Sexual attraction, modesty, and clothing

I’m gonna get pedantic here and provide an “essay prompt” so to speak. But this is the internet, not the essay portion of the SAT, so consider this however you like, as a playground at your disposal, food for thought, or just one more piece of flotsam on the side of the information highway. 😉


Modesty: behavior, manner, or appearance intended to avoid impropriety or indecency

Impropriety: a failure to observe standards

Indecent: not conforming with generally accepted standards of behavior


Dictionaries. Handy. So modesty has a couple of parts there: if you’re failing to observe standards, that’s immodest. Showing up to work without your uniform. Wearing that miniskirt after your dad told you not to. That’s immodest on grounds of impropriety.

“Indecent” is where you get into the weeds. Generally accepted standards of behavior is pretty broad. Let’s narrow it down a little. How about generally accepted standards of sexual signaling behavior, particularly unmarried women’s? 

We’re talking peacock tails now, metaphorically speaking. Well, how about another set of definitions?


Attractive: pleasing or appealing to the senses; sexually alluring.

Alluring: powerfully and mysteriously attractive or fascinating; seductive

Seduce: entice into sexual activity


Ah hah. Pleasing or appealing to the senses is one of those things that many people consider a good thing (as long as you don’t fall into hedonism), but once you get into sexually alluring then you’re gonna start tripping a lot of those warning passages from Proverbs about predatory women of loose morals leading their victims to destruction.

There’s a place for degrees of sexuality in social signaling, of course: attracting a mate, getting married, having kids. All of that involves the biological appetites, and if you’re not sexually attractive, you’re going to have a hard time finding a mate who’ll want you. But sex is a powerful force, and unlike peacocks, humanity has to have moral rules guiding and channeling that force into its proper, productive ends and away from misuse.

So how much sexual signaling is too much? Everyone certainly uses the word immodest to describe mating-dance tactics that cross socially-accepted and socially-enforced standards of behavior. (The “good girl vs. slut” line, for example.) Now we’re getting into circles: that’s going back to “generally accepted” again. Different cultures have very widely varying standards on what type of clothing an unmarried woman should wear, especially if you throw in the past as well.

What would you say to someone – an equal from a different culture – who disagrees with you, to convince them your standard is the better one? I’m personally curious as to what sort of arguments are out there. Got an opinion? A link? If it pleases you to do so, drop it here. 🙂



About pancakeloach :)
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One Response to Sexual attraction, modesty, and clothing

  1. Cirsova says:

    One on one hand, you have those who, as Camille Paglia has pointed out and noted its detrimental effects on culture, are effectively denying that sexual signaling exists to the point where anything goes, while on the other extreme I’ve seen people who have condemned any sort of sexual signaling as a being a bad thing.

    Ultimately, no dress will be able to prevent someone from lusting after someone else. A woman might wear a shapeless bag dress and someone might still lust after her. If the person lusting after her lusts because bag dresses are his thing, is that the responsibility of the woman? Of course not. The responsibility of the lust is incumbent upon the luster. At the same time, because of sexual signaling and biological responses, even without ill intent, a man might suddenly find himself stricken with lust, even if for a brief moment when his subconscious mind is doing all of the mate-compatibility calculations.

    If anything, I think Christ’s comments on adultery and lusting in one’s heart have more to do with the leitmotif of the gospels that no man can follow God’s law because Sin is in our nature, hence, the necessity of Christ’s salvation, rather than an outright condemnation of biological attraction.

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