The Secret of Modesty

4.27The following post contains some adult content. There is nothing inappropriate, but it does speak frankly to an aspect of sexual desire. Exercise caution if reading it to younger children.

There is a secret, once known and widely shared among women, that the best way to get and hold a man’s attention is through modesty. Near nakedness can get a man’s attention, but it is modesty that will hold it.

Why is this so? It is because mystery is powerfully attractive. It entices; it draws and holds one in a kind of suspense. At its heart, modesty is a reverence for mystery. It uses mystery to build the very relationship that is meant to unlock its secrets: Holy Matrimony.

Relationships are not built by a mere glance. Modesty helps to hold the glance while the relationship has time to grow and be tested.

Modesty is not prudishness. The word modesty comes from the word mode, which refers to a central tendency of a group of numbers. As such, modesty is a kind of middle ground that does not seek to burden women with excessive coverings but that also considers the needs of others, so as not to inflame passions and lust. True modesty reveals beauty, but also reminds that much more remains hidden and must be reserved only for the deepest relationship of Holy Matrimony.

Sadly, many women today have not been taught this essential feminine virtue. Men are too often treated to a “full disclosure” or to disclosures that leave little to the imagination. This does excite a kind of “animal” attraction in a man, but it cannot usually hold that attention for very long. Why? Because mystery, once disclosed, is no longer mystery, and its attractive power vanishes quickly. Soon enough, a man who is not attached to a woman for deeper reasons loses interest and starts to be drawn to other women, whose mystery still attracts because it has not been uncovered.

Many men are not even consciously aware that this is why they have lost interest; they do not intend to be crass. But at the level of desire, mystery is important. Once the key has been turned and the mystery unlocked, a powerful card has been played.

Women used to instinctively and collectively know this. They used modesty to hold the man’s attention, build the relationship, summon his proposal of marriage, and then draw him to the marriage bed—not to the back seat of a car or an apartment couch. In the context of a more fully formed relationship the fuller mystery of her was finally revealed and shared. Children usually came quickly in those days and this, too, helped to hold the man fast. Though her mysteries had been revealed, there was now more to keep the man’s attention. For by now, after courtship and engagement, he now knew her more richly in the depth of her person. They had shared memories and become part of each other’s extended families. And even more, their own children were now here, or at least on the way.

The mystery kept secret by modesty was now revealed, but the ties that bind were now operative and filled the role that modesty had assisted in bringing about. And most women of previous generations also knew that even after marriage modesty still had some role, for her modest attire and demeanor still could draw his glance somehow.

Yes, modesty is a great feminine secret, once known by most women. Now, though, many have foolishly cast it aside.

I pray that many will once again discover modesty’s paradoxical draw. While immodesty may attract a man’s quick, animal attention, only modesty can really hold his attention and root it in something higher and better than animal desire. Believe it or not, men have rational souls too! Higher and better motives still work and attract men. Modesty is both powerful and attractive. Here’s to a great “secret weapon”!

16 Replies to “The Secret of Modesty”

  1. Good article Monsignor, but be prepared for a grouchy “But what about men?” comment.

  2. I agree with this a thousand times over. I can actually speak to the truth on this, too, having lived and done both sides of the issue. When I was younger, I was very proud of my body and what it looked like from working out. I am actually probably more fit today from necessary training for my job, but I am so covered in bruises and scars that I would rather not have people asking questions about it all the time. I stay covered up for that reason and the reason that I am also married. I have found that with immodesty, like you mentioned, people (not just men) will stare for all of the wrong reasons. Great post, and I’m sure you will have a lot of discussion on it!

  3. Oh, Monsignor! Yes, you are so right. But I was just a teen in the early 1970’s, when miniskirts, halter tops, and string bikinis were the attire of choice. A modest dressing girl sat home on Friday and Saturday nights, and stood along the wall all night long at the high school dance, while the skimpily, fashionably dressed girls laughed and danced the night away, being invited on date after date. I know you can’t know it, but nothing is more painful that being 16 or 17 and watching the guys flock to some girls with everything showing, and them not even knowing you are alive. And then, when I was 20 something, Playboy and Hustler and every other kind of skin magazine held their attention.
    Being a modest girl in her 20’s in the mid-1070’s made you a loser, when streaking became all the rage.

    Yes, modesty was what was lost, but I for one caved in, because of the immense isolation and social pressure of being almost an outcast. The girls who did not cave in seldom went out. And I recall one co-ed telling me with deep pain that when she did get a date, the guy nearly mauled her on the first date, and when she fought him off and told him no, she was a virgin, he laughed at her, and then called her a liar, then picked up his coat and left.

    Yes, women need to recover some of the power they lost by way of women’s lib (what a farce and destruction of the power women held0, but if most women participate in the hook-up culture of today, then those who select modest dress and behavior will not capture any man’s attention, because he will be attracted to easier “game.” I know this from experience. A modest woman can never compete with an immodest one, unless she is exceptionally beautiful. And even then, men just don’t care: it seems many men feel one woman is the same inside as any other, and women are interchangeable.

    So there would have to be a sea change among women, but the feminists have made sure to send the message that modesty is stupid choice for enslaved women. And many girls believe it until the really see how much they lose by dressing and acting immodestly, and putting out.

