Sex by Numbers: Modesty is the New Sexy

ColumnExcess is an unsustainable path, leaving little to the imagination.

Modesty doesn’t necessarily mean donning a chastity belt, but it certainly means keeping your legs firmly crossed if you’re wearing a skirt. Moderation doesn’t mean giving up alcohol to spend every evening reading Gertrude Stein while cuddling your pet cat, but it excludes downing a bottle of Bordeaux at your boss’ dinner party and proposing a ménage à trois with the two unhappily married men in attendance. The middle way, whether applied to one’s career, one’s relationship with food and drink, or one’s sexual and psychological well being, is always the best way. Excess is an unsustainable path, whether it be too purity driven or inordinately party-loving.

Sex by Numbers at its core endorses a simple, healthy life of non-extremes, one as much devoid of tiresome Puritanical rules as vulgar bombast. (Think sheer crocheted sweaters and flutes of champagne, not ripped pantyhose and lines of cocaine.) Nothing becomes a woman more than her capacity to keep it all in check, and our modern expressions of a New Modesty are multitudinous, convention defying, and downright brave. This week’s column offers an international cross section of ways in which feminism and femininity commingle in pursuit of leaving a little something to the imagination.

Modestyniks: A term unique to contemporary Jewish women originally raised in secular homes, modestyniks are girls who decide as young adults to abide by traditional religious laws governing female sexuality. Equal parts individuation from family, backlash against a permissive upbringing, and reclamation of cultural legacy, modestyniks declare themselves shomer negiah–wearing long skirts and high collars in accordance with historical standards of Jewish modesty and abstaining not only from sex before marriage, but any physical contact with men whatsoever.

Burqini Swimwear: For religious Muslim women, suiting up for the beach can be problematic. Surfing and wind sailing, not to mention the basic butterfly stroke, aren’t so easy if a woman’s small frame is weighed down by water soaked, body covering garments. Entrepreneur and designer Aheda Zanetti, who is Lebanese born and Australia based, was frustrated that outdoor athletics weren’t always available to her. While women only gyms and yoga studios were always an option, activities in public spaces, such as hiking or running, were more challenging. In response, Zanetti designed a line of lightweight, sweat-whisking workout gear and swimwear for sports-inclined Muslim women interested in maintaining traditional codes of pious dress.

Rogaya Al Ghasara: A 100-meter and 200-meter sprinter from Bahrain, Rogaya Al Ghasara is one of the first ever female athletes to represent her country on an international scale and, what’s more, she managed to claim this radical social role while faithfully honoring her religious beliefs: She competes in sleek, ninja like sportswear called a Hijood, created by the same company that developed the Burqini. Rogya Al Ghasara first debuted her runners’ form at the 2004 Olympics in Athens and the 2008 Games in Beijing. Her performance has earned her gold medals at the Arabian Championships and Asian Games.

French Pudique: While previous generations of French derided American women for their Yankee Puritanism regarding topless sunbathing, news organizations have in recent years reported that younger French women are eschewing nudity for modesty-case in point, they’re wearing both halves of their bikinis. It’s only their mothers and grandmothers who continue baring their chests to the sun god, and a popular survey indicates that up to 80 percent of French women consider themselves pudique, a term that can mean everything from modest to prim to pretty uptight. It’s sexy, it seems, to keep covered up and leave more, rather than less, to the imagination.

Here’s to summer sports, sun worship, and saving it for the bedroom…

Images: Ed Yourdonleo.jeje,, NowPublic, Joe Shlabotnik