See Me Naked: Stories of Sexual Exile in American Christianity

See Me Naked: Stories of Sexual Exile in American Christianity
by Amy Frykholm
(Beacon Press, 2011)
A book review by Bre Woligroski

In spite of the title, See Me Naked doesn’t actually expose all.

Written by Amy Frykholm, author of Rapture Culture and Christian Century correspondent, this is an easy-to-read and relatively broad collection of personal stories about sexual struggles within U.S. Christianity. The nine people whose stories are highlighted have experienced a wide array of sexual trauma, abuse, dysfunction, questions or difficulties integrating sexuality and their particular brand of Christian culture. Told from the perspectives of these reallife individuals, the stories cover a range of topics including premarital sex, queer desire, self-image and chastity.

It’s a welcome addition to a meagre discourse: Christianity has a long-standing problem talking about sex, especially the connections between Christian culture and sexual dysfunction. In light of this context, See Me Naked is a courageous work, tackling what is still considered a taboo subject in a way that values individual voices and experiences and articulates well the problem that so many of us share.

Frykholm’s introduction is solid; she provides keen insight into some of the problems of what she calls “sexual exile” within the North American church. She writes, “Christianity does very little . . . to protect us from abuse, manipulation, objectification, and betrayal.” And she gives an apt description of cultural Christianity’s problematic moral teachings, which promise “a life lived happily ever after to anyone who waits for sex until marriage, marries a religious person, and raises children in the church.”

Unfortunately, Frykholm doesn’t come up with a solid vision for how to address the problems laid out so well in the introduction. After nine (often too-detailed) personal stories of sexual pain and dysfunction, her concluding “alternative ethic” does little to explore the deeper issues that underlie sexual dysfunction within Christian communities. Her suggestions are individualistic, and they focus on odd and intangible principles including “wonder” and “aliveness.”

This soft alternative ethic is not going to change Christianity. Though I wholeheartedly agree that pursuing sexual health and responsible sexual pleasure is vital to our spirituality, I find fault with Frykholm for ignoring the ideologies that make Christian culture so damaging to sexual health. The church desperately needs to wrestle with its fears about sex while dismantling the structures and lies of corporate and cultural Christianity that feed these fears.

See Me Naked focuses too much on exposing individuals and not enough on exposing church culture. We need to talk about the realities of patriarchy, sex negativity, sexism, racism, body shaming, body control and homophobia, and how the current evangelical ethic makes use of these ideologies. Frykholm speaks little about these root issues, making See Me Naked little more than a missed opportunity.

Issue 29

This article first appeared in Geez magazine Issue 29, Spring 2013, The PerSisters Issue.

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Issue 29, Spring 2013

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