    1. Dear Bee Bee,
      This is why I decry the lack of true Catholic teaching when it comes to dating… God is so good… Yet so many girls are left thinking their entire happiness rests in finding the one, and that it all rests on them… But how to find him if the world tells you you need to be a sex kitten to attract him… The real question to ask oneself is, “What kind of man is my “One” like? Is he the kind who continues to look elsewhere while he is with me? Or is he a gentleman, who appreciates me for who I am, the real me rather than the part everyone sees? Chances are, this man will also be a praying man, who seeks his strength in the Lord, and believes in marriage lasting forever rather than ‘for now’… But such a man doesn’t usually hang out with the crowd… He is the pearl in the middle of the haystack, also seeking for his pearl…you. God is the great matchmaker, so pray for him, where ever he may be, that God will protect him and keep him from sin… Ask God to help you be worthy of each other and of the blessed and wholesome marriage our Heavenly Father desires for you… Seek God’s help in introducing you. I prayed for my husband since I was 5, and God gave me a husband that literally blew me away, well beyond my hopes and dreams… I was the reject at school because of my straight A’s, and yet, ever the lonely romantic… I did not go to bars and follow the crowd… In university, I indulged my secret fashion design aspirations by dressing with elegance and professionalism, which is modest by nature. Lo and behold, while the guys treated the other girls like disposable sex toys, they spoke to me with respect, stopped swearing in my presence, and even confided in me. And one day, at the back of a boring finance class, I met my husband-to-be… We walked to Parliament Hill on a cold winter’s day, and he insisted I put on his mittens over my thin leather gloves while his hands froze… I insisted to hold his hand to warm it up a little, and he gave me his arm so I wouldn’t slip… and the rest is history. God is awesome… Girls need to entrust their love story to Him, and He will not disappoint…

      1. Oh Monique, what a wonderful story! God is so very good. I only wish I had had the faith in God you had, to follow Catholic teaching and your own instincts. And to know you found such a good and loving man, wow. I hope many young women read your story and are brave enough to stand up against the ugly popular culture.

        As for me, I did straighten my act out when I was in my late 20’s, but alas, although I prayed, God saw fit to have me remain single. No one ever came along who fit the bill – a faith-filled Catholic guy who loved me too.

        Now I tell Our Lord, “I’ll just marry YOU!” 🙂 (Not become a nun – I’m too old for that. But just commit myself to Him.)

        But thanks for telling your story. It made my day.

        1. This is a big problem for Catholics. You don’t go along with the game. You don’t get married. I am aged 53 and single. I have done all the things I am supposed to do, but still no prospects. One must hold on to hope.

  4. An appropriate companion blog would be your previous: “Sinful Curiosity is at the Root of Many Sins”.

  5. It seems as if the premise is that women exist to get men’s sexual attention, and the only disputed issue is what tactics are more effective.

    1. I disagree, you are absolutizing the point. We are discussing here one aspect of life. Absolutizing things is a very bad modern tendency and leads to lots of over-reaction and/or misunderstanding.

    2. Cynthia W.: I think one obvious purpose of women and men is to, of course, pro-create. It’s one of our real and true God given roles and purposes. That being so, the dynamic of attraction becomes important in achieving the sustainability of a relationship where children can be raised in a safe and wholesome environment, and for the mental health and well being of the man and woman themselves. For that reason Catholic women and men do need to know, when it comes to this particular aspect of their lives, what factors come into play

      I agree with Monsignor’s reply to your comment. Sex and pro-creation are not the only role of women and men, but it is an important one and has lifelong implications. So knowing what succeeds and what will not seems to be good information to me.

      1. I still think that, “Modesty is sexier!” is rather mixing the message. Maybe it’s just that, at this point in my middle age, I’m tired of it. I just want to be a random, “gender-neutral,” human being.

        1. “sexier” is your word not mine and therefore says more of the world you live in, not mine. I said that modesty was attractive and added, in a stable sort of way.

          But as for your wanting to be a “random gender neutral human being” no can do. The Scriptures say, “male and female he made them.” There is no “gender” only a sex given by God. The differences are charged with meaning and proper purpose. This is the real world that God created, not a virtual world you get to create or wish for. And what a sad and strange wish: to be seen as an indeterminate “human being” no longer connected with the woman God created you to be. Cynthia, don’t let ideologies rob you of your God-given dignity and identity.

  6. Modesty is important, and I teach it to my children-I tell them that it is about respecting themselves, not falling prey to societal/cultural forces that encourage us to wear clothes that make us feel uncomfortable both physically and emotionally. But I never burden them with the responsibility that they 1. could be to blame for a sinful man’s lust; or 2. need to gain/keep a man with how they dress and that such a loss of affection could be blamed on something as trivial as their dress. We are so much more than this. My sacramental marriage is deeper than how I dress/reveal myself to my husband. How men view me is not my fault. Remember, this is very subjective. In other cultures, showing my face is immodest. I think modesty should be about respecting yourself, period. I get uncomfortable when a burden is placed on our girls-to gain men’s affections, keep them, keep other husbands from straying… this is a slippery slope.

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