In discussing modesty with young people, I often get a response that goes something like this: “Women who wear bikinis are not trying to be provocative. This is just what women wear for swimming suits these days, and you shouldn’t import sexual connotations onto it.” Although I think this is often naïve and wishful thinking, my response is to take the young people at their word and to assume, for the sake of argument, that there really is nothing sexual in the minds of those women who strip down to a bikini, or those men who defend the practice as “not having anything sexual about it.” I then point out that if the female body can be almost entirely revealed without the presence of erotic overtones than this only shows how desexualized we have become. Indeed, if a woman can strip down to a bikini in the presence of men without having any thought of the sexual overtones, then this only shows that she has let her body become demystified, that her God-given barriers have been lowered, and that her bare flesh has been evacuated of its inherent eroticism. And this is exactly what early advocates of nudism hoped would happen. (Incidentally, it is also what early advocates of sex education desire to occur, a topic I have explored in the latest edition of Salvo magazine.)
I suggest that we are drifting towards being neuter when the signals of our sexuality are treated as anything less. If we reach the point where attire which conceals less than underwear (e.g. contemporary beachwear) is anything short of utterly erotic, disarmingly sexual and totally provocative, then we have actually repressed an important part of our sexuality. Being in a condition of undress has been unnaturally disengaged from the sexual connotations that ought to accompany it. It follows that the line “there’s nothing sexual about this” is as much an indictment against immodesty as it is a defence of it.
Perhaps God never intended for the naked body to be demystified like this. Perhaps seeing someone of the opposite sex in a state of undress (whether on the beach or on television), was never meant to be disengaged from its sexual connotations and to become merely ‘ordinary’ so that we can say ‘Oh, that doesn’t affect me.’ Perhaps we were never meant to become so detached that seeing someone’s genitals becomes like looking at their elbow. Perhaps it is for this very reason that we are supposed to protect our eyes, to make responsible decisions about how we dress and what we watch on television. Perhaps it is for this very reason that the Bible places such a premium on modesty (see 1 Timothy 2:9–10 and 1 Peter 3:3 for starters), restricting nudity between the sexes to the marriage bed.
If we are Christians there is no ‘perhaps’ about it. The Bible makes clear that ever since the fall of man, nudity was meant to be associated with sexuality. After our innocence was lost, trying to regularize nudity can only happen through demystifying the human body and repressing our sexuality. And that is precisely what is occurring today. If we reach the point where nothing fazes us, where we can enjoy a beach party with virtually unclad men and women, or think that we can watch various stages of nudity in movies without it affecting us, then we are the losers. What have we lost? We have lost the ability to be naturally sexual as God originally designed. We have in effect let ourselves become functionally neutered in one crucially important area.