggle: Fighting Lust with Sisters in Christ by Marian Jacobs

If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

5 thoughts on “The Mailbag: Is lust a sin for women, too?”

  1. Thank you for writing this article! Five years ago God delivered me from almost a decade of regularly watching porn–and I’m a woman. It’s actually quite demeaning when people say it’s only a ‘guy issue’ because I thought I was abnormal; I didn’t know there were many women out there who struggled with this particular sin until after God saved me out of pornography’s claws. And even then it was a long road to quit self-pleasure. I’m so grateful God pulled me out of the mud!


  2. I think women just react differently to it (mostly)— so they don’t see some hot dude and get as aroused physically as a man. It still is weird and they shouldn’t be doing it, looking at porn, etc. There isn’t anything wrong with saying someone is attractive, but if you are staring at them all day with their half shirt/ model undies on and being a big weirdo then you’ve crossed the line. We can’t avoid every image we see around us, but that is different than being obsessive.


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