One of the ideas that I found most interesting in A Return to Modesty is Wendy Shalit’s suggestion that modesty is inherently more erotic than today’s overt sexuality. A quick mental comparison of Katharine Hepburn with Paris Hilton supports Shalit’s thesis that the blunt appeal of “nothing left to the imagination” sexuality does little to compensate for the accompanying death of mystery. We want dim, flickering candles – not a bank of fluorescent lamps – when we plan a romantic evening.
I am reminded of a passage from Quo Vadis in which a debauched Roman patrician glances at a floating barge of nude women and comments that a thousand naked women are somehow less appealing than a single one. In a sex-permeated culture, we have lost the mystery that makes sex anything more than a biological act. If you’ve already seen everything, and done most of it, sex becomes nothing but masturbation with a partner – certainly nothing to get particularly excited about, which might be why increasing numbers of otherwise-healthy young men are having trouble getting, err, excited.
Nudists insist that naturism isn’t about sex. One almost immediately becomes used to the nudity of those around you, they explain, and it ceases to be sexually appealing. Familiarity, it seems, does indeed breed contempt, or at least disinterest.