The Allure of Modesty
- 2009 9 Jul
Cleavage aside, what does real sex-appeal look like?
Men are drawn to female modesty despite our culture’s bold declaration to the contrary. Most women can probably think of a time when their own modest behavior elicited a sense of awe from men in our otherwise leering, lewd society.
One such encounter stands out vividly in my mind. Raised to be a “lady,” I had nonetheless lived the party lifestyle during my teenage-rebellion years and experienced the uglier side of male behavior. So imagine my surprise one day years later, after becoming a Christian, when I found myself having to pass by a group of construction workers on the campus of my job site and met with…quiet respect. Their response floored me.
I remember distinctly that I was wearing a dress that day at work, modestly cut but attractive. As I approached the area and spotted the group of men, a feeling of dread washed over me and I whispered a prayer for protection, kept my head up, my eyes down, and passed by in total silence. It was as if someone cast a spell over the men, and the effect was palpable. Their noisy male jostling ceased, and as I walked by not one lewd remark or wolf whistle followed after me. Maybe you could chalk it up to the power of prayer that day, and I like to think God did play a part, but I can’t help but think the transformation in me was partly responsible for the men’s reaction. I now regarded myself as a lady, someone of value and worth in God’s eyes, and I believe I emanated that to the world.
A story I heard years ago on this subject still lingers in my memory. The pastor of the church I attended told how he and his wife had a stopover in Las Vegas on a trip out West. Needing to stay overnight, they booked a room in one of the large hotels that contained a casino on the first floor. My pastor described the scene: the crowded casino, a roomful of drinking men and women showing too much of their bodies. Passing through the crowd to the registration desk, he let his wife go before him and marveled at what happened. My pastor watched as, in this room filled with over-exposed women oozing sensuality, the other men parted like the Red Sea to allow his beautiful and modestly dressed wife pass to the registration desk—staring quietly after her the whole way. Suddenly, in that moment, the other women disappeared from view.
This lovely woman died several years later, but I still remember her vividly. She was beautiful, yes, but it was more than that. She carried herself like a queen in the best sense of the word. Regal yet undemanding. Beautiful yet chaste. Feminine and alluring but not in the least bit outwardly sensual.
Yes, men are aroused by sultry women who flaunt their sensuality and their bodies as a form of power. They may be helplessly turned on by the many powerful sexual images our culture throws out as bait. But the women they marry are usually the ones whose sensuality is much more hidden from view—there for the right man, but not on display for all the world to see.
Beauty and Chastity—a Potent Combination
Have we as a culture, as women, lost something more potent than we realized while we still had it? Wendy Shalit, author of A Return to Modesty, believes so, and her argument—not to mention the record of recent history—offers convincing evidence. In a chapter titled “Modesty and the Erotic,” she writes: “Seemingly every year, another study announces that married women are more orgasmic than single women. At first I wonder, Do I really need to know this detail? But then I read on and I am transfixed. Married women generally feel safer, which our scientists report is a precondition for being able to relax….After surveying 100,000 women, Redbook magazine found that the most strongly religious women were ‘more responsive sexually’ than all other women. Everyone, including the scientists themselves, is always surprised when these studies are released, because we have been taught that the married are oppressed, the religious are boring squares, and the swinging singles are the ones having all the fun. But maybe that’s only because we misunderstand sexual modesty. Let us set beside these mysterious studies Balzac’s quip that ‘the most virtuous women have in them something which is never chaste,’ and we have an even thornier problem. If a return to modesty can save a generation of women from the ravages of a culture that affords us precious little respect or protection, then how can it also be that modesty seems, at times, more exciting?”1
Shalit summarizes this portion of her chapter with the statement: “Certainly sexual modesty may damp down superficial allure, the kind of allure that inspires a one-night stand. But the kind of allure that lasts—that is what modesty protects and inspires.”
She speaks for more single women—and certainly Christian single women—than she may realize. In the conversations I had with them, as well as responses that poured in to a survey I took for a research project, an unmistakable sadness and frustration surfaced regarding the very times we live in, as if these women wanted to say: Why couldn’t I have been born a hundred years ago, when things were sweeter and simpler between men and women?
To some men, Christian women seem to behave the same way non-Christian women do these days. “It's getting increasingly harder to tell the difference between Christians and non-Christians,” wrote one man. “I find many who say they are Christians that do things like sleep around, have live in boyfriends, drink to get drunk, smoke, curse, listen to all secular music, etc.” Several women weighed in about this same issue regarding men—that so-called Christian men push boundaries and expect sex from them.
The pressures of the culture we live in weigh heavily on us all, and rare is the single man or woman who is immune to temptation of any kind. Especially among the divorced—who know what it’s like to be in a long-term intimate relationship—going from regular sex to no sex can be as jolting as an electric shock. But Dr. Cara Whedbee, a marriage and family therapist and author of The Point System, believes we as a church have to keep preaching the purity message and become wholehearted advocates for marriage. Because we live in a society that values casual sex and disses marriage, even Christian singles get caught in the current.
Champions for Marriage
“Society is perpetuating the message that marriage is not sacred anymore, marriage is not necessary anymore,” says Whedbee. “There’s not the biblical interpretation anymore. Not even subliminally. Instead, people overtly buy into the culture’s live-together mindset, even in the church.” She said it’s become common at her church, where her husband works as a music minister, for the leadership to discover that young couples in ministry roles are living together. “And then somebody has to take them aside and say, hey guys, this isn’t right. Especially the younger generation, they see it on TV and have seen it all their lives.”
Whedbee believes that pressure from men to have sex is the mitigating factor, but there also exists a pressure among women—especially younger women—to live up to the culture’s casual-sex creed and to dress in a seductive way. If you find yourself struggling with sexual immorality, or any other “worldly pleasure” unbefitting for a Christian man or woman, seek out a confidante and ask them to pray for moral strength in times of temptation. Keep yourself accountable, and train your eyes on the One who died to set you free from sin.
At some point in our single journeys we may all face such temptations, but the choice of action is still ours. Remember the words of the apostle Peter, whom Jesus transformed from a lusty fisherman to a fisher of men:
Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel— rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.
1 Peter 3:3-4
In your walk as a single Christian man or woman, become a champion for modesty. Once we collectively do that, I have a feeling the rest will take care of itself.
A.J. Kiesling is an author, editor, and communicator. A religion writer for Publishers Weekly, she has written more than a dozen books. You can reach her at http://www.ajkiesling.com.
1 Wendy Shalit, A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999), 171-72.