Sun, Jul 30, 2006 - Page 19 News List

Give in, give up, or give out?

Chastity is chic in the US, where a group of self-proclaimed sexual

By Jessica Valenti  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

Attendees at Pure By Choice 2005, a rally that aimed to empower youths to live purely, listen to a guest speaker.

PHOTO: NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE

In revolutionaries are urging women to preserve their virginity

until marriage. Is this real revolution, or just a blast from the past?

In a culture where one-night stands, reality porn and Playboy logos on kids’ stationery have all become shrug-worthily normal, it takes quite a leap of imagination to be sexually subversive. Take up pole dancing? No, that’s so commonplace that women organize group lessons for hen parties. Threesomes? No longer noteworthy. Faux-lesbianism? Yawn ...

A growing number of American women believe that they have the answer. Through books, Web sites and clothing ranges, a new breed of modesty-loving gals is spreading the word: chastity is chic! While most young Americans are keen to forget their abstinence education by their 20s, these women choose to take it a whole lot further, saying that not only is premarital and casual sex a bad idea, but that modesty — in sexual behavior, dress and comportment — is, in fact, essential for building strong relationships. Although returning to a long-discarded form of femininity might seem truly retrogressive, many of these women assert the opposite. They are, they say, sexual revolutionaries.

Arguably the best known proponent is Wendy Shalit, a writer and broadcaster who first burst on to the scene in 1999 with her book, A Return to Modesty. Writing about the benefits of chastity, Shalit quickly became a kind of professional virgin on the media circuit, prompting a few rather creepy male commentators to spell out their lust for her. It turns out that the modesty trend is popular enough to sustain a whole publishing career. Shalit’s latest ode to chastity, Girls Gone Mild: Young Women Reclaim Self-Respect and Find It’s Not Bad to Be Good, is due out this coming March.

Last year, riding a wave of popularity, Shalit also founded the ModestyZone Web site and its blog Modestly Yours, which features 21 regular bloggers. The Web site is billed as “an informal community of young women who don’t have a voice in the mainstream media ... . Whether you’re a virgin waiting until marriage, or just against casual sex more generally, you can find a safe harbor here to share your ideals, interests and goals for the future.”

And while it is not clear how many women are buying this message, a large swathe of products has cropped up for those who are. So, for instance, “Pure Fashion” shows are being put on in US cities from Miami to Washington DC, and companies that sell modest clothing seem to pop up every day. One site sells the ModesTee, a black leotard meant to be worn underneath less “appropriate” clothing. It is touted as “a fashionable solution to dressing modestly by turning the clothes that may be a little too sheer, too short, or too low into clothes you can wear.” Another company, WholesomeWear, sells modest swimwear. This layered — yes, layered — swimsuit is made up of spandex and nylon and covers most of the body. A bit like a waterproof kaftan.

But being modest does not end at your wardrobe. Alexandra Foley, a 34-year-old mother of four who blogs at Modestly Yours, says: “Modesty is both your outward appearance and your interior disposition. A woman can be modestly dressed, but not carry herself in a modest way.”

Foley recently wrote about the Middle East edition of Elle magazine, remarking on a close-up of a model wearing a headscarf (which she thought showed too much hair). She said the model had a “Take me” face, “the slightly pouty, slightly angry, bold stare into the camera with the seductively half-opened mouth that whispers to a man, ‘Take me.”’ She continued that, despite the modest clothing, “the Elle model remains a poster girl of immodesty regardless of how many square yards of fabric she is draped in.” What does a girl have to do to get the modesty stamp of approval? Headscarf, bodysuit and a blank face?

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