The female form

At what point does looking at a woman (or a man’s) form become lust? The naked body is not sinful, of course, as the Vatican has commissioned nude art. But at what point is it a sin to look and admire the beauty of the other?

Probably at the point one decides one could/would enjoy doing more than looking.


Are you talking about looking at a living person (of the opposite sex) who is naked? Unless you are married to that person or you have a very good reason (ie medical or forensic excuse, trapped in an elevator with a woman about to give birth) it indeed is a sin to gaze at someone naked who is not your spouse.

Well said.

2351 Lust is disordered desire for or inordinate enjoyment of sexual pleasure. Sexual pleasure is morally disordered when sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes.

Each person has different limits, so will not find the same objects of perception to lead to sin.

Two cases shown are:

  1. Desire for sexual pleasure sought for itself.
  2. Enjoyment of sexual pleasure sought for itself.

Baltimore Catechism

Q. 1324. In what does the sixth commandment differ from the ninth, and the seventh differ from the tenth?

A. The sixth commandment differs from the ninth in this, that the sixth refers chiefly to external acts of impurity, while the ninth refers more to sins of thought against purity. The seventh commandment refers chiefly to external acts of dishonesty, while the tenth refers more to thoughts against honesty.

So this topic pertains to the ninth commandment. Baltimore Catechism:

Q. 1317. What is forbidden by the ninth Commandment?

A. The ninth Commandment forbids unchaste thoughts, desires of another’s wife or husband, and all other unlawful impure thoughts and desires.

Q. 1318. Are impure thoughts and desires always sins?

A. Impure thoughts and desires are always sins, unless they displease us and we try to banish them.

Q. 775. What persons, places and things are usually occasions of sin?


  1. The persons who are occasions of sin are all those in whose company we sin, whether they be bad of themselves or bad only while in our company, in which case we also become occasions of sin for them;
  2. The places are usually liquor saloons, low theaters, indecent dances, entertainments, amusements, exhibitions, and all immoral resorts of any kind, whether we sin in them or not;
  3. The things are all bad books, indecent pictures, songs, jokes and the like, even when they are tolerated by public opinion and found in public places.

Have you ever heard the story of Pelagia and Nonnus?

Pelagia was head of a dance troupe in Palestinian Antioch, and lived a life of frivolity and prostitution. One day while she was still a dancer, Pelagia was passing by a church dressed with her very elegant and provocative clothing. Eight Bishops who were holding a synod were present, and they all lowered their eyes as she passed turning away their faces as if from great sin.

But Bishop Nonnus of Edessa stared at her long and intently until she passed out of sight. Then he turned toward the other bishops and said, “Did not the wonderful beauty of that woman delight you? I have learned much from her, for she has taken better care of her body than we have our souls.”

Long story short, Pelagia sought Nonnus out, repented, and now they are both Saints!

I think it all comes down to intention. Why do you want to look at someone who is beautiful? Is it so you can use them for your own desires? That is lust. Can you look at them as an image of God? Not lust. That’s probably an oversimplification, of course, but I think that’s where the line is.


As soon as it causes arousal.

I am not sure if you took that from Christopher West’s book, but please don’t spread it any further. It is not an accurate account and leads people to think there is nothing wrong with looking at naked or scantily clad people of the opposite sex.

Dawn Eden wrote a thesis on this.

In a footnote, West cites Helen Waddell’s account of Nonnus and Pelagia in The Desert Fathers. 100 However, the story she relates, translated from Eustochius’s Latin version of James the Deacon’s Greek account, differs from his own on many key points. Nonnus’s tears are not because “such beauty is being sold to the lusts of men.” Rather, the bishop feels ashamed upon witnessing the effort that the harlot puts into preparing her appearance for men, for he believes he has not put nearly so much effort into his appearance before God. Returning to his chamber, he flings himself upon the floor and repents to Christ: “for a single day’s adorning of a harlot is far beyond the adorning of my soul.”101
The original story also counters West’s implication that casting a look of “mature purity”
upon a “scantily clad prostitute” may cause her to notice the loving gaze and so discover God’s love. Pelagia, in Waddell’s account, does not notice that Nonnus looks at her on the street; her conversion comes about afterwards, when she hears him preach. Most significantly, when Pelagia then writes to the bishop and asks to see him, he agrees only on the condition that there be other bishops present. “**[S]eek not to tempt my weakness,” he writes.**102

That false Pelagia story is dangerous in that it appears to condone sin. In continuation with the Baltimore Catechism:

*Q. 773. Is a person who is determined to avoid the sin, but who is unwilling to give up its near occasion when it is possible to do so, rightly disposed for confession?

