A recent column by Fr. Thomas Berg, Is Flirting a Sin?, caught my attention.
I appreciate Fr. Berg’s distinctions and precautions. As a married mom myself, I am deeply sympathetic to a woman who finds herself aging and is tempted to boost her ego by turning a few heads. I am very concerned, however, about the fact that so few of us take the steps we need to protect our marriages. In a sex-saturated culture, marriages need vigilant protection. Even the very best of marriages can fall prey to temptations brought on by innocent (enough) flirtations.
These are concerns not only for married couples, but for dating couples, particularly those in committed relationships who are discerning marriage. We take the habits we form in dating relationships into marriage with us, so it is important to protect the sanctity of our marriages, even if only potential ones, from the beginning.
Every woman’s desire to be attractive is natural and good. Feminine beauty is meant to be a gift to the world, and in special way to our husbands. The problem arises when a woman seeks not just to be beautiful, but to be sexually attractive to a man who is not her husband. It’s hard sometimes for women to recognize the difference, and for men it can be an easy line to cross.
Whether she is successful or not, a woman who seeks to use her physical beauty as a means to attract sexual attention from men she is not married to objectifies herself. This is true whether she is married or not. Flirting among singles can be a fun and healthy way to explore the possibility of a relationship, but when flirtation turns “sexy” outside of marriage, we use our sexuality as a means to an end—to garner ego-feeding attention in a way that can inspire the sins of lust and covetousness in others.
Human sexuality is meant to be a gift between spouses alone. Using it to gain self-esteem-boosting attention from others might not be adultery, but it is a first step in the wrong direction. It can look like innocent fun, especially if both the man and woman enjoy it, but when we objectify ourselves and use one another, especially sexually, we begin to destroy our relationships.
It’s easy to think that flirting is harmless, especially in our culture, but the human sexual drive is so powerful that I think it is dangerous ever to treat it casually. Sexual pleasure is such a precious gift to our marriages that we must take great pains to protect it and honor it by enjoying it only in the way God intends, which is between a husband and wife. By “sexual pleasure,” of course, I mean not just physical pleasure, but the kind of emotional gratification we get from sexual attention.
I would encourage any woman tempted to look outside her marriage for sexual attention to think carefully about why she is seeking this attention. Chances are, her marriage needs some work.
Even if her husband is a lazy clod who never looks up from the video game he’s playing to notice her stylish new hair color, her vocation is to that man in that marriage, and her job is to make a full gift of herself to that man, in that marriage.
Whatever issues we might have in our marriages or dating relationships, addressing them might mean some soul-searching conversations, couples therapy, or seeking spiritual guidance. Or it might mean something as simple as scheduling a date night regularly and planning other occasions where we ladies can get dressed up, feeling pretty and attractive.
No matter what the issues, though, it’s never a reasonable option to ignore a troubled relationship and seek sexual attention and validation outside of it.