A. A person who is determined to avoid the sin, but who is unwilling to give up its near occasion when it is possible to do so, is not rightly disposed for confession, and he will not be absolved if he makes known to the priest the true state of his conscience.

Q. 774. How many kinds of occasions of sin are there?

A. There are four kinds of occasions of sin:

Near occasions, through which we always fall;
Remote occasions, through which we sometimes fall;
Voluntary occasions or those we can avoid; and
Involuntary occasions or those we cannot avoid.

A person who lives in a near and voluntary occasion of sin need not expect forgiveness while he continues in that state.*

This last part is very important. If you know you are attracted to the opposite sex, you are sinning by not averting your eyes when you stumble upon a naked or immodestly dressed person. There is no excuse for seeking it out or continuing to stare unless there is some type of grave situation where the principal of double effect comes into play. See examples in my first post. Scripture tells us to avert our eyes. The early Church fathers say the same thing. God made Adam and Eve wear clothes for a reason.

I really hope people read through this post. It pains me to see so many Christians think they can go join a nudist camp or something as long as they don’t lust.

To the OP, the naked body is not bad. Our bodies are good. Sex is beautiful and good, but only in the context of Holy matrimony. Sex outside of marriage is unholy. So yes, our bodies are good, but there are parts that should only be looked upon by one’s spouse. No one has a right to unwrap a gift that isn’t theirs.

Nakedness was OK in the Garden of Eden…before the fall!

Yes, it was… before the fall. However, after the fall, it became wrong to walk around naked. God gave Adam and Eve clothes. No amount of wishing can change the fact that we live in a world of sin.

What are you saying exactly?

From EWTN:

The Church doesn’t condone public nudity. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2521, “Purity requires modesty, an integral part of temperance. Modesty protects the intimate center of the person. It means refusing to unveil what should remain hidden. It is ordered to chastity to whose sensitivity it bears witness. It guides how one looks at others and behaves toward them in conformity with the dignity of persons and their solidarity.”

Public nudity denies the doctrine of original sin. Although Genesis 3 doesn’t spell out the nature of the sin, as a result of it our first parents became ashamed of their nakedness, covering themselves with fig leaves. And God confirmed their shame by covering them with animal skins.

Leviticus 18, which forbids sexual intercourse between those near of kin, describes it as “uncovering their nakedness.” Although nudity for nonsexual recreation isn’t addressed, it’s obvious that, in the culture of Israel, public self-exposure would imply receptivity to every sexual overture. Nor is there anything in the New Testament that would undermine this implication (cf. 1 Tim 2:9). And to be realistic about it, public nudity even in our culture today suggests something less than a chaste reserve in sexual matters.

Pope John Paul II, in his Theology of the Body 29-32, observes that sex became, as a result of the fall, an obstacle to the communion of male and female, rather than a means to the same. Apart from grace, sexual attraction leads to a desire to possess and exercise dominion over a person, rather than give oneself to the other. The unveiling of the other’s nakedness is reserved to those who have already given themselves to each other in marriage, when sex can once again become an expression of their self-gift rather than an obstacle to it.

No argument from me.

Also even before that when the intention is arousal, of it is a near occasion of sin that is not avoided and can reasonably be avoided.

Sorry. I was thrown off by your exclamation point. :slight_smile:

… but I did want to point out it is not OK to gaze at the opposite sex (naked) up until the point of arousal. No one should be taking in that which wasn’t meant for them. Behold the beauty of the female form all you want, provided it is your wife. That’s all.

Might I add, the intention doesn’t even have to be arousal. It is still sinful. It is not fine for me to look at a tattoo on someone’s genitalia (out of curiosity) if they are not my spouse.

… not that I would want to. :smiley:

Medical professionals can do this without fault however when it is necessary for good.

I agree. That was why I brought up the principle of double effect and the examples to the OP about violating the rules of modesty while being stuck in an elevator with a pregnant woman who goes into labor. There has to be a dang good excuse. Some Christians err when they think they can watch naked women read the news as long as their intent isn’t to become aroused or that it is perfectly fine up until the point of arousal.

Also it is uncharitable to give a bad example (scandal) through such.

Here is my problem though, there is nudity in a large number of catholic art. If I stare at these bits of art, some people here would say I’m already in sin. Yet, that can’t be the Church’s mind, because they commissioned the art. Hence if I look at a woman with the same intention today, how is it different?

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